Basically what we did was, we said thirty five to eighty five thousand [$35-85k], this is a job income, would constitute the heart of the middle class. Now an extended middle class might run up to a hundred and fifteen thousand [$115k], maybe a little bit more than that, because if you're working and living in New York that's not going to be a whole lot of money. And so you got to take into account the different sections of the country, but basically it's at thirty five to eighty five thousand [$35-85k], is the heart of the middle class, and then an extended middle class up to a hundred and ten, fifteen thousand [$110-115k].
And all that is really, we took the definition we used for the first book, America: What Went Wrong?, adjusted the salaries for inflation, and that's what we ended up with.
And some people will say that $35 thousand that's not a lot of money, and it's not, but if you're living in a small town in Oklahoma, Missouri, or even Ohio, you can have a middle class lifestyle with that. You can own a home, you can help certainly send your kids to college, and get by.
Rob Kall: And what percentage of the population is middle class?
Donald Barlett: Well you know this is" [laughing] now you're really getting tricky, because a lot of people, everyone likes to say they're middle class, and that's part of the problem. Even the richest of the rich like to say they're not, "we're middle class!" But it is the bulk of the population, would fall into that category.
James Steele: You know there's new definitions now on who's poor in this country.
Donald Barlett: And this is more interesting, actually.
James Steele: And which really raises all kinds of questions about who's fallen out of the middle class.
Rob Kall: Okay. Who's poor?
James Steele: I'm sorry, who's?
Rob Kall: Okay. Who's poor?
Donald Barlett: Well, the poverty numbers just came out, and you know you wind up with the, whatever it is, forty, fifty million people now in poverty. The poor is usually labelled.. you're considered two hundred percent of the poverty level, that poverty number. And the poverty number is a pretty grim number.
The critics will say, "well, wait a minute. People did they" they have a television set, they have a cell phone, and you're calling them poor?' But, and this is true, the definition can't remain the same, can't be held constant through the decades. It really has to change. It's true that someone labelled as poor at the turn of the Eighteen Hundreds [1800s] to the Nineteen Hundreds [1900s], didn't have many extras, but that's not the case today. And nor could they survive today without them.
Rob Kall: But I can't seem to nail you down on a percentage of Americans who are middle class now. Compare that to, say the peak that you cite in Nineteen Seventy Nine . Of jobs in America,are there any percentages or numbers that you can throw at us, that would give some context?
James Steele: We have in the book, and if...
Donald Barlett: I can't put my finger on it.