Downwardly mobile or upwardly mobile?

A study was reported in today’s Washington Post, claiming that many people with middle class parents were not in the middle class. One of the criteria for moving down was they were below the 30th percentile in income. There were other criteria that would make them considered downwardly mobile, but I’m  only going to look at this one. Middle class was defined as the middle 40 percent of income: people whose incomes were between the 30th percentile and the 70th percentile.

This is a relative scale. If everyone’s income were increased by $50,000 per year, the bottom 30% will still not be middle class. This means that for everyone whose income dropped below the 30th percentile, someone else moved up. Percentiles don’t look at an absolute scale. If everyone in the US were put in a line by income, taking people out of the middle 40% and putting them further back in line invariably moves other people up. Using the same data, the change in percentile of middle class people, one could equally argue that the lower class people are moving up.

But that is good news, and less likely to be reported.


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