More Americans than ever say they're 'lower class'

Five years after the start of Great Recession, this dismal finding surprises even some activists.

By Jonathan Berr Sep 16, 2013 1:32PM
Worried woman (© Thinkstock Images/Jupiterimages)A painfully slow economic recovery, stubbornly high unemployment and stagnant wages have taken their toll on the psyche of the American worker.

A record 8.4% of Americans now label themselves as "lower class." That's the highest showing in the more than four decades that the General Social Survey has asked this question, according to the Los Angeles Times. The survey is run by an independent research group affiliated with the University of Chicago.

Not surprisingly, less than 55% of respondents agreed with the statement "people like me and my family have a good chance of improving our standard of living," the paper said. That's the lowest level since the General Social Survey first asked that question in 1987.

"The rising numbers surprised some researchers and activists even in light of the bruising economy. For decades, the vast majority of Americans have seen themselves as 'middle class' or 'working class,'" according to the LA Times.
High school dropout Susana Garcia of Hawthorne, Calif., is a case in point cited by the paper. She juggled two full-time jobs to cover the mortgage on her home, but was forced to quit one of them after one of her children started skipping school.

"But that meant losing the house and the nearly $60,000 she had parted with as a down payment," the LA Times says. "Her $12.68-an-hour paychecks now have to cover the rent and a host of bills. Nothing is left over to save, she said."

People who feel bad about their economic situations now probably won't be feeling better in the coming months. Lackluster retail sales recently prompted Barclay's to trim its forecast for U.S. gross domestic product growth for the third quarter to 1.5% from an already glacial 1.6%. That's not going to help many struggling Americans to raise their opinion of their economic well being.

Follow Jonathan Berr on Twitter @jdberr.

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Sep 16, 2013 1:52PM
The Great Recession was the greatest transfer of wealth from the poor and middle class to the rich in American history. Wages and benefits were cut as CEO pay and corporate profits rose. The problem now is who is going to buy these products and services if the people making them cannot afford them. When demand falls less will be produced and which will lead to more pay and benefit cuts. This can only go on for so long with ever increasing CEO pay and Golden parachute pay packages. (note: I am not against high CEO pay only increasing CEO pay during the same period when workers pay and benefits as cut)
Sep 16, 2013 2:45PM
No matter how poor I was, I would never consider myself "lower class." I believe class has to do with how one conducts oneself, not wealth or lack thereof.
Sep 16, 2013 3:04PM
Based on the behavior displayed in public by far too many people, I'd agree that many have become "low class".  Start respecting yourself and other people and stop blaming everyone else for your bad choices. 

Bad enough that some choose to have multiple children out of wedlock that they can't afford to support.  But then to expect everyone else to pay their way - that's low class. 

Taking money from taxpayers for food and shelter, while at the same time spending hundreds of dollars a month at the salon or on a data plan or on tobacco and alcohol - that's low class. 

Able-bodied people collecting disability - that's low class. 

Disparaging the efforts and labors of other people, and yet somehow believing that you are entitled to the fruits of those efforts or labors - that's low class.

Sep 16, 2013 2:00PM
I don't care what wall street and the stock market says about recovery.  The average pay check to pay check worker and family is in worse shape now than six years ago.  Get him out of the White House and change our economy.
Sep 16, 2013 2:33PM

Blame our elected officials, the large corporations and Wall Street for the 99% getting hit again.


Mark my words, a second United States Revolution will be the only way to get the 99% heard!

Sep 16, 2013 1:57PM
Up the wages, up the rent, phone, computers, gas, electric, taxes, food, insurance...etc....never ends......
Sep 16, 2013 2:57PM
It would be nice if they gave an example of someone who was actually in the middle class- not a high school drop out, maybe some further education who doesn't have children they cannot afford. No one forced this lady to quit her second job to buy the house that she could never afford making $12.50 per hour.
Sep 16, 2013 2:22PM
Am I suppose to feel sorry for the example in this article? A high school drop out who lost their house?  Is it just me or should they probably not have had a house to begin with...  I don't mean to be rude or insensitive, but we all make choices in life
Sep 16, 2013 2:47PM
So this women is a high school dropout and is bitc*ing because she cannot live the middle-class dream? Entitlement society!!!
Sep 16, 2013 1:58PM
There are many Americans who thought / think they're middle class even though they weren't / aren't.  Ask nearly any group of 100 people and I'd bet 80%+ would indentify themselves as "middle class".  Maybe now more are just starting to see the reality of their situation.
Sep 16, 2013 3:03PM
First of all, money does not define if you have class or not. (Trust me, people like Kim Kardashian have money but could not find class anywhere on or around her big @ss or her crazy family.)
That said, the economy is doing far worse than the media or our so-called leaders would want us to believe. They enjoy healthcare for life and huge wages for jobs that don't result in any sort of results for which they were hired while the rest of the U.S. population struggles.
I'm tired of seeing commercials for "No Kid Hungry" and other nonsense. What exactly are the three meals served in public schools doing if not feeding these worthless brats? My tax dollars also pay for their lazy parents to sit around and watch television and eat Cheetos all day.

Sep 16, 2013 3:14PM
And yet our elected officials have every advantage to pad their bank accounts: lobbyists, inside information at Wall Street, 'campaign' contributions, etc. While the rest of us are struggling, why aren't these clowns in prison??? Our public 'servants' don't seem to care about the rest of the country - only what they themselves can get.
Sep 16, 2013 2:33PM

Voted for Obama and now you complain? 

Still cannot make a connection between a Golf Playing President and an Executive in Charge?

You think that a Community Activist will ever wish for more wealth for his followers?

No. You were wrong then and you are wrong now. It will get worse going forward.

Sep 16, 2013 2:50PM
You have the models all around the world.......As self interest governments no longer represent the populace and become blatantly more and more corrupt you have a further divisions of the classes....Rich and poor!  Just look at countries like Mexico....Ultra rich and Ultra poor.
Sep 16, 2013 2:28PM

One of the hottest social and economic problems in America, today, is poverty.  Poverty is at or above 16% (I personally think it is higher because many in poverty are not counted) this percentage total is about 3,450% higher than poverty was in the early 1960s.  Economic experts blame poverty, depending on which political party is in power, on the federal government.  They are partially correct.  Poverty is the direct cause of bad government (both political parties), bad advice from self proclaimed economic experts (like the idiots of FOX news), and advisors to people in politics that have been given the power, by vote of the people, to make decisions that care for the health and welfare of all Americans.  The main problem is power hungry and greedy politicians that really do not care one iota about the health and welfare of the people. Poverty is a direct cause of the following, 1) a total lack of qualification, including a work for benefits by those that are capable of working  and enforcement of the lawful use of benefits within the welfare programs, 2) spending far too many tax dollars on wars that do not benefit Americans, but cost a large number of American lives as well as money and equipment, 3) a tax dollar giveaway program in the form of foreign aid to many countries that do not support American beliefs in any way, 4) a low minimum hourly wage.  Contrary to the belief of self professed experts, a low income leads to poverty, 5) non-enforcement of existing immigration laws.  People from foreign countries are allowed to enter the United States illegally and fill jobs that belong to Americans, 6) allowing American businesses to relocate to foreign countries without any consideration for the American workers. Penalties on the companies that relocate is the only solution, 7) United States making major purchases from foreign countries even when a better quality exists within the United States, 8) veterans who gave part of their body to protect American beliefs reduced to poverty because of a non-responsive health and welfare system and veteran’s survivors placed on welfare because of government ignorance and finally 9) greed on the part of politicians, business owners and other well off people who really do not care about Americans.  There is neither one political party nor individual group of, so called, experts, that is to blame for poverty in America.  An excellent start is to clean out the Congress from top to bottom and for the President to select people to fill important vacancies to be knowledgeable of the programs and not select based on friendship and/or favors owed.  America can be great once again, but only if we, the people, administer a good dose of X-LAX to the government people that we elect to serve us (not for us to serve them.  Remember, the President only signs what the Congress approves; his Executive powers are not as broad as one might think.

Sep 16, 2013 2:41PM
Obama built that.    Class warfare, higher taxes on job creators, Obamacare.    Obama built ALL of that.
Sep 16, 2013 3:05PM
That is what our president wants! All of us the same! Just like a third world country! You voted for him and you got what you voted for! A broke America!
Sep 16, 2013 2:59PM
That's because a lot more Americans are low class. How do you think we ended up with a no class president?
Sep 16, 2013 3:13PM
The middle class is disappearing, the very class our Despot promised to lift up. Instead the dreaded 1% he talked ill of, have made a fortune under his regime, many supported his reelection, knowing the Fed would prop up Wall Street with the buying of bonds and printing of new money totaling 83 billion a month. ( QEIII) not Queen Elizabeth the III but Quantitative Easing, for all of you Obama-zombies, with your free cell phone, free food, free shelter, free education, free daycare, free this and free that, paid for by the shrinking middle class. Unemployment is closer to 15 % do to the unemployed who have quit looking for a job not being counted;" figures lie and liars figure". The " Lame stream Media is doing everything it can to make it seem like Obummer is working hard to fix things, when in reality he has made it worse, but we can't tell the truth because it makes the "Wizard of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave" look like a bumbling, unqualified leader, which of course he is. It is time the low information voters got the truth instead of the spin. Forty years ago we had JImmie "Peanut man" Carter as president, which is the 4 decades the article is expressing. OBilker is Jimmie Carter on Liberal steroids.
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