What does it mean to be “middle class” anymore? The definition can be confusing — and it changes depending on where you live and how many people are in your household.
In a study published in 2022, Pew Research Center defined “middle-income” adults as “adults in 2021 with an annual household income that was two-thirds to double the national median income in 2020, after incomes have been adjusted for household size.”
Pew explains that a middle income equals an annual household income of $52,000 to $156,000 for a family of three, based on 2020 dollars. These numbers are obviously not adjusted for inflation since then.
Adjusted for inflation, using this CPI inflation calculator, annual household income to be classified as middle class would start around $60,000. And Pew reports that while the middle class has famously decreased significantly over time, it “held steady” in 2021.
But how far does a middle class income go?
Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2021 American Community Survey, CNBC compiled the annual household incomes needed to be considered middle class in 20 of the U.S.’ populous metros.
|Area||Low-end middle class||High-end middle class|
|New York, NY|
Jersey City, NJ
|Los Angeles, CA|
Long Beach, CA
Fort Worth, TX
The Woodlands, TX
Sugar Land, TX
Fort Lauderdale, FL
West Palm Beach, FL
Sandy Springs, GA
|San Francisco, CA|
San Bernardino, CA
St. Paul, MN
|San Diego, CA|
Chula Vista, CA
St. Petersburg, FL
While these income ranges vary widely and are still technically considered “middle class,” the U.S. Census Bureau says the median U.S. household income in 2021 was $70,784. And while a 2022 Gallup poll indicated 52% of U.S. adults consider themselves middle class — 38% identified themselves as “middle class,” while 14% identified as “upper-middle class” — Gallup also explains that since the Great Recession, Americans are more likely to identify as “working” or “lower” class.
According to Gallup, 35% of those polled said they considered themselves “working class,” while 11% called themselves “lower class.” The poll acknowledges that some people may consider “working class” and “middle class” to mean the same thing, since these definitions are flexible.
Curious where you fall? Pew Research Center’s Are You in the Middle Class? calculator can give you a close estimate. And if you’re wondering how far your dollars will stretch if you relocate, Forbes’ Cost of Living Calculator can help you figure out how much you need to maintain your standard of living in a new area.