Where would you prefer to be middle-class: The United States or Japan? Would you choose to live in a middle-class household in Boston, Massachusetts, or Lisbon, Portugal? For all the talk of America’s middle-class living in destitution and on the cusp of extinction, the heart and soul of the nation’s economy is not only surviving, but it is also thriving. In fact, the nation’s middle-class is the best in the world. Why?
A Look at the Data
It is essential to examine income figures when discussing America’s middle-class. The first statistic to examine is annual income. If your household earns a minimum of $52,000 per year, or around $4,300 a month, in the US, then you are a part of the global 1%. The second piece of data is that more middle-class Americans are moving into a higher income bracket – about one-third of US households are earning an all-time high of $100,000 or more.
A major aspect of the US economy that has largely been forgotten about is income mobility, the economic movement between income groups by individuals or families. For instance, a 2014 study that monitored income levels over a 44-year period discovered that 73% of Americans resided in the top 20% for one year or more, and 12% had been in the top 1% for a year or more. This was important research because it contradicted the accepted consensus that most Americans’ lifetimes are fixed and static.
But understanding the state of middle-class goes beyond just your earning power. Let’s look at the size of homes. The average middle-class American has more living space than the average middle- or high-income person from France, Sweden, or the UK. In the US, newly built homes are on average 2,500 square feet today, up from about 1,500 square feet in 1973 – there is a reason the nation’s homes are referred to as “McMansions.” In the United Kingdom, for example, this figure is about half.
It should be noted that square footage has slightly decreased in the last couple of years because developers are concentrating on entry-level homes after years of tailoring supply to high-end developments.
Moreover, the cost of housing is a lot cheaper in the US when compared to the rest of the world. According to the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), housing expenditures are the third-lowest with 18% of income.
What does the makeup of the typical middle-class home look like? Take a look around in your own home – rich, poor, or somewhere in between. The data suggests that you have multiple television sets throughout the home, high-speed internet, video game consoles, several smartphones, a desktop computer, and Netflix. Of course, there is one item in your home that will save you from the unbearable heat: the air conditioner. What was once considered a luxury is now essential. The Census Bureau found that more than 80% of all homes in the US possess some type of air conditioning, and the US consumes more air conditioning than all the other countries combined.
What, Me Worry?
If you glance at some of the headlines in the media highlighting how more Americans are depressed than ever before or households are one paycheck away from living on the street, you might believe that only the top 0.1% have it good in the Land of the Free. Yet, while our problems are subjective, on a worldwide level they pale in comparison to even the wealthiest of residents living in Sierra Leone or middle-income families in Latvia.