States Where the Middle Class Is Being Left Behind

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Road to Church, sunset on Mustard Fields, Kalispell Montana
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9. Montana
> Middle class income growth 2011-2015: 5.3% (23rd highest)
> Fifth quintile income growth: 16.3% (2nd highest)
> Fifth quintile share of income: 49.9% (24th lowest)
> Middle class household income: $48,954 (13th lowest)

In Montana, incomes of middle class residents are increasing at a far slower pace than incomes of the wealthiest residents. The average annual income among the state’s highest earning households — those that comprise the top 20% of earners — is $164,992, up 16.3% from half a decade ago. This was the second largest increase of any state’s top quintile of earners. At the same time, the average middle class income in Montana has increased by only 5.3%.

Labor unions strengthen workers’ bargaining power, and union strength has historically been closely tied to the vibrancy of the middle class. As has been the case nationwide, union membership has been declining in Montana in the last five years. Today, an estimated 12.1% of employed state workers are union members, down from 13.0% in 2011.

Welcome to Kansas
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8. Kansas
> Middle class income growth 2011-2015: 5.2% (25th highest)
> Fifth quintile income growth: 10.9% (9th highest)
> Fifth quintile share of income: 49.6% (21st lowest)
> Middle class household income: $54,296 (24th lowest)

About half of all income in Kansas is earned by the top 20% of households. Meanwhile, the state’s middle class, which is typically the engine of economic growth, earns only 14.9% of income. The disparity will likely get worse before it gets better. Kansas is one of only a handful of states where income growth among the highest earners outpaces the corresponding income growth nationwide, while income growth among the state’s middle class lags behind the comparable growth of the American middle class nationwide.

Despite the financial eclipse of the middle class, Kansas’s economy is faring better than most. Only 4.0% of the state’s labor force is out of a job, well below the 4.9% unemployment rate nationwide.

Snake River Canyon, Idaho
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7. Idaho
> Middle class income growth 2011-2015: 5.1% (25th lowest)
> Fifth quintile income growth: 12.1% (7th highest)
> Fifth quintile share of income: 48.8% (14th lowest)
> Middle class household income: $48,216 (11th lowest)

Currently, income inequality is less profound in Idaho than it is across the country. This may not remain the case for long, however. Middle class incomes in Idaho have not increased as rapidly as they have nationwide. Meanwhile, income growth among the top 20% of households has outpaced comparable growth nationwide by a considerable margin.

Historically, labor unions have been a major factor in the economic vitality of the middle class. The relatively small presence of organized labor in Idaho may partially explain the slower than average wage growth among middle income households. Only 6.8% of working adults in Idaho are unionized, well below the 11.1% of U.S. workers who are.