Being middle class in America is not just about a specific income range—it’s about lifestyle and perception. But, looking strictly at the data, what income range makes up the middle three quintiles of the income distribution? Last week, Planet Money examined the income distribution in major US cities; we assembled similar data for major Southern metros to consider what income levels are actually middle class in different places.
The chart below shows that broad middle income range—from the 20th income percentile to the 80th, or the middle three quintiles of the income distribution. That means in each metro area, 20 percent of households make less than the purple marker, and 20 percent of households make more than the orange marker. The green square shows the median household income:
It’s also important to note that the income distribution looks different when disaggregated by race. If we look at the median income for black households and white households in those metros, we see that white households are much better off:
While a racial disparity in household wealth exists at all income levels, income continues to be an important factor in building wealth and building mobility for future generations.
People whose incomes fall within the middle three quintiles may still struggle to make ends meet; they may be asset poor and many are just a lay off or health crisis away from poverty. This range isn’t an absolute or complete definition of the middle class (good luck with that, if you’re trying), but it gives us a place to start an analysis.