Analyzing the Claim That $250,000 Is A Lower Middle Class Salary in New York City
I decided to look up some numbers to analyze his claim. Assuming the numbers I've found are accurate, the median salary in New York City according to the bureau of labor statistics was approximately $50,000.*
Does that go up according to professions? Yes. The median salary for a worker in the business and financial sector was $77,000.
The highest median salary within the business and financial sector was for personal financial advisors, at $130,000. In the computer field, the highest median salary for any variety of position was $112,000. In construction, it was $77,000. In education, it was $116,000. In engineering, $101,000 again. In food services, only $34,000. Surgeons top the healthcare chart at $194,000--but health care support only goes to $48,000. Even lawyers can't compete within legal services with $140,000. For maintenance, building, and grounds cleaning it's $44,000. Management must be great right? It is, but even the most highly paid category within management (chief executives) is slightly lower than surgeons at $190,000. Athletes--listed within media--get $128,000. Office administration is down to $50,000. The vaguely named personal services position give the highest median salary to flight attendants at $72,000. Production salaries average quite low, with the high going to dental lab technicians at $47,000. Within law enforcement, the situation is a bit better, with first line supervisors pulling in $90,000. In repair, first line supervisors only get $69,000. In sales, you can get $119,000 in real estate. Physicists, surprisingly, earn the most out of all the scientists, at $113,000 median income. But the social services are back down in salary again, with the highest income going to vocational counselors at $64,000 (but no pyramid). In transportation, the median salaries average low, but pilots break out of the run-of-the-mill numbers with an almost-competitive-with-surgeons $162,000.
I should repeat that those are the absolute highest entries in each category, often accompanied by ten to twenty other positions whose median salaries are much, much lower.
No single individual even comes close to the line that Robert draws for the *lower* middle class. Not even a surgeon, at $194,000.
Now maybe he misspoke. Maybe he didn't mean "someone." Maybe he meant "a family of someones" and maybe he was talking about families with two wage earners.
So, it's true, two surgeons, each earning a median-for-their-profession salary of $194,000, do actually exceed the $250,000 barrier. But what kind of deluded reality do we have to enter to classify a pair of married surgeons as *lower* middle class?
How about more traditionally middle class professions? Maybe a teacher and a policeman? Well, a median middle school teacher earns a salary of $66,000, while her husband as a patrol officer earns $62,000. Together, they're at $128,000, about half of what Robert declares is the line for the *lower* middle class. So I guess teaching and law enforcement are not middle class professions; they must be poverty level professions.
An office assistant married to an architect? If he's an office manager, he might make $56,000. His wife does better at $84,000. Together, they're making $140,000... again, well short of the line for the *lower* middle class. I guess they're living in poverty, too.
Two architects? At $168,000 for the pair, they're also poor. A legal secretary ($45,000) with a graphic designer ($56,000)? Poor at $101,000 a year. An auto mechanic ($40,000) with a civil engineer (82,000)? $122,000 and poor, poor, poor.
Two people working at the median level in the financial services, where we started out, are only at $144,000--so that business degree you were planning to get so that you could earn some cash? Well, maybe it'll work out for you if you strike it rich, but if you're just average, then your business degree is also your ticket to poverty.
Even pairs of some of the highest earners on this list--which is already a list of the HIGHEST median salaries within their fields--fail to make it to the golden $250,000 lower middle class mark. Now two surgeons are doing well (at 388,000) and so are two airplane pilots (314,000), and two chief executives (380,000), all of whom have earned their place in the lower middle class. Two athletes (256,000) and two personal financial advisors (260,000) squeak by at the very lowest boundary of the lower middle class. None of them could support a stay-at-home spouse, though, without slipping into poverty.
But poverty howls at the doors of the houses of two physicists (226,000), two real estate agents (238,000), two college professors specializing in health (232,000)**, two computer hardware engineers (202,000), and two computer research scientists (222,000).
Whole professions have been locked entirely out of the lower middle class. In fact, it seems like the lower middle class has been raised entirely out of sight... almost to a point where it's just a little tiny white dot in the air, almost invisible, almost totally devoid of all meaning.
As a lower middle class salary, the number $250,000 excludes almost everyone. Almost everyone falls below, and almost no one is above. If this is going to be a meaningful way of deciding who is in the middle class, then I have to ask what the point of protecting the middle class is. I though that one reason we hear so much about defending the interests of the middle class was because that's where the bulk of the population is, the largest number of people whose interests need defending. But if entry into even the *lower* middle class requires such a high barrier, then we're talking about a smaller and smaller, rarefied sliver of people. If that's the middle class, then no, I don't oppose raising taxes on "the middle class."
Of course, $250,000 isn't a lower middle class salary, not in any real world metric. $250,000 is not a lower middle class salary anywhere outside of situations when Republicans want to stretch the definition of middle class past its breaking point in order to oppose raising taxes on the rich.
The idea that $250,000 is a lower middle class salary in NYC--even for a pair of earners--is the function of profound delusion and ignorance.
*The numbers appear to be from 2008.
**Why are "Health Specialties Teachers, College" so overpaid compared to their peers?*** Their $116,000 median salary is bizarrely high compared to the next highest category, $95,000 for law professors, and the third place $89,000 for economics teachers. Filtering all college professors out of the category, the highest median salary in education is $70,000, applying to both secondary school vocation teachers and secondary school special education teachers. (I expect that they're overpaid in comparison to *their* peers because the job requires an extra educational degree.)
***My husband points out that it's because they're teaching pre-med, and that the hierarchy med teachers, then law teachers, is parallel to the one in the real world where surgeons earn a huge amount of money, and lawyers earn slightly less.