The U.S. economy continues to do well, but many fear that economic expansion only benefits a few Americans, while leaving most households behind. As political analyst Juan Williams opined in The Hill earlier this year, “The rich got their Trump tax cut. GDP looks good. And the stock market is doing great for people with money to invest. But it is only the rich who get the big rewards in Trump’s economy. What about the middle class?”
The middle class, it turns out, is shrinking. But not because they are falling into poverty, as some might have you believe. Rather, it is shrinking because more people are “moving on up,” ascending into a higher income bracket — and living the American dream.
Since 2016, the United States has had more wealthy households than middle‐class households and the share of low‐income households has reached a historic low.
This is hardly a new trend. As I wrote in 2016, the middle class is shrinking due to growth in rich households. When I last wrote on that topic, though, there were still more middle‐class households than rich households.
According to the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2018, over 30 percent of U.S. households earned over $100,000 (i.e., the upper class). Fewer than 30 percent of households earned between $50,000 and $100,000 (i.e., the middle class). The share of U.S. households making at least $100,000 has more than tripled since 1967, when just 9 percent of all U.S. households earned that much (all figures are adjusted for inflation).
In 2018, the share of households earning less than $50,000 (i.e., the lower class) dropped below 40 percent for the first time since the U.S. Census data on this metric started to be collected in 1967. Back then, 54 percent of households earned less than $50,000.
So the next time you hear someone allege that the economy is leaving an increasing share of American households behind or see a pundit bemoan the “shrinking middle class,” take a closer look at the data and keep in mind that a “shrinking middle class” may actually be a sign of growing prosperity.