Middle Class

The United States thinks of itself as a “middle-class country,” but nobody — not sociologists, economists, or the U.S. Census Bureau –have a precise definition what it means to be middle class.   And where is the dividing line between “working class” and “middle class?”

Still, an enormous number of people define themselves as “middle class.” According to statistics from the National Opinion Research Center large numbers of American define themselves as “working class” or “middle class,” including:

  • 50% of those families who earn between $20,000 and $40,000 annually
  • 38% of those families who earn between $40,000 and $60,000 annually
  • 16.8% of those families who earn over $110,000 annually

In searching for resources on the middle-class experience, we found very little that was useful about middle class culture and class identity.   There is a lot, however, about the squeezed, shrinking, endangered, and threatened middle class.


Class Matters
Website for Betsy Leondar-Wright’s book Class Matters: Cross-Class Alliance Building for Middle Class Activists. This website contains interviews with poor and working class leaders about the challenges of cross-class organizing and information collected in the course of writing the book.

Documentary: “Middle Class Squeeze.” PBS’s NOW program with Bill Moyers did a special report on the middle class experience.   Read background materials and transcripts.


Brantlinger, Ellen A. Dividing Classes: How the Middle Class Negotiates and Justifies School Advantage. London, U.K.: Falmer Press, 2003.

Cose, Ellis. The Rage of a Privileged Class: Why Do Prosperous Blacks Still Have the Blues?   Perennial, 1995. A controversial and widely heralded look at the race-related pain and anger felt by the most respected, best educated, and wealthiest members of the black community.

Ehrenreich, Barbara. Fear of Falling: The Inner Life of the Middle Class. New York: Harper Collins, 1989

Feagin, Joe. R. and Sikes, Melvin P.   Living With Racism: The Black Middle-Class Experience. Boston: Beacon Press, 1994. Pervasive white racism–often subtle and covert, at times blatant–is a daily reality for African Americans, according to the 209 middle-class blacks interviewed for this important and disturbing report.

Howe. Carolyn. Political Ideology and Class Formation: A Study of the Middle Class.   Praeger Press, 1992. Five theories of the middle class are systematically examined: new class, new working class, new petit bourgeoisie, new labor aristocracy, and contradictory class locations. Using these five theories, the author offers an accessible analysis of recent debates within class analysis and stratification studies

Kenny, Lorraine Delia. Daughters of Suburbia: Growing Up White, Middle Class, and Female.   Rutgers University Press, 2001.

Leondar-Wright, Betsy. Class Matters: Cross-Class Alliance Building for Middle Class Activists. Gabriola Island, British Columbia: New Society Publishers, 2005. A practical guide by Class Action board member, Betsy Leondar-Wright, that draws on interviews and movement lessons about building healthy cross-class organizing efforts.

Mills, C. Wright, Jacoby, Russell. White Collar: The American Middle Classes. Oxford University Press; 2002 (50th Annv edition).

In print for fifty years, White Collar is considered a standard on the subject of the new middle class in twentieth-century America. This landmark volume demonstrates how the conditions and styles of middle class life–originating from elements of both the newer lower and upper classes–represent modern society as a whole.

Moskowitz, Marina. Standard of Living: Th
e Measure of the Middle Class in Modern America
. Baltimore: John Hopkins Press, 2004.

Mary Pattillo-McCoy, Mary. Black Picket Fences: Privilege and Peril among the Black Middle Class. University of Chicago, 2000.   A close-up look at the black middle class Chicago neighborhood of Groveland and the advantages and challenges facing the community.

Parker, Richard. Myth of the Middle Class. New York: HarperCollins, 1972.

Phillips, Kevin. Boiling Point: Democrats, Republicans and the Decline of Middle-Class Prosperity. New York: Random House, 1993.

Sullivan, Teresa A., Warren, Elizabeth and Westbrook, Jay Lawrence.  The Fragile Middle Class: Americans in Debt. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000.

Warren, Elizabeth and Tyagi, Amelia Warren. The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers are Going Broke. Basic Books, 2003.