Survey finds more respondents than not saying middle class is shrinking

A new survey from Northwestern Mutual found more respondents saying the middle class is shrinking than growing.

That’s from the Milwaukee-based financial services company’s Planning and Progress Survey, which has questions on the economy, financial planning and security.

The survey found 54 percent think the middle class is shrinking, and 32 percent expect it to disappear completely at some point; 24 percent are uncertain of its future.

“The middle class is a cornerstone of our nation’s culture and identity,” said Emily Holbrook, director of planning for Northwestern Mutual. “Clearly people are losing optimism in its longevity.”

The survey also found the percentage of respondents that call themselves middle class dipped slightly, from 70 percent last year to 68 percent this year.

Sixty percent of respondents say movement in and out of the middle class is possible. But more say that’s likely to be downward mobility, from middle class to poor, than upward to wealth.

Respondents were more likely to define the middle class by having certain assets, compared to certain attributes.

“As assets increasingly become the barometer of middle class status, it’s not surprising that some Americans have doubts about its future outlook,” Holbrook said.

Seventy-eight percent said assets under $100,000 qualify one for the middle class; 52 percent said the middle class asset range is between $50,000 and $99,999; and 26 percent said having less than $50,000 qualifies for middle class.

The attributes most strongly linked to middle class status were work ethic, 84 percent, and homeownership, 69 percent. Other related attributes include humility, 30 percent, and thriftiness, 39 percent. Marriage was also seen as a strong indicator for being in the middle class.

The survey was conducted by Harris Poll, tapping 2,003 American adults in the general population, and an oversample of 601 interviews with Millennials age 18-34. Data from the interviews were combined with general population data when looking at that age range separately.

Responses were gathered between March 7 and March 19 of this year, and weighted to Census numbers for education, age/gender, race/ethnicity, region and household income.

See more on the survey here:

–By Alex Moe