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Falling Out of the Middle Class

A recent study by the Pew Charitable Trust‘s Economic Mobility Project shows that a middle-class upbringing does not guarantee middle class status as an adult. The study analyzes potential factors that contribute to this downward mobility, which was measured in three ways: the percent who fall out of the middle class, the percent who fall 20 or more percentiles below their parents’ rank in income distribution, and the percent whose income is 20 or more percent below their parents’. Some findings include:

  • Divorced, widowed or separated individuals are more likely to drop than those who are married.
  • Individuals who obtain higher education are less likely to be downwardly mobile.
  • 38% of black men fall out of the middle class, while black women are not any more likely to drop than white or Hispanic women.
  • Women are more likely to be downwardly mobile than men, but this gender gap is largely driven by disparity among whites.
  • Low scores on the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT) correlate with downward mobility, and differences in average AFQT scores are the most important measurable factor that accounts for the gap in mobility between white and black men.

These findings underscore the importance of care models that provide continuity of coverage to a population that experiences fluctuations, narrow or wide, in household income. Provisions in the ACA, including the Exchange, could help address this issue.

The Pew report is available online.

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