The Middle-Class Squeeze

Gregg Easterbrook and
Gregg Easterbrook Contributing Editor, The Atlantic, Visiting Fellow (2000-08), Brookings Institution, Author, Arrow of History (forthcoming, 2018)
Elizabeth Warren

January 11, 2008

Brookings Expert Gregg Easterbrook and Harvard Law School’s Elizabeth Warren discuss the squeeze on the American middle class with Tess Vigeland on American Public Media, Marketplace.

Tess Vigeland: Here’s a benchmark you’ll often hear in discussions about the middle class: are we collectively better off than our parents or are we largely burdened by the so-called “middle class squeeze?”

For answers, we turn to Elizabeth Warren, author of “The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle Class Mothers and Fathers are Going Broke,” and Gregg Easterbrook, author of “The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse.”

Vigeland: And let’s start, as we’ve been doing throughout the show, by getting your parameters for the middle class. Elizabeth, who do you define as the “middle class”?

Elizabeth Warren: It’s all those people who declare themselves middle class and that means it goes from some pretty low incomes to some pretty high incomes and I think that’s important. A lot of people want to bound it at around $20,000-$25,000 a year up to around $100,000 a year, but I really do think it’s a lot more about enduring criteria. You know, a third grade teacher who gets laid off may not have any income right now, but I would still regard her as middle class.

Vigeland: All right. Gregg, how would you define it, either with a number or a description?

Gregg Easterbrook: I would be more simplistic and just say it’s people who are neither rich nor poor. A lot of it’s sociological but I would say education probably cuts more across it than any other single defining factor for the middle class. Education in a lot of cases just means a high school diploma, but everybody who’s in the middle class now in the United States, the European Union and Japan is a product of a successful educational system and believes in education as a life goal and you couldn’t say that of the average person 100 years ago.

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