Obama's Middle Class Tax Credits: What Do They Mean for You?

Lower-income families, the report said, can meet these goals through planning and saving but certain obstacles can set them back: if, for instance, they live in area with high housing costs (something that can hurt even higher-income families), lack employer-provided health insurance or have to spend significant amounts on child care or elder care.

It's harder than ever for a family to achieve middle-class status, the report said, because prices for health care, college and housing have risen faster than incomes. Since 1990, health insurance premiums and out-of-pocket expenses have jumped 155 percent, college tuition for public, four-year colleges has risen 60 percent and housing prices are up 56 percent.

Meanwhile, familiy incomes, after rising in the 1990s, were stagnant after 2000, according to the report.

"The American dream is attainable, but if we don't attack the big problems today, whether it's health insurance, education, childcare or housing, it will be harder for more and more American families to reach the middle class," Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said in a statement issued Monday.

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