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We have all read numerous reports decrying the struggles of middle-class families in America.  We have even written some of them ourselves.  The portrait they paint is half-right and half-wrong, half-full and half-empty. Here we use data and stories from Americans around the country to assess the current well-being of the middle class and to offer real policy solutions that look towards the future.

Intro

The U.S. is a middle-class nation. Since our nation’s founding, the American dream has always been based on an implicit understanding–a contract if you will–between individuals willing to work and contribute, and a society willing to support those in need and to break down barriers in front of them.

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Money

A strong middle class is one that is prospering economically. As nations grow richer, so ought the majority of their citizens. The middle class are falling behind, in material terms. American middle-class families both need and deserve more money.

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I feel like society has kind of boxed us in… the cost of living being so high to live. It’s like, you got to put in more work in order to be able to take care of your family.

—Father, Prince George’s County, MD

Time

Too many middle-class Americans face a stark choice between a money squeeze and a time squeeze. More time at work means more stress at home, poorer mental health, and less civic engagement. Thoughtful policy can help to restore some balance.

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I’m in the rat race and I get up every day, go to work, come home, do what I have to do around the house. Do what I have to do around family. Then I feel like I have no time.

—Truck driver, Las Vegas, NV

Relationships

Humans are relational beings. None of us are born alone; only a few of us will die alone. One of the tragedies of the Covid-19 pandemic has been the number of people who have died without loved ones at their bedside. From birth to death, we are shaped and defined by the people around us.

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Friendships and relationships are essential to our life because we come from love, we’re made of love, we accept love, we give love, we want love.

—Mother, Wichita, KS

Respect

The quality of life of the middle class cannot be measured solely in dollars and hours and life expectancy, but in terms of personal relationships – and in terms of respect. Respect is demonstrated in the way we treat each other in daily life, and in the way we think about each other as members of our shared community.

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Life is about respect. And you have to give it to receive it.

—Woman, Las Vegas, NV

Health

In normal times, health is a slow-burning issue. As individuals, many of us will have an acute health crisis, but these take place at different times, spread out across the population. But COVID-19 has been a shock to the whole system. In the U.S., the pandemic has highlighted the poor health of many of our citizens, rendering them more vulnerable to the virus, as well as revealing deep divides by race, geography, and class. Our health is intimately connected to our economic resources and opportunities, the structural inequalities we face, the relationships we form, and the respect we are paid. A strong middle class is one that is healthy both in mind and body.

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I’ve got to keep my health…so I can make sure I’m there for my son.

—Young mom, Wichita, KS

MORE CONTENT COMING SOON

Please join us for a virtual event series focusing on topics surrounding the main themes of our work.

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Later this fall, the Future of the Middle Class Initiative will launch two new products: the Middle Class Monitor and the American Middle Class Hopes and Anxieties Study (AMCHAS). The Monitor will be an interactive data hub that compiles quantitative data to illustrate trends in the well-being of the middle class. Our AMCHAS work will result in mixed methods reports which use the voices of the middle class, alongside quantitative analysis, to better understand how the middle class is faring across the five core domains of money, time, relationships, health, and respect.

On November 17, the Future of the Middle Class Initiative will host a discussion on the early results of their research and the implications for middle-class well-being. Jennifer Silva of Indiana University, lead ethnographer for the project, will discuss the work on a panel alongside Brookings scholars Isabel Sawhill, Camille Busette, Molly Kinder, and moderator Richard Reeves.

Tue Nov 17

Upcoming Event / Online Only

Reframing the narrative of the middle class: Real voices pre- and post-pandemic

1:00 PM – 2:00 PM EDT

There are no upcoming events to see.

Podcasts

Time for a new contract with the middle class
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