Middle Class Neighborhoods Shrink Across the US

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Middle class home in Massachusetts

A new study looks at four decades of census data from more than 100 of the country's biggest metropolitan areas. Researchers from Brown and Stanford University examined shifting family income levels within individual neighborhoods. They found that in the past 40 years, neighborhoods have shifted, creating larger areas of affluence and larger areas of poverty as middle-income neighborhoods shrink.

Jane Kolodinsky, chair of the community development and applied economics department at the University of Vermont, discusses why this is happening, and what it means for the American dream. Judy Meister is a Takeaway listener who works as a recruiter for a local college in Pittsburgh, Kansas. Meister's husband is a postal worker, and she says the couple worries about being able to retire.


Jane Kolodinsky and Judy Meister

Comments [11]

Middle class newbie from Tulsa, Ok

The middle class is shrinking because we are living on credit and well above our means.
Growing up my parents used credit cards to afford us certain luxuries. As an adult with a college degree I am slowly learning that in order to get past survival mode I must say no to my 'wants' and live on less than I make. I am willing to give up certain luxuries now in order to get out of debt and be able to build wealth for my future.
As a society we are told we deserve cell phones, flat screen TVs, and to own our own homes when in fact if we do not make the income to support such luxuries we should not have them until we do make that money! There will be no nest egg to leave behind for the next generation if we continue to live on credit and beyond our means.

Nov. 18 2011 11:27 AM
Anonymous from Detroit

I grew up in an upper-middle class family that was hit hard when the economy fell. A mother in real estate selling new builds to the upper class and a father working for the Big Three meant that both our household's sources of income were in peril.

If not for crippling student debt and a constant stream of medical bills, I would be a young middle class American "living the dream" - As it is, I am barely hanging on. Fresh from college, I was lucky enough to snag a well-paying job right out the gate, but there is more going on beneath the surface.

I chose to go to a private college at a time when the economy was stable. My parents didn't have any fears about being able to help pay for my education - until everything went to hell. We fought and scraped to be able to finish putting me through school. There were times when I thought I may not make it to graduation.

I went to school to get a well-paying job, to make a comfortable living. Now I got a job to pay off my student debt.

In many ways these economic hardships have been difficult, but have required our family to get creative - which has been quite enjoyable. My parents have taken on a do-it-yourself approach that makes the best of their situation, growing their own food and taking on odd jobs, etc. We have found pleasure in simplicity. We have grown closer through solidarity.

I wonder how much longer we can hold onto our middle-class status by the skin of our teeth?

Nov. 18 2011 09:02 AM
Howard from Massachusetts

I'm recently retired and spend a lot of time biking for enjoyment and my cholesterol. As I pedal past houses at my pace of 11 MPH, I wonder about the houses, families. It seems that middle class houses, circa 1955 are 800 sq. ft, 3 bedrooms, 1 bath, with a 20% down, 20 yr mortgage. Current middle class houses are 2000 sq. ft., 4 bedrooms, 2 baths, 5% down and 1st, 2nd, 3rd mortgages never paid off. That is a lot of interest to send to Wall Street to influence a Congressman. 1955 family cars were a small Ford, Plymouth, 2500 pounds of steel, 36 month loan. Current family cars are SUVs, 5000 pounds of steel, 84 month loan, more interest to Wall Street to influence a state regulator. Have we, The Middle Class, by paying so much interest, killed The Middle Class? Are we now indentured servants?

Nov. 18 2011 08:06 AM
Ron Honn from Stillwater, OK

I'm a lower-middle-class worker, having worked full-time-plus since I was fifteen. I've tried at various times to go to college and always found myself financially unable to swing it, yet financially overqualified for the leg up that might have given me a much more lucrative (okay, maybe not Wall Street lucrative) career. I found out that working two full-time minimum-wage jobs disqualified me for college assistance. I was told by the CETA program back in the early '80s that it would help my cause if I had a criminal record! I'm 53 now, having dogpaddled my way through America for a long time and my arms are growing tired. As I find myself slowly sinking to the bottom, it occurs to me that capitalism lost the opportunity to create a good, successful consumer in my case, since so much of my energy has just gone into survival. If people in my situation continue to sink, we will have a "trickle-up" economic effect of pulling the economy down further and ultimately erode the wealth even of the top 1%.

Nov. 17 2011 11:07 AM
Angel from Miami, FL

The current practice of cutting taxes to create jobs for the middle class will NOT work because it's geared towards existing industries. These industries are not growing. The tax cuts don't help entrepreneurs working to create "new" industries - the kind that will appear in the future. Congress and established corporations still see the middle class as Lavernes and Shirleys, line workers filling up space belonging to automated processes. The future middle class will be producing specialized products that will go through many version releases or cannot be done by automation.

Nov. 17 2011 09:08 AM
Dave from Utah

I don't see the middle-class as shrinking, per se, what I see is a majority of us who earn 30-50K are clamoring to either hitch our wagons on either the extremely rich (impossible) or the extremely poor (those on welfare and/or subsidized housing).

It's the chasm that's growing, and what's worse? Niether of the extremes see the widening gorge. It feels hopeless.

Nov. 17 2011 09:02 AM

Are you better off now then you were four years ago? Maybe reaching 15 trillion in debt with it covering 100 percent of GDP may have something to do with it as the sputtering and flailing media desperately try to distract from the leadership that brought us here and shows no signs of slowing down.

Nov. 17 2011 08:21 AM
Dawn from Denver area, Colorado

I am certainly downwardly mobile. I grew up middle-class, lived middle-class, and am educated (MA). Now, in my forties, after a divorce, a child with special needs, and three years of partial employment (I am looking for full-time permanent, have a full-time contract right now), I am not middle-class. By the grace of my middle-class parents, we live ok. My income and my future is very uncertain. I hope my son doesn't face the same odds.

Nov. 17 2011 08:19 AM
Ed from Larchmont

The middle class has to shrink: we've killed so many children in abortion, there aren't enough people to buy goods, go to school, pay taxes, etc. So people become poor, except for a few.

Nov. 17 2011 08:07 AM

Ms. Kolodinsky wants to cut taxes to create jobs? This HAS NOT WORKED! We've been cutting taxes for years and the jobs have gone away and the middle class has evaporated. Wake up people; we have to pay MORE in taxes. Taxes are, indeed, the price we pay for a civilized society.

Nov. 17 2011 06:27 AM
Steve from NYC

I am being squeeeeezed. What disposable income? Fuel prices going up. Food prices going up. Cost of services going up. I'm seeing more and more people on the street asking and needing assistance. And we have wall streeters continuing to line their pockets with more money and politicians.

We need to find out who is taking Norquist money and vote them out of office.

Nov. 17 2011 06:24 AM

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