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America's Middle Class Is More Anxious Than Aspirational

Spencer Platt/Getty ImagesWhile America’s middle class was traditionally viewed as a stable place — where a good education, home ownership and a healthy retirement fund are attainable — that has changed, especially since the recession.

50 nine per cent of Americans are afraid of “falling out” of their class in the next few years, according to a Heartland Monitor poll released today, and middle class Americans are now feeling more anxious than aspirational.

A majority “believe that being middle class today means keeping up with expenses and holding a steady job while not falling behind or taking on too much debt,” according to the survey. “Just 43% think that middle class means having the opportunity for financial and professional growth, buying a home, and saving and investing for the future.”

Here are a few more highlights from the survey of 1,000 US adults:

*Almost all Americans (85%) consider themselves a part of an expanded definition of being middle class that includes upper middle class (12%), and lower middle class (26%)

*Americans believe a typical middle-class family makes between $60k and $65k per year – actual estimates indicate the median income for an average family of four is $68,274. 

*More than half (52%) of Americans say the biggest risk factor for falling out of their economic status is losing a job or income source

*50% of all Americans and 51% of the middle class consider higher education to be the most effective way to protect and earn middle-class standing

*At least 40% of middle class Americans believe paying for a child’s college education, retiring comfortably, and having enough money to weather a health or income emergency.  only realistic for the upper class

While overall Americans are in a better place than they were during the recession, most actually got poorer during the early part of the recovery, and with the unemployment rate still at 7.7%. The skyrocketing cost of college tuition also makes achieving the “middle class ideal” more difficult than ever before.

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