Make us your home page
Instagram

Five ways to tell if you're middle class

Job security keep you up at night? Concerned over more money spent on less benefits? Wish you had gotten that degree after all?

As recession looms, inquiring minds want to know:

How close am I to falling out of the middle class?

Fortunately, some concrete ways exist to measure your vulnerability. Answer these five questions — honestly — and you'll have a better sense of whether you're on Easy Street or nearing the exit ramp to harder times.

First, let's define "middle class" these days. It ranges from roughly twice to six times the federal poverty guideline — that's from $40,000 up to $120,000 — for a family of four. We're talking about the middle 50 percent of all U.S. households. Let's get started:

1 Assets: How many months can you live at 75 percent of your current living expenses using your net financial assets?

If you say nine months or more, bravo! If you can only cover three months or less, you're vulnerable.

The trend? Down. For every $1 in middle-class assets owned in 2000, by 2006 a family held 78 cents.

2 Education: Did you finish college? High school?

This is a no-brainer. In October, the U.S. unemployment rate for someone with a bachelor's degree or higher was 3.1 percent, up from 2.1 percent a year ago. For a high school grad, it was 6.3 percent, up from 4.6 percent a year ago. And for those not finishing high school: 10.3 percent, up from 7.4 percent in October 2007, say U.S. labor statistics.

Follow the numbers. You can see who's most vulnerable.

3 Budget: How much money do you have left at the end of the year after paying for living expenses and paying your taxes?

If you can save $25,000 a year — $480 a week — then you are in great shape. If you save only $5,000 a year — about $100 a week — or less, you're vulnerable with so tiny a safety cushion.

4 Housing: What percentage of your after-tax monthly income is spent on housing?

If it's 20 percent or less, you're in good shape. If it's more than 30 percent, you're vulnerable. (Those with adjustable-rate mortgages, whose payments can escalate quickly, pay special attention. Floridians also got clobbered here from skyrocketing property insurance rates.)

The trend? Down. Middle-class families defined as "housing burdened" rose from 31 to 37 percent from 2000 to 2006. Imagine how much higher it is now.

5 Health care: How many members of your family are covered by private or government health insurance?

If everybody's covered, three cheers. If a member of the family is not covered, you are vulnerable to crippling medical expenses.

The trend? Down. The number of middle-class families in which at least one member lacks health insurance grew from 18 percent in 2000 to 25 percent in 2006.

Many findings here are in a new report: "From Middle to Shaky Ground: The Economic Decline of America's Middle Class, 2000-2006." It was released Wednesday by the policy center Demos and the Institute for Assets and Social Policy at Brandeis University.

The trend? Less assets, more debt. Slipping out of the middle class is getting way too easy.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@sptimes.com.

Five ways to tell if you're middle class 11/19/08 [Last modified: Friday, November 21, 2008 7:47pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Federal agencies demand records from SeaWorld theme park

    Tourism

    ORLANDO — Two federal agencies are reportedly demanding financial records from SeaWorld.

    Killer whales Ikaika and Corky participate in behaviors commonly done in the wild during SeaWorld's Killer Whale educational presentation in this photo from Jan. 9. SeaWorld has been subpoenaed by two federal agencies for comments that executives and the company made in August 2014 about the impact from the "Blackfish" documentary. 
[Nelvin C. Cepeda/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS]
  2. Legalized medical marijuana signed into law by Rick Scott

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott on Friday signed into law a broader medical marijuana system for the state, following through on a promise he made earlier this month.

    Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation on Friday that legalizes medical marijuana in Florida.
  3. Line of moms welcome Once Upon A Child to Carrollwood

    Business

    CARROLLWOOD — Strollers of all shapes and sizes are lined up in front of the store, and inside, there are racks of children's clothing in every color of the rainbow.

    At Once Upon A Child, you often as many baby strollers outside as you find baby furniture and accessories. It recently opened this location in Carrollwood. Photo by Danielle Hauser
  4. Pastries N Chaat brings North India cuisine to North Tampa

    Business

    TAMPA — Pastries N Chaat, a new restaurant offering Indian street food, opened this week near the University of South Florida.

    The menu at Pastries N Chaat includes a large variety of Biriyani, an entree owners say is beloved by millions. Photo courtesy of Pastries N Chaat.
  5. 'Garbage juice' seen as threat to drinking water in Florida Panhandle county

    Water

    To Waste Management, the nation's largest handler of garbage, the liquid that winds up at the bottom of a landfill is called "leachate," and it can safely be disposed of in a well that's 4,200 feet deep.

    Three samples that were displayed by Jackson County NAACP President Ronstance Pittman at a public meeting on Waste Management's deep well injection proposal. The sample on the left is full of leachate from the Jackson County landfill, the stuff that would be injected into the well. The sample on the right shows leachate after it's been treated at a wastewater treatment plant. The one in the middle is tap water.