The average yearly income for a middle class family

Updated February 21, 2017

Politicians promise that their plan will benefit not just the rich, but middle class America. The problem with this statement is that the idea of middle class is a vague and undefined one with over half of Americans calling themselves middle class (see Resource 1). Defining the yearly salary of the middle class even proves problematic.


Brian W. Cashell, a specialist in Qualitative Economics, wrote in the Congressional Research Service paper "Who are the 'Middle Class'?" that the United States government has no official definition for the middle class despite constant political rhetoric referring to it. This means that middle class is typically referred to with personal ideas and limits already in mind instead of culturally understood definitions or clear public knowledge on its limits.

Narrow View

The U.S. Census Bureau divides household income by quintiles, or fifths, as tiers of income. Note this is by household and not individual. The strictest definition of middle class would be the third quintile, which according to the Census' 2007 numbers would mean households with annual incomes ranging from £23,400 to £37,477. This means the mean average middle-class household income by the strictest definition would be £30,438 annually.

Broad View

A broader view explained in Cashell's paper is that the middle class is in between poverty and the richest of Americans, meaning the second, third and fourth quintiles of household income would be considered middle class. By this definition, yearly incomes of middle-class households would range from £12,465 to £59,607 by the Census' 2007 calculations making the mean average yearly income £36,036. Obviously this is a very wide range of income and thus lifestyle, but might be more accurate as Cashell states this range makes up 60 per cent of American households.

Effects of Recession

According to an American public-opinion survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2008, middle-class Americans have been hit hard by the so-called Great Recession. Nearly a third or 31 per cent of middle class Americans believe they are worse off than they were five years ago. Due to the hardships of the recession, 79 per cent of respondents also agreed that it is harder now to maintain a middle-class lifestyle than it was five years prior.

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About the Author

Based in Southern California, Daniel Holzer has been a freelance writer specializing in labor issues, personal finance and green living since 2004. His recent work has appeared online at Green Your Apartment and other websites. Holzer studied English literature at California State University, Fullerton.