For a country that doesn't officially have an aristocracy, the U.S. spends a lot of time talking about its middle class -- and the warfare that supposedly rages between it and "The 1 Percent." In recent months, this sometimes-seething, sometimes-hidden conflict has tumbled out into the open as the two presidential candidates have fought for the votes of average Americans. But while the middle class gets a lot of attention, few pundits and politicians have been able convincingly explain what, precisely, middle class means. Is it merely a measure of how much money a family brings in, as some economists assume, or is class in America still a measure of where you work, where you live, and where you went to college?
If you've ever wondered what the middle class is -- and whether or not you're a member of it -- take a peek at our middle class quiz!
Pop Quiz: Who Is Living America's Middle-Class Dream?
Answer: B. According to the Census Bureau, the middle 60% of households make between $20,263 and $101,582, and the middle quintile -- the "middlest" of the middle class -- makes $38,521-$62,434 per year. The median household brings home $50,020 per year.
Answer: D. According to a recent Pew poll, the median middle class response was that it takes $70,000 per year to fund a middle class family of four.
A. High School diploma
B. Associate degree
C. College degree
D. Graduate degree
Answer: B. Educational attainment is one of the fault lines between money-based and lifestyle-based definitions of the middle class. Most theorists claim that a college degree -- or even a graduate degree -- are necessary for membership in the group. The Census Bureau, on the other hand, notes that the median household headed by someone with an associate's degree makes $55,928 per year -- almost $6,000 more than the median household. As for households headed by college graduates, their median income is $83,985. In other words, according to the Census Bureau, it doesn't take a four-year college diploma to live the middle-class dream.
Answer: A -- or maybe B. The middle 20% of the country -- the core middle class -- holds 4% of the nation's wealth, which is defined as assets, minus debts. The middle 60%, which is a more expansive definition of the middle class, has just over 15%. The rest, 85%, is almost entirely held by the richest 20% of the country.
Answer: A. According to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, the effective income tax rate -- basically, income tax after deductions and tax credits -- is 3.3% for the middle 20% of taxpayers. For the middle 60%, it ranges from -0.4% to 6.2%. In other words, a large part of the middle class fits into the 47% of citizens who don't pay any federal income tax.
Answer: B. For decades, the number of people who define themselves as middle class has remained fairly consistent, fluctuating between 45% and 49%. Surprisingly, this is also fairly consistent across races: In a recent study, 51% of white respondents described themselves as middle class, compared with 48% of blacks and 47% of Hispanics.
Answer: D. The middle 60% of Americans -- the full middle class -- receive 58% of all federal entitlements. The top 20% receive 10% of entitlements, and the bottom 20% -- the poorest people in the country -- receive 32%