How average is perceived as being over

If you actually take a close look at the numbers, it turns out that of the people who identified as middle class in 2008, nearly a third of them now identify as lower middle or lower class.1 This is even more dramatic than it seems. Class self-identification is deeply tied up with culture, not just income, and this drop means that a lot of people—about one in six Americans—now think of themselves as not just suffering an income drop, but suffering an income drop they consider permanent. Permanent enough that they now live in a different neighborhood, associate with different friends, and apparently consider themselves part of a different culture than they did just six years ago.

There is more here, from Kevin Drum.


Let them eat beans!

Beans are a great source of protein--about 20 gr protein for 260 gr mass--and no hormones or fat. Don't knock beans even if they knock you.

As for identifying with the middle class ("it turns out that of the people who identified as middle class in 2008, nearly a third of them now identify as lower middle or lower class.") what about the 67% that do NOT identify? I myself found out I'm in the 1% by net worth (> $4.5M) a few weeks ago, and now identify with the rich, even though I live a decidedly middle class life.

Beans are loaded with phytates, lectins, and other anti-nutrients that inhibit nutrient and mineral absorption. They will leave you deficient in important nutrients and minerals.

Actually, its phytates only bind to minerals in the beans; if you soak them before cooking, it helps removing the phytic acid. In short, don't use them as your only source of minerals, but they are healthy if properly prepared.

Some of the phytic acid is removed by soaking. Not all. And there's more than phytic acid. There are lectins and other anti-nutrients. They aren't very healthy. They're packed with anti-nutrients, have a lower quality of protein, and are loaded with empty fiber. The poor especially should avoid beans since the rest of their diet isn't going to be particularly healthy. Potatoes or rice are a better choice as they're much less offensive than beans.

Some of the phytic acid is removed by soaking. Not all. And there's more than phytic acid. There are lectins and other anti-nutrients. They aren't very healthy. They're packed with anti nutrients, have a lower quality of protein, and are loaded with empty fiber. The poor especially should avoid beans since the rest of their diet isn't going to be particularly healthy. Potatoes or rice are a better choice as they're much less offensive than beans.

Potatoes or rice less offensive than beans? Now I'm really thrown for a loop. Aren't both of those way higher in glycemic index? Isn't eating rice like eating a bowl of sugar?

Sure rice and potatoes have more nutrients than sugar, but ostensibly most beans have more...

@Cliff - higher glycemic load doesn't automatically mean unhealthy. It's just one aspect of many to consider, and besides that, portion control can solve the glycemic load issue for anyone who isn't already diabetic or pre-diabetic.

Also, when combined with acidic fermented foods, the GI of rice is diminished.

It's a metaphor.

Beans, beans, they're good for your heart
The more you eat, the more you fart
The more you fart, the better you feel
So let's eat beans with every meal!

Actually why would being lower class mean you eat more beans? The sort of poor person who still eats beans was either always poor or the type frugal enough to climb out of poverty.

As a Californian I find a bean and cheese burrito to be a great comfort food. Alternated with phở of course.

Fortunately, the GOP House leadership is now talking about amnesty for illegal aliens and lots more green cards for stoop labor, so that will make this problem better.


You want mobility? Now you will get it - downward.

Up until recently there was labor glut of too many people being overpaid to perform work that could either be outsourced, in-sourced, automated, done for less pay, or eliminated. The crisis gave employers a good excuse to thin the herd resulting in huge gains in profits, stock prices & productivity. Earnings have surged which invalidates Marxist critique/prophecy that if profits grow too much compared to wages, there's not going to be enough consumption, and capitalism will self-destruct. This implies wealth is a finite resource like gold and once the 1% obtain it all there's nothing left. This is wrong because wealth is constantly being created; for example, just a decade ago Facebook sprung into existence creating $100+ billion in wealth. It assumes that there is a fixed number of consumers with static purchasing power. This is contradicted by rising nominal wages the booming middle class overseas and in accordance to the Pareto Principle the top 20% engage in 80% of the consumption, anyway. Finally, a growing share of the economy is B2B.

Dude, nothing was invalidated if you include global earnings. If you use the globe as your reference there was no decline.

Of course that global reference does not really work in a US political sense. No one is going to campaign here on "we made the Chinese wealthy ... What more do you want?"

The problem is that you have yeilded too much in a US political sense. You have acknowledged that policy was not optimal for middle class US workers.

Facebook created 100 billion USD? That doesn't make any sense... it's like saying that bitcoin has created 15 billion USD in wealth.

First, the percentage self-identifying as upper and upper middle has also declined by about a third. So, the graph in Drum's post is telling a story (uh oh) not so much about a decline in self-perception of average as about an average self-perception of decline.

In an age of supposed political polarization, though, we might see several areas of cross-ideological agreement here, at least to the extent that Kevin Drum and Paul Krugman, whom Drum cites, reasonably represent the views of the Left. First, note that the graph covers the period 2008-present, not the last 30-35 years that we keep being told have taken us away from the golden age of the 1970s. So, while many bloggers are criticized for selective presentation of data, Drum should be praised for being willing to discuss Obama-era decline, even if he doesn't call it that. Second, Drum argues, "Class self-identification is deeply tied up with culture, not just income," and that culture changes tend to be much more permanent in contrast to temporary income drops. Conservatives agree and have also decried the increase in this so-called "food stamp culture".

Finally, and perhaps most significantly, conservatives have often accused the Left of wanting to increase the number of people that are dependent on welfare. Apparently, Drum and Krugman agree with that characterization. They consider an increase in the use of the safety net to be a "silver lining". (Actually, Krugman seems to think this change is more than just a silver lining. His post seems to argue that this increase in self-identified lower class is long overdue and is *on net* a good thing!) Mind you, they're not saying that the "silver lining" is that the safety net is there for people that need it. They're saying that the silver lining is that more people need the safety net, which they hope in turn will lead to greater political support for welfare. As Drum says, the change in class self-identification is only "the first step toward a deeper change". Krugman argues, "this [downgrading of Americans' self-identification] still has a way to go." An illustration of conservatives having a pretty good understanding of liberals' views?

"...which they hope in turn will lead to greater political support for welfare...."

and maybe more importantly less support for those programs that provide welfare for the rich.


(Also, Drum said "Permanent enough that they now live in a different neighborhood, associate with different friends, and apparently consider themselves part of a different culture than they did just six years ago." - and here I didn't know that class self-identification was "permanent" or a cultural identity and makes you have different friends.

Maybe I'm just not class-obsessed enough to think of it that way?)

Paul Krugman suggests that there's a silver lining here: "Conservatives claiming that character defects are the source of poverty, and that poverty programs are bad because they make life too easy, are now talking to an audience with large numbers of Not Those People who realize that they are among those who sometimes need help from the safety net."

Krugman sure seems gleeful about this decline.

I think they only applaud recognition of the problem, over say a Joe the Plummer thinking himself in the upper middle class because he might start a real business someday.

Dreams are good, but many Joes are fed only dreams and falling wages.

Excellent comment!

Extrapolate much?

If it helps people in this depressing echo chamber to sleep at night thinking that yes, liberals do in fact want people on welfare: well, I hope your pea brains rest well.

In my own nihilist politics I can actually find enough motivation to support an issue occasionally, like to support putting everyone on welfare with the UBI, and if people wanted to come at me saying "you want everyone on welfare" I'd say "yup, sounds like a fine plan to me, but I personally think we should call it The Dole, and it's just a thing you do like 'I was burnt out and depressed from my office job so I spent a couple years on The Dole travelling & learning to paint,' and it's all good."

But here liberals seem to want more people on welfare on account of how they are celebrating that that will raise class consciousness, but then they deny that. Same with like, guns. I go to liberal chambers and they definitely often sound like they want to come take everyone's guns. Then when gun owners accuse liberals of wanting to come grab their guns, the liberals deny and deny and make fun of the gun owners. I think sometimes political groups think their echo chambers are private spaces where because they police all the outsiders from writing, they are also policing all the outsiders from reading. Why can't the liberals just acknowledge they want to take everyone's guns, and then negotiate down to a compromise that seriously attempts to address the problems (black people shooting each other with handguns) and the PR problem used because it is not PC to raise the real problem (the occasional unpredictable madman going on a massacre) while maintaining the desired benefits of gun ownership. This is definitely one that's a both-sides problem.

Sounds like the old Unemployment Insurance regime in Canada pre Martin Liberals. It was common for employers to offer work for 20 weeks so the employee could qualify for UI for the rest of the year or more. Where I live had about 15% unemployment and what was called the UI ski team. 20 weeks of work then ski the best mountains all winter. It worked fine until the money ran out. Then the Liberals found that all the plaudits and constituencies that they purchased with tax money disappeared when the money dried up. The maritime provinces were stout Liberal strongholds but when the UI was reformed, the support slipped, and the first thing the Liberals did when tax money started being freed up was re institute the generous UI benefit system for that area alone.

Watching the US go the path they are following makes me want to dig out the bell bottoms, drink Labatts 50 and watch my Ford pickup rust away sitting in the driveway. The only unfortunate thing is that the Democrats are setting up all these constituencies based on giving money away, and they will be left high and dry when the money runs out in short order. It sucks to be led into dependence on government handouts only to see them disappear leaving you with nothing.

Lotto 10/42 was horrific policy. Unemployment Insurance destroyed people.

Quite honestly, I think Republicans would be lost if welfare went away. What good is being rich if you can't lord it over others and complain about how lazy, dumb and/or untalented your inferiors are?

Hell, traffic on this site and others like it would shrivel up and die without the IQ-race supremacists, lower-class warfare crusaders, and rich guy cheerleaders.

I had to laugh when, in another thread, it was argued that an employee minimum wage would impose a major hardship on a company but talking about exorbitant CEO pay is a conversation not to be had because "that's just a drop in the bucket." The explanation proffered that a CEO is somehow worth every penny not only when his company overdelivers but also when it underperforms. The old "heads I win, tails I win" logic that only rich people feel justified in engaging in.

The decline of the middle class can be traced to global trade agreements that consider overseas investment opportunities the same as exports. On paper, everything looks fair, but only people with a lot of money to invest overseas are doing well right now. Thanks for destroying the American dream, WTO!

... but you still show it (Charlie Brown's rule of good empirics)

I know my grumpiness is misplaced here ... BUT Drum's chart is misleading. He did not plot all the survey data, for example, the July 2012 responses which moved back off trend are not plotted. Now he says "chart on the right shows the basic results over the past few years" ... good empiricists deal with the data as it is and do not clean off annoying data points. Also where are those standard errors? The responses bounce around, no need to make a mountain out of a molehill. Below is the question and the middle class responses. I might also quibble that the moves in the series coincide with changes in the survey provider (again the timing is odd). It is sad because I think (and have seen in at least two other data sets), in the recession / early recovery there was some downshift in socio-economic identification/expectations. At least one of my data sets has seen a fair bit of normalization in recent years (exactly opposite the snippets of Pew data). An unfortunate presentation of potentially interesting data. I know this is nothing new here, but it still makes me sad.

Here's the question.
Q.52 If you were asked to use one of these commonly used names for the social classes, which would you say you belong in? The upper class, upper-middle class, middle class, lower-middle class, or lower class?

See page 16 for all the responses. As best I can tell the last two data points in the chart are Dec 2011 and Jan 2014. July 2012 is definitely omitted. Here's one example:

% Responding as "Middle Class" (Green line in Drum's chart)
Jan 15-19, 2014 (U) 44%
Jul 16-26, 2012 (SDT) 49%
Apr 4-15, 2012 47%
Dec 7-11, 2011 46%
Mar 15-29, 2011 (SDT) 52%
May 11-31, 2010 (SDT) 50%
February, 2008 (SDT) 53%

I looked at the survey and the questions/responses and it appears that the public is sadly misinformed. For example, the plurality that indicates the government can do a lot about poverty must not know much about the "success" of the trillion dollar war on poverty.

You're talking about defense spending, aren't you.

The drop from 53 to 44 is nine percentage points, a reduction of one-sixth rather than one-third. Even if you think that the original number should have been 60 percent middle-class rather than 53 percent (and where did that idea come from?), the reduction from 60 to 44 is a drop of 30 percent, not one-third. Drum is hyping his numbers.

You're twisting his statement in order to make it sound like saying something he wasn't.

The title of the blog post is "One-Third of Americans Who Were Middle Class in 2008 Now Consider Themselves Lower or Lower Middle Class," not "The number of Americans who consider themselves middle class is now one third what it was in 2008." Consider the difference, and your mistake will be clear.

Or, you know, read the post, where he explicitly explains it.

I wish there were some way to see how this effect would be broken up by proximate cause, e.g. macroeconomic -- housing or unemployment vs long term cultural -- divorce, single parenthood, vs. community shifts -- small change in family income but rapid change in neighborhood quality (sometimes due to house foreclosures leading to many neighbors having to move out).

Does nobody see the poor argument presented here? Drum takes a survey of how people "feel" and turns it into a statement of fact: "Permanent enough that they now live in a different neighborhood, associate with different friends, and apparently consider themselves part of a different culture than they did just six years ago." And you evidence for this is what, Kev? The study data shows no change in lifestyle that I can see. So does he have some other proof? Maybe school enrollment data? I would bet, in fact, that more people "moved up" during the downturn as houses became more affordable. Maybe that's what is driving people's opinions - that their used to be a factory manager and is now a factory worker. .

Yes, exactly. The change in perception could be entirely due to the increased class warfare contained in our political discourse.

My thoughts exactly - the relentless demonization of the well-off and harping on inequality has certainly had a depressing effect on the citizens. The propaganda has worked as intended.

Yes, all those middle class people want to self-identify as far away from the one percent as possible, so they now choose to self-identify as lower-middle-class.

This argument is as bad as the one in the OP.

I was going to say, along the same theme, that under a Democrat administration people believe that being perceived as lower class will get them more subsidies.

That was my first thought as well. My second thought was whether it matters more to actually *be* middle class, by some objective standard, or to *feel* that you are middle class. And if people aren't actually falling behind, but feel that they are (or are overestimating how much they are falling behind), why? And what to do about it?

"I'm from the government & I'm here to help."

According to Max Weber:

"Theodicy of Fortune and Misfortune

The Theodicy of fortune and misfortune within sociology is the theory, as Weber suggested, of how "members of different social classes adopt different belief systems, or theodices, to explain their social situation."[86]

The concept of theodicy was expanded mainly with the thought of Weber and his addition of ethical considerations to the subject of religion. There is this ethical part of religion, including "(1) soteriology and (2) theodicy. These mean, respectively, how people understand themselves to be able to be in a right relationship with supernatural powers, and how to explain evil – or why bad things seem to happen to those who seem to be good people".[87] There is a separation of different theodicies with regard to class. "Theodicies of misfortune tend to the belief that wealth and other manifestations of privilege are indications or signs of evil...In contrast, theodicies of fortune emphasise the notion that privileges are a blessing and are deserved".[87] Weber also writes that "the affluent embrace good fortune theodicies, which emphasise that prosperity is a blessing of God...[while] theodices of misfortune emphasise that affluence is a sign of evil and that suffering in this world will be rewarded in the next."[86] Thus these two distinctions can be applied not only to class structure within society but denomination and racial segregation within religion."

Religion may not be as big a factor now but its remnants hang on.

on the other hand, maybe you need a very simple chart ... in case you missed it but there was this thing called the Great Recession followed by a super slow recovery. in all kinds of data you can see there weren't many people "moving up" in the downturn (almost by definition, duh). Drum may be too slick but you are in another world, good for you but don't just dismiss representative surveys.

data points, you seem to have missed my point entirely. But that's some damn fine snark. It almost makes up for your lack of thought.

Anecdotally, it's even worse if you restrict the sample to economists. Most of those who considered themselves HRM in 2008 would now self-identify as VLRM or unemployed, the latter more common among theorists.

Seems like people's self-assessment became a little more accurate. They are being successfully educated as to their relative place in the income hierarchy, rather than everybody making from $30k to $300k a year thinking they are Middle Class. This is an essential step in addressing income inequality: people must be made painfully aware that they are unequal, so that they can realize how bad their lot in life is.

But of course, for any given person making $X, the relevant threshold will always be $(X+1), as it is there that we begin to see undeserved remuneration. The incomes of professors, columnists, and bloggers are all well-deserved, the result of a well-functioning system compensating people for their value added.

This is to be expected once the people are shown that We Are Not as Wealthy as we Thought we Were (TM).

Can't have fundamental change until the bourgeoise is broken.

Average is over? No silly, this is all "We're not as rich as we thought we were."

The 'disappearing' middle class is sitting at 45%. 'Perceived average is over' wants to extrapolate that line. Won't happen.

The asian overclass is doing well. My sister just bought her 3rd house.

I wonder if in 1936 there were not a lot a lot of people who felt they had dropped a half class, too. Too bad we did not learn the lesson about the dangers of failing to maintain ngdp growth.

I've taken that drop, perhaps partially due to reading too much MR instead of working. Now I'm ready to join the Nonworkers Revolution.

This wasn't so much a shrinking of average as a widespread decline in self-perceived class. I wouldn't beat up on Drum for leaping to the conclusion there are real income and social group issues involved. Many millions of people lost their jobs and/or homes, and of those that have been rehired many are at much lower wages. It would be great to see the chart going back earlier. I'm guessing there was an equally big self-perceived climb in class in 2002-2007 as asset prices rose and people with lower-middle-class incomes took subprime loans and made themselves feel middle class.

I would criticize Drum for assuming the self-downgraded feel the change to be permanent. This is not England. In American English, class is merely a synonym of income bracket. Calling oneself lower or lower-middle class doesn't imply you don't have plans to move up.

What else is interesting is that the self-downgrading continues into 2014. The recovery seems very narrow indeed.

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