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This is What (Actually) Makes You Middle Class in America

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Once upon a time, a middle class income in America meant a house in the suburbs, 2.5 kids and a dog. Most Americans felt and were actually in what is considered the middle class. It’s the class that keeps the economy going while in the working ages and retires comfortably. 

In recent decades, that comfortable middle class lifestyle has slowly become more and more difficult to attain for Americans. 

But what exactly makes you middle class nowadays?

It’s likely that you think you’re in the middle class if you’re neither rich nor poor. The middle class is made up of those whose annual income is directly in the middle 50% of all income. 

But the middle class has been eroding for decades. According to the Pew Research Center, 61% of Americans were in the middle class in 1971. In 2021, that number came down to 50%. That 11% shift is a massive one for an economy that’s built on the strength of the middle class. 

It’s one thing to technically be part of the middle class based on your income and to actually feel like you’re in the middle class. Your money most likely doesn’t go as far as it should for a middle class family depending on where you live. With housing costs skyrocketing whether you’re buying or renting, it’s easy to feel what you make is inadequate.  

What income level exactly makes you part of the middle class 

According to the Pew Research Center, a person that makes between two-thirds and doubles the median U.S. household income is part of the middle class. In 2021 the U.S. median income was $65,000. That means if you make between $43,350 and $130,000, you are technically in the middle class. 

Those making less than $43,350 are considered low-income and those making more than $130,000 are likely considered upper class. 

Your family size also matters in calculating whether or not you’re in the middle class. For a family of 3, that middle class requirement moves up to those making $52,000 to $156,000. 

Those numbers adjust even more depending on where you live. 

In Los Angeles, you have to make between $55,000 and $165,000 to be considered middle class. In Houston, the range is $47,000 to $142,000. In the Washington DC, Arlington, Alexandria area, the low-end middle class earners make $74,000 and the high end is at $221,000. 

Imagine making over $200,000 and you’re still considered middle class. It feels like when I was growing up anybody making even $100,000 was considered rich!

Down in the Miami and Fort Lauderdale area, you are considered middle class if you make between $43,000 and $128,000. 

In the San Francisco area, the range is between $77,000 and $232,000!

In the New York, Newark, and Jersey City area, the range is $56,000 to $169,000.

This simple calculator from the Pew Research Center lets you know where you stand in your area.

Tax Brackets

There are seven tax brackets, with the lowest being 10% and the highest being 37%. If your household earns less than $15,700, you are in the 10% tax bracket. If you earn between $59,700 and $95,350, you are likely to be in the 22% tax bracket. The next tier up is for those making $95,350 to $182,100, which is 24%. Most middle class families are in the 22 or 24% tax bracket. 

If you live in New York, Maryland, and Oregon, expect to pay the most for state income tax. But if you live in one of these 9 states, you don’t have the burden of a state income tax. Those states are Alaska, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming. 

If you’re middle class, it’s fair to expect to afford the average, let’s say, 3 bedroom house in your area. But let’s see what you actually need to make to afford one. 

Can You Afford A House In This City?

According to the residential real estate firm Redfin, the annual salary needed in 2022 to buy a median-priced home in LA and comfortably make the mortgage payment was $221,592. That number went up 41% from 2021, thanks to inflation and high interest rates. Remember, the median income range for LA is $55,000 to $165,000, which means you have to be upper class to comfortably afford the median-priced home in LA.

In Texas, if you want to buy a house in Dallas or Austin, you need to earn $113,016 and $128,354 respectively to afford a median-priced home. It gets cheaper, though, if you move over to Houston as the income qualification for a median-priced home there drops to $88.798.