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I was complaining to a friend who is part of the D.C. consultancy class (although not the rich part). "What is it with all this crap about the middle class?" I said. "No one in that entire convention talked about the poor or the working class." My friend said that poor people preferred to think of themselves as middle class, even when they're not, and that it probably polled better.
"Really?" I said. "Because I don't know many people who still describe themselves as middle class. I know a lot of people who describe themselves as poor." This Pew survey bears out my impression:
The percentage of Americans who say they are in the lower-middle or lower class has risen from a quarter of the adult population to about a third in the past four years, according to a national survey of 2,508 adults by the Pew Research Center.
Not only has the lower class grown, but its demographic profile also has shifted. People younger than 30 are disproportionately swelling the ranks of the self-defined lower classes.1 The shares of Hispanics and whites who place themselves in the lower class also are growing.
Among blacks, the story is different. The share of blacks in the lower class has not changed in four years, one of the few demographic groups in which the proportion in the lower classes did not grow. As a consequence, a virtually identical share of blacks (33%) and whites (31%) now say they are in the lower class.
When it comes to political affiliation, more Democrats than Republicans place themselves in the lower classes, but Republicans saw a sharper rise over the past four years. Some 23% now call themselves lower class, up from 13% in 2008. Among Democrats, 33% now call themselves lower class, compared with 29% in 2008.
The survey finds that hard times have been particularly hard on the lower class. Eight-in-ten adults (84%) in the lower classes say they had to cut back spending in the past year because money was tight, compared with 62% who say they are middle class and 41% who say they are in the upper classes. Those in the lower classes also say they are less happy and less healthy, and the stress they report experiencing is more than other adults.
As they look to their own future and that of their children, many in the lower class see their prospects dimming. About three-quarters (77%) say it’s harder now to get ahead than it was 10 years ago. Only half (51%) say that hard work brings success, a view expressed by overwhelming majorities of those in the middle (67%) and upper classes (71%). While the expectation that each new generation will surpass their parents is a central tenet of the American Dream, those lower classes are significantly more likely than middle or upper-class adults to believe their children will have a worse standard of living than they do.
One obvious explanation: Even the people who have jobs don't have good jobs.
Doesn't seem like a group of voters who will listen all that sympathetically to millionaires and billionaires talking about "shared sacrifice." Dear oh dear, what will David Walker's Comeback America Initiative (Pete Peterson's latest surrogate front) do?