Middle class saw income, wealth decline last decade

At the same time, Pew said that those in the middle class were pessimistic about their short-term future. But they remain fairly positive about their long-term prospects, even if they are less optimistic than they have been in the past.

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“Since 2000, the middle class has shrunk in size, fallen backward in income and wealth, and shed some — but by no means all — of its characteristic faith in the future,” the research center wrote.

Pew added that middle-class voters are more likely to believe that President Obama would help their situation than would his GOP challenger, Mitt Romney, at a time when the economy is still expected to be a major issue in November’s election.

Roughly half of middle-class adults say they would expect good things out of a second Obama term, while 42 percent said the same about a Romney administration.

Those figures dovetail with party identification, with 50 percent of the middle class identifying themselves as Democrats and around four in 10 as Republicans.

Obama at times has adopted a populist tone in the current campaign, saying he is focused on rebuilding a strong middle class while Romney favors a more trickle-down approach that would shower tax cuts on the wealthy.

Romney, meanwhile, has stressed that his plan would create some 12 million more jobs in the United States.

In all, just about half of Americans are now in the middle class, down from roughly six in 10 in 1971. About one in five now makes more than twice the median national income, up from 14 percent four decades ago, and the lowest-earning tier has also grown to 30 percent.

The highest-earning households (46 percent) and the middle class (45 percent) also accounted for roughly the same amount of aggregate income in 2010. Forty years ago, the middle class (62 percent) accounted for more than twice as much income as the highest tier (29 percent.).

Middle-class adults are most likely to fault Congress for their difficult decade, with 62 percent saying that lawmakers deserve a lot of blame. More than half also blame banks, and they are also more likely to fault the George W. Bush administration (44 percent) than Obama (34 percent).