The non-partisan Pew Research Center has released a report headlined "The Lost Decade of the Middle Class: Fewer, Poorer, Gloomier," that finds the last decade has seen the largest decline in family incomes since the end of World War II.
As the 2012 presidential candidates prepare their closing arguments to America’s middle class, they are courting a group that has endured a lost decade for economic well-being. Since 2000, the middle class has shrunk in size, fallen backward in income and wealth, and shed some—but by no means all—of its characteristic faith in the future.
The report says that in 1971, 61 percent of Americans fell in a "middle income tier"; in 2011, that had shrunk to 51 percent. That means the rich have gotten richer and the poor poorer, with upper-income adults making up 20 percent of the population, up from 14 percent in 1971, and the lower income up to 29 percent, up from 25 percent.
So what is middle class? It varies on where you live. Based on U.S. Census Data, the annual income for a family of four seen as necessary for a middle-class lifestyle is a median of $85,000 in the East, $60,000 in the Midwest and $70,000 in both the South and the West. (The U.S. census says the median income in Arkansas for families of four is around $56,000.)