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Defining middle class households in 2022

Earlier this week, the Pew Research Center released a new analysis of 2020 economic data from US households. Pew looked at several data sources, including the US Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (2021). The purpose was to gain insight into how American households have fared.

One interesting element of the Pew analysis was an updated definition of a middle class household. According to Pew, an individual making $30,000 per year can sustain a middle class lifestyle. When considering a two-person household, the minimum middle class income level is $42,500. A three-person household would require at least $52,000 to crack the middle class. Supporting a middle-class lifestyle for a four person household would require a minimum household income of 60,000.

The economic location of the middle class is important for someone considering a post-secondary degree. There is no point in spending time and money on a degree program if the income it generates will not provide economic stability and potential growth. The larger the household, the less likely a community college degree or certificate can help create or sustain a middle class household.

That is bad news for career changers and people looking to upskill. (These are the adult learners who would enroll at a community college.) It is bad because – with few exceptions – a community college degree will not produce enough income to get into the middle class. (Especially if the prospective student has a family.) More to the point, the best these degrees can offer most households is the opportunity to remain firmly rooted in poverty.

Middle class households don’t just happen

Household income is also important for staying in the middle class. Only two-thirds of middle class households in 2020 were still in the middle class in 2021. Movers were as likely to drop out of the middle tier as they were to move upward. For low-income households, economic mobility is a serious challenge Two-thirds of low-income households in 2020 were low-income households in 2021.

Given this data, having community college degree programs that lead to steady employment and well-paying jobs is essential. Unfortunately, only a slim range of degree programs (and even fewer certificates) at WCC fit this bill. And instead of developing new programs that improve the overall skill level of the Washtenaw County workforce, the current administration has diverted federal COVID-19 relief funds to filling in the $4.5M debt left by the Health and Fitness Center this year.

That was a lot of economic opportunity to flush down the toilet, especially considering how much occupational education programs can cost to develop and implement.

It is very clear that the lack of investment by the administration into WCC’s primary mission isn’t working. WCC’s programs generated no net interest whatsoever from the State of Michigan’s two free community college programs. It is time to demand an “explanation of benefits” from an institution president (of average size) who needs 13 Vice Presidents to operate the college.

It is time for a change.

Photo Credit: SJ Carey, via Flickr