In 1971, the middle class made up 61% of the US population. That figure has now plummeted to just below half, and analysts are worried about the breakdown of what the Los Angeles Times calls "a pillar of the US economy." A Pew Research Center report released Wednesday culled data from the Census Bureau, Labor Department, and Federal Reserve to determine that 120.8 American adults are in middle-class households, while 121.3 million are in the lower- or upper-class tiers. Pew defined middle class as any household making two-thirds to twice the overall median income; for a family of three, that range is $42,000 to $126,000. What's led to what Pew calls a "thinning in the middle and bulking up at the edges": more low-skilled immigrants to bolster the lower class, and more women in the workforce and increased college enrollment on the upper end.
All of the tiers suffered during and after the Great Recession, but the middle class saw the financial gains it had reaped over the last quarter-century virtually wiped out: The median wealth of a middle-class household in 1983 was $95,879, a number that rose to $161,050 by 2007. But after the recession, median wealth for this group was back down to $98,000 in 2010 and remained at that number until at least 2013, the Pew report notes. A recent Gallup poll also shows that people's perceptions are in line with what the Pew report shows: In 2008, 63% of Americans identified as being part of the middle class, while the poll given this spring shows that number has dropped to 51%. (Plug in your own numbers to see where you fall on the income spectrum.)