End the duopoly

What politicians get wrong about the middle class

This week, Joe Biden tweeted about what it means to be middle class. Of course, with all the news swirling around Biden and President Trump recently, you might have glossed over it. But the ratio it received—nearly 4,500 comments to more than 2,400 retweets, at the time of writing—told a different story. “Being middle class isn’t a number,” the tweet read. “It’s a value set.”

Being middle class isn’t a number. It’s a value set. It’s about the issues that matter to every American family: a good education, economic opportunity, access to quality, affordable health care.

We’ve got to rebuild the middle class and, this time, ensure everyone comes along.

— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) September 30, 2019

This didn’t ring true to many people who voiced their frustrations on Twitter. “No, Joe, middle class is not about a set of values,” writer Roxane Gay wrote in response. “That’s what people who are only concerned with one demographic say. This is really frustrating and myopic.”

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Several research institutes make the case that financial standing alone doesn’t define the middle class, but there are numbers attached to the demographic; in 2016, the Pew Research Center found that middle-income families—in a three-person household—earned between $45,200 and $135,600. The Brookings Institution defines it as a broader range, from $37,000 to $147,000 for a household of three.

Politicians, regardless of political party, expend a lot of energy trying to curry the favor of the middle class, often making general statements about the successes or challenges faced by this huge swath of the U.S. population. But with the exception of figures like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has made her working-class background part of her platform, most politicians themselves are fairly affluent. Last year, Roll Call reported the 115th Congress was worth a total of $2.43 billion (though following the midterm election, that number was slated to drop by more than $900 million). The total figure is likely even higher, given that politicians aren’t required to publicly disclose the value of their properties.


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