In a report that should surprise precisely no one, the Pew Research Center has found that America's middle class has shrunk so far this century in almost 90% of US metropolitan areas.
The American middle class is losing ground in metropolitan areas across the country, affecting communities from Boston to Seattle and from Dallas to Milwaukee. From 2000 to 2014 the share of adults living in middle-income households fell in 203 of the 229 U.S. metropolitan areas examined in a new Pew Research Center analysis of government data. The decrease in the middle-class share was often substantial, measuring 6 percentage points or more in 53 metropolitan areas, compared with a 4-point drop nationally.
The shrinking of the middle class at the national level, to the point where it may no longer be the economic majority in the U.S., was documented in an earlier analysis by the Pew Research Center. The changes at the metropolitan level, the subject of this in-depth look at the American middle class, demonstrate that the national trend is the result of widespread declines in localities all around the country.
This report encompasses 229 of the 381 “metropolitan statistical areas” as defined by the federal government. That is the maximum number of areas that could be identified in the Census Bureau data used for the analysis and for which data are available for both 2000 and 2014 (an accompanying text box provides more detail). 1Together, these areas accounted for 76% of the nation’s population in 2014.
With relatively fewer Americans in the middle-income tier, the economic tiers above and below have grown in significance over time. The share of adults in upper-income households increased in 172 of the 229 metropolitan areas, even as the share of adults in lower-income households rose in 160 metropolitan areas from 2000 to 2014. The shifting economic fortunes of localities were not an either/or proposition: Some 108 metropolitan areas experienced growth in both the lower- and upper-income tiers.
In other words, the rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer, and income inequality continues to grow. But not all metro areas were affected equally:
In Goldsboro, NC—an old railroad junction town and home to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base—the share of adults who are middle income fell from 60% in 2000 to 48% in 2014, or by 12 percentage points. This was one of the greatest decreases among the 229 metropolitan areas analyzed. It was also an unambiguous signal of economic loss as the share of adults in lower-income households in Goldsboro increased sharply, from 27% in 2000 to 41% in 2014.
But in Midland, TX—an energy-based economy that benefited from the rise in oil prices from 2000 to 2014—the shrinking middle class was a sign of financial gains. The share of adults in middle-income households in Midland decreased from 53% in 2000 to 43% in 2014, the fourth-largest drop in the nation. But this was accompanied by rapid growth in the share of adults in upper-income households in Midland, which doubled from 18% in 2000 to 37% in 2014. 2
The heart of this change: the Bush economic disaster.
The widespread erosion of the middle class took place against the backdrop of a decrease in household incomes in most U.S. metropolitan areas. Nationwide, the median income of U.S. households in 2014 stood at 8% less than in 1999, a reminder that the economy has yet to fully recover from the effects of the Great Recession of 2007-09. The decline was pervasive, with median incomes falling in 190 of 229 metropolitan areas examined. Goldsboro ranked near the bottom with a loss of 26% in median income. Midland bucked the prevailing trend with the median income there rising 37% from 1999 to 2014, the greatest increase among the areas examined. 4
Things have gotten a smidge better in 2015 I expect (although I'm betting things are a bit different in Midland, TX with the oil crash) but I just don't see America getting back to 2000 income levels anytime soon. There's been too much structural damage to the economy, and not enough done to try to fix it (thanks Republicans in Congress!)`