Are you in the middle class? It can be difficult to get a definitive answer to this question—and you’ll need more than your tax return and budget to get the full picture. According to the Pew Research Center, middle-class households are those that earn between two-thirds and double the median household income. Keep reading to discover the average American income and see whether you belong to the middle class in your area.
Who is in the middle class?
As you’ve likely heard time and again, the middle class is shrinking. With stagnant wages, rising inflation, and nearly two-thirds of Americans living paycheck to paycheck, more families are struggling to gain their financial footing. And this isn’t a new trend; according to research from the Pew Research Center, the middle class has been shrinking for decades.
The latest report from 2021 shows that just half the population is considered middle class—down from 54% in 2001, 59% in 1981, and 61% in 1971. But though this group may be shrinking, a large number of people still qualify as middle class. To find out who still has a middle-class income, we can look at the median wages around the country.
Median household income by state
The US Census Bureau can provide us with valuable insight into the median household income. Between 2016 and 2020, the nationwide median income was $64,994. When you look at each state individually, however, the medians vary widely, ranging from $46,511 (Mississippi) to $87,063 (Maryland). Take a closer look at the median incomes from 2016 to 2020 for each state below.
New Hampshire: $77,923
New Jersey: $85,245
New Mexico: $51,243
New York: $71,117
North Carolina: $56,642
North Dakota: $65,315
Rhode Island: $70,305
South Carolina: $54,864
South Dakota: $59,896
West Virginia: $48,037
How demographics impact median income
Location isn’t the only factor that plays a role in median household income. Demographics like household makeup, race, age, and education can also impact middle-class income. This data from the US Census Bureau looks at the estimated 2021 median incomes for households from various backgrounds. The results lay bare the gender, racial, age, and education wage gaps that continue to impact people nationwide. Below, we’ll go through some of the most illuminating findings, but you can view the full dataset here.
- In 2021, the estimated median income for all households was $70,784.
- In family households with only one spouse present, male householders out-earned female householders by $19,357.
- There’s a stark racial income gap, with black households earning a median of $48,297 annually compared to $74,262 for white households and $101,418 for Asian households.
- People aged 45-54 are the highest earnings, with a median income of $97,089. Comparatively, those aged 25-34 who are still in the beginning stages of their careers earn a median of $74,862.
- Education plays a big role in determining your earning potential; those without high school diplomas had a median annual income of $30,378 whereas those with bachelor’s degrees or higher earned $115,456.
Looking at the data, you may be surprised to learn where you fit into the socioeconomic hierarchy of your state—and how that compares to the rest of the country. Most people consider themselves middle class but being “middle class” tends to mean something different to each and every person. It evokes images of a different lifestyle, culture, and experience. The American middle class is as wide and varied as each of the states themselves.
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