PBS DOES the grunt work in “What is the American Middle Class?” As you’ll see from their report, one of the reasons there is little to be excited about right now is that both Obama and Romney are talking about a middle class they’re not even defining correctly.
There is no strict definition of the term “middle class”, so it can often mean different things to different people. While both candidates promise to reduce taxes on middle-income Americans, Romney recently defined the middle class as “$200,000 to $250,000 and less;” a similar definition to President Obama’s, which simply names all middle class people as those making less than $250,000.
However, those numbers are very different from the median – or middle – household income in America, which the Census Bureau reported to be about $50,000 in 2011. The top 5 percent of American households had incomes of $186,000 or more, meaning that many of them would still qualify as “middle class” under the candidates’ definitions.
The Census splits the population into five different groups based on income, each comprising 20 percent of the population. If the middle 20 percent is truly the “middle class”, then middle class households make between $38,500 and $62,400 per year.