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America’s middle class has shrunk to just half the population for the first time in at least four decades as the forces of technological change and globalisation drive a wedge between the winners and losers in a splintering US society.
The ranks of the middle class are now narrowly outnumbered by those in lower and upper income strata combined for the first time since at least the early 1970s, according to the definitions by the Pew Research Center, a non-partisan think-tank in research shared with the Financial Times.
The findings come amid an intensifying debate leading up to next year’s presidential election over how to revive the fortunes of the US middle class.
The prevailing view that the middle class is being crushed is helping to feed some of the popular anger that has boosted the populist politics personified by Donald Trump’s candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination. “The middle class is disappearing,” says Alison Fuller, a 25-year-old university graduate working for a medical start-up in Smyrna, Georgia, who sees herself voting for Mr Trump.
Pew used one of the broadest income classifications of the middle class, in a new analysis detailing the “hollowing out” of a group that has formed the bedrock of America’s postwar success.
The core of American society now represents 50 per cent or less of the adult population, compared with 61 per cent at the end of the 1960s. Strikingly, the change has been driven at least as much by rapid growth in the ranks of prosperous Americans above the level of the middle class as it has by expansion in the numbers of poorer citizens.