Shrinking Middle Class

Shrinking Middle Class

A Chapter by Debbie Barry

An essay about the expanding gap between rich and poor. Written for SOC 101: Introduction to Sociology.


Shrinking Middle Class



According to our text, a middle class family is one "whose income falls between 75 and 125 percent of the nation's median household income" (Schaefer, 2009, p. 189).  Fewer than a quarter of American families qualify as middle class (Schaefer, 2009, p. 189).

The dangers of a shrinking middle class can be seen in the feudal societies of medieval Europe.  When there was little or no middle class, the wealthy had all of the power, and the poor were powerless to improve their lot in life.  When there is a small or nonexistent middle class, jobs with good wages become scarce, low-paying and temporary jobs become more common, and members of the lower class find themselves unable to support themselves and their families.

In modern America, unlike in medieval Europe, there are social programs in place to provide supplemental income, food, housing, medical care, child care, education, fuel assistance, transportation, and various other services to the lower class.  As the middle class in America dwindles, many social programs are running out of money.  Every day, the news reports cases of agencies being unable to extend unemployment benefits, cases of schools closing for lack of funds, and increasingly high unemployment rates.  (The unemployment rate in some areas is falsely improved when people whose benefits have run out cease to be counted among the jobless, even though they are still unemployed.)

While the poor get poorer, and face dimmer and dimmer prospects for a return to financial stability, the rich in America seem to be getting richer.  Those who already have money are able to keep earning more money, and are able to take advantage of tax exemptions and other opportunities to keep more of their money.  Typically, the wealthy are able to get good educations, which allows them to get better jobs, which in turn allows their children to get better jobs, thus perpetuating the cycle.

Specific dangers of a shrinking middle class include increased poverty and homelessness, an increased drain on public resources, increased health concerns as people become less able to afford health care, and increased crime and violence.  These factors tend to lead to increased stresses for families, which often lead to the fracturing of families, the corruption of family values, and the increase and continuation of the problem.

Living just outside of Metro Detroit, it is difficult to write about the declining middle class without extreme emotion.  Most communities feel the effects of this decline in today's world.



Schaefer, R.T.  (2009).  Sociology: A brief introduction (8th ed.).  New York, NY: McGraw Hill.

© 2017 Debbie Barry

Author's Note

Debbie Barry
Initial reactions and constructive criticism welcome.

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Added on November 10, 2017
Last Updated on November 10, 2017
Tags: essay, sociology, society, class

A Journey through My College Papers


Debbie Barry
Debbie Barry

Clarkston, MI

I live with my husband in southeastern Michigan with our two cats, Mister and Goblin. We enjoy exploring history through French and Indian War re-enactment and through medieval re-enactment in the So.. more..