Inflation hits harder after decades of shrinking middle class

Fully 93% of respondents to a May survey by Pew Research felt inflation was a “very big” or “moderately big” problem for the country, eclipsing concerns over unemployment (61%) or the COVID pandemic (57%).

The skyrocketing prices of fuel, food, housing and other necessities in the short term are logically disconcerting to Americans who live paycheck to paycheck which, despite recent wage gains, included 64% of us in March who had “little or nothing left at the end of the month after expenses,” according to a LendingClub survey.

This is less a short-term result of inflation than evidence of the decline of the American middle class over the past half century as both income and total wealth have shifted markedly toward the upper class.

Derek Larson

In the mid-20th century, belonging to the middle class — defined by Pew as having a household income between two-thirds and twice the national median — was both the ideal and the reality for a majority of Americans. In 1971 fully 61% of households were in that middle range of income; by 2021 only 50% remained, a figure that has been stable since the Great Recession.

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