For four decades, pollsters have been asking Americans to identify themselves by class; typically, most call themselves middle- or working-class. In the latest edition of the survey, however, a record 8.4% have dubbed themselves lower-class, the Los Angeles Times reports. That's a change from previous economic downturns, when hardly anyone identified with the term. It's not just unemployed people who refer to themselves that way; many part-time workers do, too, as do some who attended college.
Meanwhile, less than 55%—a record low—agreed that "people like me and my family have a good chance of improving our standard of living." "The feeling is that things are not likely to get better anytime soon," says an expert. What's more, the wealth gap between rich and poor has been expanding; the wealthiest 10% of Americans had more than half the country's income last year. Thanks to the 2012 presidential election and the Occupy movement, it appears people are aware of the gap. That may help explain why more identify as lower-class than than they did in 1993 and 1983, which saw equally high poverty rates, the Times notes. (Read more class divide stories.)