What is middle class?

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Americans often categorize themselves as “middle class,” even those in the top 5 percent of all earners, according to the Pew Research Center. But who’s really considered middle class?

About half of American adults lived in middle-income households in 2014, according to a recent Pew Research analysis. As recent as 2014, that could be anywhere between $24,000 and $73,000 for a single person and $42,000 and $126,000 for a family of three.

While the household income needed to be considered part of the middle class has increased, the number of people who meet that standard has decreased.

The economic gap between the rich and the poor in the U.S. is so broad that more people have started assigning themselves to lower socioeconomic classes.

We talked to three local residents whose incomes fell into the middle-class bracket.

Conner Weissenborn of Lansing, MI

Darien Velasquez

Conner Weissenborn of Lansing

Name: Conner Weissenborn
Age: 21
Hometown: Lansing, Michigan
Profession(s):

  1. Dunham’s sales associate, $9.50/hour at 35 hours a week in the winter
  2. Landscape construction foreman, $12.50/hour full-time in the summer
  3. National Guard as military police office, $250/month

Status: Single
Car: 2000 Dodge Caravan
Class bracket: Lower-middle class

“Middle class, to me, means making enough money to survive, but not much more than that,” Weissenborn said. “It means enough money to pay the bills and to have food on the table, but that’s about it.”

Weissenborn and his roommate live in a one-bedroom apartment on the south side of Lansing.

Based on Weissenborn’s income, he is in the lower income tier, along with 28 percent of adults living in Lansing, according to a recent Pew Research Analysis.

“I buy off-brand groceries because it’s more affordable,” Weissenborn said.

Kelly Lea with daughters: Left - Mazey Lea, Right - Mackenzie Lea

Darien Velasquez

Kelly Lea with daughters: Left – Mazey Lea, Right – Mackenzie Lea

Name: Kelly Lea
Age: 54
Hometown: Charlotte, Michigan
Profession(s): Contractor and Builder for Eyde Co.
Status: Single
Car: 2007 Dodge Ram 4×4
Class bracket: Lower-middle class to middle class

“Middle class, to me, means a family surviving on two incomes to make ends meet and just being able to pay the bills,” Lea said. “I think I would be considered lower-middle class because I am a single dad who is just trying to support his two daughters and just trying to pay my bills. I have to work several side remodeling jobs on top of my full-time job just to scrape by.”

Lea lives in a three-bedroom ranch with his two daughters in Charlotte, Michigan.

Based on Lea’s household income as a family of three, he is actually in the middle-income tier, along with 55 percent of adults in Lansing, according to a recent Pew Research Analysis.

“I think to qualify for middle class, a household has to earn at least $60,000 a year and that’s the lower end,” Lea said. “I never went to college, so everything I have learned about construction has been taught to me by my dad, which is more than any college could have taught me.”

Pew defines middle-income households as those with an income two-thirds to double the median income for that household size.

“I am buying my house on a land contract because after my divorce I was unable to get a conventional home loan,”  Lea said. “Let me just say that trying to survive as a single father is very hard work, but it’s modest work. I guess you can say I’m rich at heart.”

Randi Pratt (far right) with family: Husband Steve - far left, Daughter Ericka, Son Justin Pratt and grandmother

Photo courtesy of Randi Pratt

Randi Pratt (far right) with family: Husband Steve – far left, Daughter Ericka, Son Justin Pratt and grandmother

Name: Randi Pratt
Hometown: Holt, Michigan
Profession(s): Human Resources at Eastlund Concrete, Holt
Status: Married
Car: 2008 GMC Yukon XL
Class bracket: Upper-middle class

“Middle class, to me, means if your household can provide for your family the basic needs such as a home, car, clothes and food without having to worry from day to day where the money is going to come from or how the bills are going to be paid each month,” Pratt said.

Pratt lives in a four-bedroom house with a four-car garage in Holt, Michigan.

Based on Pratt’s household income as a family of four, she’s in the upper-income tier, along with 17 percent of adults in Lansing, according to a recent Pew
Research Analysis.

Pratt studied at Davenport University prior to working for Eastlund Concrete.

“I feel I qualify as middle class because we can provide for our family with the basic necessitates in life without having to worry about paying the bills every month,” Pratt said.

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