I think it’s important for us to use a broad definition of "middle class" that encompasses the various levels of middle class. The Census Bureau tells us that the median household income—the income of the household smack in the middle of the income scale—is about $50,000, so that’s certainly got to be considered a middle-class income. But a more comprehensive definition must go a lot further. My boss, the Vice President, often describes the "middle class" as any family that can’t afford to miss more than two or three paychecks without financial difficulty. Given job market turmoil, that’s an awfully timely way to think about the question. It used to be that the middle class was able to achieve the American dream of owning a decent home in a safe neighborhood with a good public school, having access to affordable health care, saving for college and retirement, and enjoying the occasional meal out, movie, and vacation. The problem is that many middle class families are no longer able to achieve this dream. The task force will focus on making the American dream accessible again to the middle class.I like this definition because it gets at the concept from two different positions, one of which includes capital (savings). Definitions that include only yearly income mislabel some people, in my opinion.
—Jared Bernstein, and I am the Executive Director of the task force and Chief Economist and Economic Policy Advisor to the Vice President
It's incomplete because it doesn't define financial difficulty. If it's true that there is a class of people who have very little savings but a pretty luxurious lifestyle, for them financial difficulty might mean "Can't make the payment on the leased Jaguar," and that's a different sort of financial difficulty than some people face.
Then again it's probably smart that the definition doesn't get into specifics on that, because "what standard of living is reasonable to expect" is a divisive topic.