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This is why everyone thinks they are middle class (even if they aren’t)

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For as much as politicians address the “middle class,” you’d think it would be more clearly defined. There is little consensus on what middle class really means, but everyone certainly wants to be middle class: Nearly 70% of Americans consider themselves middle class, but only about 52% would qualify based on income. The Pew Research Center found that middle-income families–in a three-person household–earned between $45,200 and $135,600 in 2016. The Brookings Institute offered a broader range, from $37,000 to $147,000 for a household of three, while others argue that the swath of Americans below the top 10% is middle class.

But you needn’t look much further than a recent CNBC story, which featured a detailed budget breakdown from a couple jointly earning $500,000 that still felt “average,” to grasp just how muddled the middle class label is. American households like that one, whose earnings could be reasonably described as “upper income,” may consider themselves middle class, or close to it. Perhaps you’d count yourself among those people, some of whom may have aspired to rise from middle income to upper income, but are now reluctant to label themselves as such.

In fact, since 1980, it’s the upper middle class whose gains have remained in step with the U.S. economy, while income growth in the middle class has lagged behind overall economic growth. So why do so many people who fit squarely in the upper middle class–if not upper class–self-identify as middle class?

Money goes further depending on where you are, which means one person’s upper middle class might be another’s middle class, and vice versa. Most people tend to measure their success and standard of living against the people directly in their line of sight. For those living in cities or suburbs with a high cost of living, their income relative to that of the folks in their orbit may seem average at best. “My take is that people who........

© Fast Company