There's of course another way to look at the middle-class, not by self-definition but by income groups. For purposes of the analysis that follows we've defined middle class as the 41 percent of Americans with household incomes from $35,000 to $100,000 a year.
In ABC News and ABC News/Washington Post polls conducted in recent months, a majority in this middle income range, 58 percent, are worried about their family's financial situation, and about as many, 56 percent, report personal stress as a result of the current economy. Both those are roughly in between the levels of worry and stress reported by those less-well off (more worried and stressed) and those in the upper-income group (less so).
In another measure, 60 percent in the middle-income group express worry about maintaining their standard of living; it's similar among better-off Americans, 55 percent, but spikes to 72 percent among those with lower incomes.
Underscoring the depths of the economic crisis, 28 percent of middle-income Americans say someone in their household has been laid off or lost a job in the last year. That jumps even higher, to 39 percent, among lower-income Americans, and drops considerably to 16 percent of those with $100,000-plus incomes. There's a difference in impact at the low end: Less well-off people are much more apt than those who are better off to say the layoff caused them serious financial hardship.
Also in recent ABC/Post polling, 57 percent of middle-income Americans said the U.S. economy is in "long-term decline"; it was about the same among those better-off, compared with 68 percent in the lower-income category. And in the ABC News Consumer Comfort Index, 57 percent of middle-income adults rate their own finances positively; that jumps to 84 percent in the higher-income category, and dives to 27 percent among people with lower incomes.
Other results have been similar across these groups. Eighty-four percent of middle-income Americans say jobs are hard to find in their area, as do 79 percent of the better-off and 89 percent of those less well off. And regardless of income, more than seven in 10 adults have told us they're worried about the direction of the economy over the next year.
This ABC World News poll was conducted by telephone Feb. 26-March 2, 2010, among a random national sample of 1,005 adults reached by landline and cell-phone alike. Results for the full sample have a 4-point error margin. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by Social Science Research Solutions at ICR-International Communications Research of Media, Pa.
To download a PDF file with full poll results, click here.