Social class is often a mix of lifestyle and cultural factors that can include educational attainment, family history, and where you live, since incomes and the cost of living vary widely by metro area. So there are many ways to define the American middle class.
Economists generally use straightforward financial factors such as income and wealth. According to one definition from the Pew Research Center, Grow calculated a household of three would need to make between $54,050 and $161,344 to qualify as middle class, based on 2020 incomes.
This calculator, which determines whether you earn a middle-class income based on three definitions, shows you where you fall locally as well as nationally. Grow does not store any information you enter.
The middle class has been gradually shrinking over time: Just about half of all Americans qualified in 2020, compared to 61% in 1971.
Still, feeling like they belong to the middle class is important to a lot of people whose income wouldn't technically place them there. Only 6% of families making more than $100,000 per year considered themselves upper class in a 2015 survey from Pew, despite the fact that about 20% of these households make above what Pew considers a middle-class income. And 34% of families making less than $30,000 considered themselves middle class, too.
This calculator uses three different definitions of the middle class based on income. The first, from the Pew Research Center, compares household income to the median and classifies anyone who earns between two-thirds and double the median as middle class. The second, from the Brookings Institution, considers anyone who falls into the middle three quintiles of the income distribution to be middle class. The third, from the Urban Institute, compares income to the federal poverty level and considers a household that makes from 150% to 500% the poverty level to be middle class.
Under the first and third definitions, the percentage of people who fall into the middle class changes as people lose and earn more income. Under the Brookings definition, the middle class is set as the middle 60% of the income distribution. That means when one household enters the middle class, another must leave.
The calculator finds the middle class under both the Pew and Brookings definitions for national and metro areas incomes. Since the Urban Institute definition is based on the federal poverty level, the classification doesn't change by metro area.
The calculator uses your income adjusted to a household size of 3, since the average American household contains 2.5 people. To get your adjusted income, we divided your income by the square root of your household size — roughly 1.41 for a household of 2, 1.73 for a household of 3, 2.00 for a household of 4, and so on — and then multiplied it by the square root of 3.
This methodology recognizes that there are economies of scale in household expenditures. A two-bedroom apartment generally does not cost as much to rent as two one-bedroom apartments, for instance, and a household of two doesn't need twice as many things as a household of one.
National income data is from the March 2020 Annual Social and Economic Supplement of the Current Population Survey from the Census. Metro-level income data is from the Census Bureau's 2019 American Community Survey. A household consists of all people who occupy one housing unit, whether or not they are related. Household size includes all members of the household, regardless of age. Income includes all sources from those aged 15 or older.
Nate Rattner contributed data analysis to this story.
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