A Pew Research Center study released Wednesday surveys the American middle class, finding it gloomier, poorer and shrunken. Among the highlights of the reports findings are: Fully 85 percent of Americans who describe themselves as middle class say it is more difficult now than it was a decade ago for middle-class people to maintain their standard of living. In 2011, the middle-income tier included 51 percent of all adults, down from 61 percent in 1971. In 2010, the upper economic tier took in 46 percent of the nation's household income, up from 29 percent in 1970. The middle tier took in 45 percent, down from 62 percent. The lower tier dropped to 9 percent from 10 percent. About half, (49 percent) of adults surveyed describe themselves as middle class; 53 percent said the same in a similar survey in early 2008. Thirty-two percent describe themselves as lower or lower-middle class, compared to 25 percent in 2008. For the middle-income group, the "lost decade" of the 2000s has been even worse for wealth loss than for income loss. Their median incomes fell by 5 percent, but median wealth (assets minus debt) declined by 28 percent. It rose from $129,582 in 2001 to $152,950 by mid-decade, before falling to $93,150 in 2010. The middle class blames its hard economic times on Congress more than any of the institutions or entities tested in this survey for in the past decade. Fully 62 percent say "a lot" of the blame lies with Congress, while 54 percent says the same about banks and financial institutions, 47 percent about large corporations, 44 percent about the Bush administration, 39 percent about foreign competition and 34 percent about the Obama administration. Just 8 percent blame the middle class itself. Six-in-ten (60 percent) say their standard of living is better than that of their parents at the same age; just 13 percent say it is worse. Four years ago, 67 percent said they were doing better than their parents. About one-in-four (23 percent) middle-class adults say they are very confident that they will have enough income and assets to last throughout their retirement years, while 43 percent are somewhat confident and 32 percent say they are not too or not at all confident. As for the nation, about one-in-nine (11 percent) say they are very optimistic about the country's long-term economic future. Another 44 percent are somewhat optimistic and 41 percent are somewhat or very pessimistic. Some 42 percent of middle-class adults say their household's financial situation is worse now than it was before the recession, while 32 percent say it is better and 23 percent volunteer that it is unchanged. About half (52 percent) of adults who self-identify as middle class say they believe President Obama's policies in a second term would help the middle class, and 39 percent say they would not help. Forty-two percent say that the election of Mitt Romney would help the middle class, and 40 percent say it would not help. As is true of the population overall, more members of the middle class identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party (50 percent) than the Republican Party (39 percent), with 11 percent declining to identify with either.
Source: Pew Research Center's Social & Demographic Trends project report "The Lost Decade of the Middle Class." The full .report is online at http://pewsocialtrends.org&lt;http://pewsocialtrends.org/&gt;