Here’s what it takes to be middle class

What does it take to be middle class? About $82,000 a year in household income in San Francisco, $74,000 in Seattle and $60,000 in Washington, DC, a new study says, but only $24,000 in Cleveland.

Researchers at SmartAsset, the consumer finance website, tabulated the low and high end of middle-class wages in 100 major cities and each state.

The analysis uses a Pew Research Center definition of the middle class: Americans whose income ranges from two-thirds to two times the median household income. (Pew also offers a nifty “Are You in the American Middle Class?” income calculator.)

Using Pew’s multiplier on city and state medians, the SmartAsset report reveals an income spread that defines what it means to be middle class in different parts of the United States.

“America̵[ads1]7;s middle class has many different faces,” said Jaclyn DeJohn, managing editor of economic analysis at SmartAsset. “You can make $24,000 in Cleveland or $310,000 in Fremont and still be considered middle class.”

Not surprisingly, median incomes are higher in some affluent West Coast cities and in affluent mega-suburbs.

Fremont, California, a city of 230,000 in Silicon Valley, has the wealthiest middle class of any major jurisdiction in America. The median household income is $155,968, meaning a middle-class income ranges from $104,499 to $311,936.

Cleveland houses the least affluent middle class in the nation, with incomes ranging from $23,827 to $71,124. A Cleveland family with an income of $100,000 would feel relatively wealthy.

The analysis could be of interest to anyone who lives in a big city or is thinking about moving to one, SmartAsset researchers said, as it provides an indicator of how far one’s salary can go and how relatively wealthy one can feel.

“The idea here was to give people a realistic metric to compare themselves to,” DeJohn said. “It’s a different economic reality for every city in America.”

The new report does not attempt to measure the size and shape of America’s full middle class. According to a 2022 Pew analysis, the share of American adults populating the middle class shrank from 61 percent in 1971 to 50 percent in 2021. Our nation is one of growing income inequality.

Pew uses the same formula used in the SmartAsset report, defining the middle class as those with incomes between two-thirds and twice the national median income. That gives a national salary range of about $52,000 to $156,000 in 2020 dollars for a three-person household.

The nation’s median household income was $70,784 in 2021, according to the Census.

The SmartAsset report identified six cities where that sum would not qualify as middle class: Fremont, mentioned above; San Jose, California, with a minimum middle-class income of $84,673; Arlington, the DC suburb, with a middle-class threshold of $84,186; San Francisco, at $81,623; Seattle, at $74,223; and Irvine, in California’s Orange County, at $70,869.

Some of the country’s largest cities are among the lowest in median income, meaning that it doesn’t take much to qualify as middle class.

In Cincinnati, by Pew’s definition, a household earning $28,631 a year would rank as middle class. In Milwaukee, the middle class starts at $31,247 a year. The middle class income limit is $32,689 in Miami, $33,477 in St. Louis, $35,442 in Philadelphia, $36,617 in Baltimore and $37,184 in Houston.

Los Angeles ranks 37th among large cities for middle-class income, with a range of $47,149 to $140,744.

New York ranks 45th, with a middle class income ranging from $45,558 to $135,994. (These numbers are for the city as a whole, not Manhattan alone.)

At the state level, the report found middle-class incomes about 20 percent higher in the Northeast than in the South.

In Maryland, Massachusetts and Washington, DC, a household would have to earn more than $60,000 to qualify as middle class.

Mississippi has the lowest middle-class salary threshold, $32,640, followed by West Virginia ($34,336), Louisiana ($34,898) and Arkansas ($35,194).

Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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