The strength of the American middle class is a common point of discussion among politicians of all parties. For many, this group is important for cultural reasons, representing “everyday America.” For others, it represents the consumer class that drives the American economy.
But who actually makes up the middle class in the United States? For such a commonly-discussed group, there is surprisingly little consensus on how to define the group. One Pew Research Center study defines it as households earning between two-thirds and twice the median household income. Other varying definitions include a range of household incomes as low as $13,000 and as high as $230,000.
To determine the income it takes for a family to be considered middle class in every state, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data on the upper and lower bounds of U.S. household income quintiles from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2018 American Community Survey. The boundaries of the three middle income quintiles for the U.S. as a whole were adjusted for state-level cost of living using regional price parity data for 2017 from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The RPP-adjusted boundaries were defined as the range of income that could be considered middle class in a given state.
From state to state, the cost of living varies significantly. Adjusting for the cost of living, the bottom threshold of the middle class in one state is as low as $21,797 and as high as $148,507 in another.
Because this income distribution is so wide, it is likely that many households, even after adjusting for cost of living, can technically fall into the middle class in their state but are unable to meet the basic comfortable standard of living many associate with a middle class lifestyle. This is the income a family actually needs to avoid poverty in every state.
And for the richest one-fifth of Americans, earnings vary widely as well. Within this quintile, the richest 5% in many states make at least $100,000 more than other people in the top 20%. This is the income it takes to be considered rich in every state.