The kids aren’t feeling alright. Nearly 40 percent of Americans aged 18 to 29 self-identify as lower class, a 14 percentage point boost since 2008, according to a new Pew survey.
According to that self-definition, young adults became lower class at nearly twice the rate of the rest of the country over the past four years. Moreover, such a great number of young people self identifying as lower class is disproportionately swelling the ranks of those who consider themselves poor, the study found.
Saddled with lots of student debt and high levels of unemployment and underemployment, it may come as no surprise that young people don’t see themselves as living a one-percent lifestyle. But the tendency to self-identify as poor isn’t limited to young adults; one-third of Americans now identify as lower class compared to about 25 percent four years ago, the Pew report found.
There are a variety of reasons that might explain why an increasing number of Americans, not just the youth, are feeling poor. However they self-identify, nearly half of Americans are actually classified as poor or low-income, according to census data from December 2011. Unemployment has been above 8 percent for years and a growing number of the jobs that are available pay low wages. Economic mobility is also becoming more difficult -- between 1996 and 2006, most Americans in the bottom fifth of earners never moved up the income ladder, according to an April report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. Meanwhile, profitable companies are squeezing more and more out of their workers.
Poor Americans are feeling the pinch. More than 80 percent of Americans who self-identify as lower-class say they’ve had to cut back on spending in the last year, according to the Pew survey. In addition, their outlook remains grim; more than three-quarters of lower-class Americans say it’s harder to get ahead than it was 10 years ago.