What does it mean to be middle class in America today? Both so much and so very, very little.
Forty years ago, the term “middle class” referred to Americans who had successfully obtained a version of the American dream: a steady income from one or two earners, a home, and security for the future. It meant the ability to save and acquire assets. Now it mostly means the ability to put your bills on autopay and service debt. The stability that once characterized the middle class, which made it such a coveted and aspirational echelon of American existence, has been hollowed out.
Each month, columnist Anne Helen Petersen looks at a different facet of our hollow middle class, such as the causes of the hollowing like student loans and rising child care costs, and how race and identity intersect with one’s middle-class experience.
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