Middle class in the U.S. can mean something very different depending on where you call your home state.
Census bureau numbers show a shocking disparity in the definition of ‘middle income’ – with Maryland boasting an average of $67,469 and Mississippi posting an appallingly low $39,078, a difference of $28,391.
Debate over the definition of middle class comes after President Obama’s State of the Union address this week. He detailed his plan to get the middle class back on track, mentioning the term a total of 8 times in his speech on Tuesday.
‘It is our generation’s task, then, to reignite the true engine of America’s economic growth: a rising, thriving middle class,’ he told a joint-session of Congress but since the term is defined so differently by region, many are now wondering who would actually be helped.
In particular, he called for an increase in the minimum wage by $1.75 to $9 an hour, tax reform and investment in technology training.
But Republicans shot back, blaming the Democrats for the lack of economic growth and slow job creation.
The GOP is earnest to reach these middle class voters as well, particularly after the party’s embarrassing failure to appeal to the working class during the 2012 presidential election.
Though the Republican SOTU response by Senator Marco Rubio (Republican – Florida) got more attention for his hilarious water break than the substance of his remarks – he did mention the words ‘middle class’ and ‘working class’ a total of 17 times, The Wall Street Journal counted.
As the middle income sector remains the object of desire for both parties, it has become increasingly unclear who actually falls into that income sector.
Data from 2011, shows the median household income across the nation was $50,054.
A close examination of average household income by state shows that as the top and bottom income levels vary – naturally so does the middle.
The three year average of median household income from 2009 to 2011 of residents in Maryland was $67,469, with the average in New Hampshire ($67,287) and Connecticut ($67,165) close behind.
But the average dropped significantly as one traveled down the coast.
Mississippi posted the lowest average at $39,078. Its neighbors in Arkansas ($39,806) and Tennessee ($41,524) also posted income averages that were shockingly low.
These vastly different levels can make it hard to adequately craft policies for the generic ‘middle class’ segment, when the middle is not equal.
Pundits have responded that the term ‘middle class’ is much too broad to target the exact population that will receive aid.
‘There are two kinds of middle-class Americans struggling today,’ Jim Tankersley wrote in a Washington Post editorial after Mr Obama’s speech.
‘There are the people who can’t find work or can’t work as many hours as they’d like. And there are full-time workers who can’t seem to get ahead.’
Dante Chinni pointed out in his analysis in The Wall Street Journal that the impact of Mr Obama’s proposal to raise the minimum wage will have great or little impact depending on the region.
‘In some places that money may be a crucial part of middle-class life, but in others it may be more about summer jobs for high school students,’ he wrote.
As Democrats and Republicans battle it out for the middle earners, they could find that sector increasingly elusive.
Top 25 U.S. States for Average Median Household
1 Maryland $67,469
2 New Hampshire $67,287
3 Connecticut $67,165
4 New Jersey $65,072
5 Massachusetts $62,809
6 Virginia $62,776
7 Alaska $60,566
8 Colorado $59,803
9 Hawaii $59,605
10 Washington $59,370
11 Utah $58,438
12 Minnesota $56,869
13 District of Columbia $56,566
14 California $56,074
15 Delaware $55,421
16 Vermont $54,805
17 Wyoming $54,458
18 Nebraska $53,927
19 North Dakota $53,827
20 Illinois $52,801
21 Wisconsin $52,574
22 Rhode Island $52,142
23 Oregon $51,735
24 New York $51,547
25 Iowa $51,322
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, 2010 to 2012 Annual Social and Economic Supplements.