The Middle Class Is Leaving the Building

OK, it’s not exactly breaking news that the middle class is dwindling. But it’s nice to pick up new details every now and then so we can gauge how screwed we are as a nation.

Last week, the Pew Research Center published another link in the increasingly long chain of evidence that our country is, in fact, in a bad way. Between 2000 and 2014, Pew found that the middle class lost ground as a percentage of the population in 203 of the 229 U.S. metropolitan areas it studied. That’s out of a total of 381 nationwide.

What’s middle class to Pew? Annual income of $42,000 to $125,000 in a household of three.

These people in the middle weren’t disappeared by the government (not directly, anyway) or aliens. Some of them climbed up and some fell down. The number of lower-income households increased in 160 metro areas. The number of wealthy households increased in 172 metro areas.

So the country is getting both richer and poorer, and the bridge of the middle class is looking dodgy.

Zeroing in on the San Antonio area’s numbers, they weren’t too shabby compared to the study’s broader findings. Yes, our middle class slipped, but only to 52.6 percent of the population in 2014 from 53 percent in 2000.  The good news: the percentage of lower-income San Antonians dipped to 29.1 percent from 31.8 percent, and the number of richer hpuseholds grew to 18.3 percent of the population from 15.3 percent.

Texas’s other major metros — Austin, Dallas, and Houston — each saw more significant shifts than San Antonio, demonstrating once again that ours is the Ford Focus of regional economies. Nothing to brag about, but it’s reliable.

Houston’s wealthy jumped to 23 percent of the population in 2014, before the price of crude plunged, from 19.4 percent in 2000.

Dallas’s middle class dropped to 50.4 percent from 54.5 percent 14 years earlier — certainly not because they all got richer. In fact, the number of Dallas’s low-income households (now 27.6 percent of the population) grew faster than its wealthy households (now 22 percent).

Nationwide, all but three of the 10 metros that lost the most economic clout were in the Rust Belt states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio — the ones punished most by plant closings and manufacturing job losses.

But they don’t have a lock on wage stagnation, job insecurity, and status anxiety. There’s plenty to go around.

Donald Trump is counting on it.


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