If you read a headline that says “2000s hardest on middle class,” you’re going to assume that economics aren’t too good for millions of Americans classified as middle class. Right? Well….
That’s the approach USAToday takes in the August 23, 2012, article by Tim Mullaney. The first six paragraphs tell us how dismal the past decade was for those who used to do pretty well. Now, according to Mullaney, 29 percent of “middle class Americans say they are still cutting back and having a hard time paying their bills,” and “one in six reported trouble making rent or mortgage payments,” and “the middle class got smaller.”
Lacking a credible source, Mullaney quotes Paul Taylor, vice president of Pew Research, the company that conducted the poll. (My journalism instructor would have slapped us for such sloppy, lazy reporting.) Taylor says it is no longer true that middle class Americans enjoy “a rising standard of living,” and that this was the worst economic decade since World War II. To prove it, Pew says that only 51 percent of Americans are middle class, compared to 61 percent in the 1970s.
Well, that does indeed sound like bad news for the middle class. But let’s look at some of the numbers Mullaney, Taylor and Pew use, and some of the facts they seem to ignore.
Middle class is defined as households that earn between $39,000 and $118,000 per year. Having been in that group from time to time in the past 30 years, I suggest that most households sometimes have to cut back to pay the mortgage and bills. This isn’t news.
What is news, if Mullaney’s numbers are right, is that 5 of 6 middle class households report not having trouble paying rent/mortgage, and that 71 percent of middle class Americans are not cutting back. That sounds like prosperity to me, you know, the American Dream. That’s great news. Why isn’t that the headline?
If the middle class is shrinking, then Mullaney’s implication is that many thousands of households have become poor. It isn’t until the next to last paragraph that we learn that 60 percent of middle class households that left the classification – 3 of every 5 families – have earned enough income to be classified above the $118,000 standard. They have become rich.
That is also good news. Why is it reported as more tragedy for American families? What is the motivation behind this negativity?
Disclaimer: You and I know this was a rant, to expose one small manipulative technique disreputable media can use, but what you don’t know is that I am highly allergic to surveys. The sample in this survey was extremely small, only 1,140 people. And, those 1,140 people were adults “who said they are worse off.” The cherry pickers at Pew Research don’t say how many people claimed not to be worse off. Their answers were ignored.