The 2000s were a "lost decade" for America's middle class that left them poorer and more pessimistic than they were 10 years earlier, according to a Pew Research Center study. For the first time since at least World War II, middle-class incomes and net worth declined over the decade. The middle class itself—defined as households with incomes from $39,000 to $118,000—is shrinking, the study found, falling from 61% of the population in 1971 to 51% today, although close to half of those who left the bracket moved into the upper class, which now controls more wealth than the middle for the first time in more than 40 years.
Some 85% of middle-class people polled said it was harder to make ends meet now than a decade ago, and only 43% believe that their children's standard of living will be better than their own. "That the middle class always enjoys a rising standard of living is part of America's sense of itself, and it has always been true—until now," a Pew exec tells USA Today. Asked whom they blamed for the decline, 62% placed "a lot" of blame on Congress, while 54% blamed banks, 47% blamed corporations, 44% blamed the Bush administration, and 34% blamed Obama. (Read more middle class stories.)