Here’s some information from the U.S. Census Bureau:

Real median household income in the United States in 2011 was $50,054, a 1.5 percent decline from the 2010 median and the second consecutive annual drop.

The nation’s official poverty rate in 2011 was 15.0 percent, with 46.2 million people in poverty. After three consecutive years of increases, neither the poverty rate nor the number of people in poverty were statistically different from the 2010 estimates.

The number of people without health insurance coverage declined from 50.0 million in 2010 to 48.6 million in 2011, as did the percentage without coverage – from 16.3 percent in 2010 to 15.7 percent in 2011.

For dumb people, “median” means that there are an equal number of things on each side of the number. In this case, it means that in 2011 the exact same number of people households made more than $50,054 than made less. This is an entirely defensible and sensible way of defining “middle-income Americans.” People Households making $50,054 last year were precisely in the middle. Nevertheless, the following exchange occurred on this morning’s Good Morning America program:

“No one can say my plan is going to raise taxes on middle-income people, because principle number one is (to) keep the burden down on middle-income taxpayers,” Romney told host George Stephanopoulos.

“Is $100,000 middle income?” Stephanopoulos asked.

“No, middle income is $200,000 to $250,000 and less,” Romney responded.

The Washington Post article points out that President Obama has referred to the “Middle Class” as including people with incomes up to $250,000. But that is not equivalent to what Romney said. The president was giving an upper range. And he certainly wasn’t suggesting that people making less than $200,000 a year are not middle class.

“Middle class” is a vague term, but “middle income” shouldn’t be. I’d argue that middle income people make between $40,000 and $60,000 a year. I’d choose that range because if you go any lower, you’re dealing with people who can’t be described as having any financial security. And I think that’s what we’re trying to talk about when we use these terms. The middle class is supposed to be a comfortable place. It’s not great; it’s not that secure; but it is comfortable. What’s happening in this country is that the middle income is getting perilously close to the poverty level for any family of significant size. The middle class isn’t as comfortable as it used to be.

But, unless you live in Manhattan, making $200,000 a year is a lot of money. And only about 3% of Americans make more than $250,000 a year. You can’t call that middle income or middle class.

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