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There is no consensus definition of "middle class," neither is there an official government definition. What constitutes the middle class is relative, subjective, and not easily defined. The mid-point in the distribution is the median, and in 2007 the median household income was $50,233. How far above and below that amount the middle stretches remains an open question. The U.S. Census Bureau has published figures for 2007 breaking the income distribution into quintiles, or fifths. The narrowest view of who might be considered middle class based on that presentation would include those in the middle quintile, which includes households with income between $39,100 and $62,000. A more generous definition might be based on the three middle quintiles, those households with income between $20,291 and $100,000. Surveys suggest that from 1% to just over 3% of the population consider themselves to be upper class. Comparing those figures with the income distribution would put the dividing line between middle and upper class close to, if not above, $250,000. Similarly, survey responses suggest that the lower end of the middle class might be close to $40,000.


Suggested Citation
Cashell, B. W. (2007). Who are the "middle class"? (RS22627) [Electronic version]. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service.