How Is Everyone Middle-Class?

by Patrick Appel

Last week John Avalon sympathized with families making $250,000 a year. Derek Thompson needled him in response:

I don't doubt it can be challenging to put two kids through private school and pay a mortgage on $250,000 a year in an expensive urban area, but I'm not convinced that those families' experience should guide our tax policy. Six million tax filers, or four percent of the country, bring home between $200,000 and $500,000 in cash income, according to the Tax Policy Center. They earn 15 percent of total income and pay 18 percent of total taxes.

His addendum:

I know it's polite to say we're all middle class until our yearly income adds a seventh digit, but really. If the 95th percentile is the middle class, does that make the median income earner upper-lower class?

My theory is that families tend to socialize with families who make a little more and a little less than they do. A family earning $250,000 a year likely has a number of friends that make around that amount. They probably also know a number of families making $300,000 to $400,000 a year and number of families making $100,000 to $200,000 a year. Even if an American is in the 95th percentile nationally, they are likely to feel middle-class in relation to peers.