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Pew Research Center

Pew Research Center


The Pew Research Center came out with a study showing the American middle class is shrinking. This is true in many metropolitan areas, including Rochester.

Between 2000 and 2014, the Rochester region’s share of lower income people went up from 22.2 to 25.2 percent. The share of middle income people went down from 59.6 to 56.7. The share of upper income people remained the same, down only .2 percent to 18 percent.

Here is how middle class is defined, nationally:




In Rochester, as in most Rust Belt cities, middle income people account for a majority. Income inequality is not as pervasive as it is in some major cities.

When you look at household income, you see big losses for Rochester individuals and families. These dollar figures are adjusted for 2014. The median household income for middle class people was $8,000 more in 1999. The median household income for everyone is down nearly $10,000.



1999 Median 2014 Median
All Lower Middle Upper All Lower Middle Upper
72,711 26,996 79,587 178,250 63,220 26,016 71,278 159,074


The losses in Rochester were worse compared to New York State as a whole:


1999 2014
All Lower Middle Upper All Lower Middle Upper
60,868 23,974 76,377 193,166 59,844 21,834 73,227 175,267


Rochester is not alone. Pew finds:

The decline in household incomes at the national level reflected nearly universal losses across U.S. metropolitan areas. Middle-income households lost ground financially in 222 of 229 metropolitan areas from 1999 to 2014. Meanwhile, the median income of lower-income households slipped in 221 metropolitan areas and the median for upper-income households fell in 215 areas.

The trends in income point to economic pressures on the middle class, including in areas where it still holds a large share of the population.

12 Responses to Shrinking Middle Class

  1. May 13, 2016 at 6:44 am Barbara Carder responds:

    Recently I talked with some Pfaudler workers who were machinists, welders, glassers, etc. https://www.pfaudler.com/en — Over the past 120 years it has changed and adapted building on skills that are in the hands of expert tradesmen. https://www.pfaudler.com/en/company-information While owned by a German company, it has links to knowledge and innovation from around the world. THEREFORE, it’s time to drop the ‘RUST BELT’ references as you’ve done in your story. Kodak was never a ‘rust belt’ stereotypical company, not is Xerox or B&L. Tired of the references to downtrodden cities of the Great Lakes.

  2. May 13, 2016 at 8:10 am Animule responds:

    “Between 2000 and 2014, the Rochester region’s share of lower income people went up from 22.2 to 25.2 percent.” According to ACT Rochester, the percentage of single parent families rose from 33% in Monroe County in 2000 to 41% for the 2010-14 period. For the city of Rochester, the comparable numbers are 62% for 2000 and 70% for the 2010-14 period. Have kids out of wedlock, end up in poverty. Cause and effect. Personal behavior has an awful lot to do with these numbers. http://www.actrochester.org/children-youth/family-support/single-parent-families/data-tables

  3. May 13, 2016 at 8:44 am rochester_veteran responds:

    When my wife and I moved back to Rochester in 1983, Kodak employed more than 60,000 people locally. Those were good jobs that boosted the middle class in the Greater Rochester region. Last I heard, Kodak is employing less than 4,000 people locally. That alone accounts for the loss of the middle people in the area.

  4. May 13, 2016 at 10:35 am Some Guy responds:

    What about the fact that the people who leave the region (and there are a TON of them) are almost always those with the means to do so, and more often than not get “replaced” by people of less means and more propensity to need the high-intensive government-funded services that were never affordable in the first place, but form the sandy foundation of this region’s economy for the past generation?

    Property taxes alone have quadrupled in less than a generation. We spend more than DOUBLE the national average per pupil in government schools, for worse results. And the pensioned apologists for this lecherous status quo attempt to claim credit for the quality of people that enter the better-performing schools as if that had anything to do with them, when it was a solid family of two parents living within their means and making good decisions, that’s the prerequisite for even modest educational outcomes. Teachers do not deserve any blame for the most important aspect, but that also means neither should they receive credit for something they also had no role in doing. Government employee compensation is totally out of whack with reality, but a collapsing empire always makes sure the Praetorian Guard is fat, dumb, and happy (if you doubt that, check out the incredibly vicious assault by the rookie female jail guard on an inebriated female inmate being booked, she not only hasn’t been fired, but the taxpayers will pay out hundreds of thousands of dollars to the victim in the federal lawsuit that just recently made the news, if not more, and this criminal is STILL employed).

    Government has created an environment where there is a massive structural imbalance between the makers and the takers. In any rational society, public servants could serve but not vote, lest they become the special interest that they clearly are. Same with political donations of incorporated entities, the Citizens United decision is not the problem, statutes created after the Civil War deliberately failed to distinguish between natural persons and corporate persons, and the slow death of the republic is the result.

  5. When you have over 50% of the high school population NOT graduating, when only 12 % is considered qualified to attend higher education, when 74% of the children are born out of wedlock, when kids in grammar school have an attendance problem (which really falls on the parents), when babysitting is a considerable problem in high school,……I could go on, but it falls on deaf ears. And you know what’s more important then solving the above, you know what is paramount in this Obama administration,….bathroom justice. Not school attendance, bathroom justice. It’s,……it’s,……it brings one to stuttering with anger. We’re well beyond the disappointment phase.

    • May 15, 2016 at 11:06 pm Steve responds:

      When someone needs to pee, and someone else tries to pass a law to ban them, the problem is not the pee-person, nor is it the president who defends them.

      • May 22, 2016 at 10:21 am carl spackler responds:

        Steve, you do realize that this non “issue” was manufactured to divide people, specifically to distract them from the fact that business and government together are on their way to destroying what’s left of the middle class via government policy, right?

      • May 23, 2016 at 11:00 pm Some Guy responds:

        When someone needs to pee, are they being told they cannot use someone else’s restroom, or are they simply unwilling to be a respectful individual and use the restroom that their anatomy dictates, as is expected of everyone else?

  6. May 13, 2016 at 2:22 pm theodore kumlander responds:

    you mean what is left of the middle class. the baby boomers will be the last middle class generation. i feel sorry for the millennials.

  7. There is an interesting question about what exactly is driving this decline in median household income and growing inequality in household income throughout the United States, including Rochester. The decline in household income is considerably more dramatic than the decrease in adult personal income, so perhaps the growth of single parent households does play a substantial role.

    While these two charts linked below show similar overall patterns, the inflation adjusted median household income is far lower in the US today than in 2000, while personal income is nearly the same now as then.

    Household income – https://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/series/MEHOINUSA672N

    Personal income – https://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/series/MEPAINUSA672N

    And if you think about it, the growth of single parent households could explain a large portion of the change.

    A hypothetical (but not particularly far-fetched) scenario – a three person household is comprised of two working parents and one child. Each parent works full time and makes $11 per hour ($22,880 per year). The child does not work. Collectively, this three person household generates $45,760 of income in a year. This level of income (despite the low hourly earnings) qualifies them as middle income under Pew’s definition.

    Now lets assume those two parents have split up and are not part of the same household. One person lives in a household of one, and still makes $22,880. The other lives with the child and makes $22,880. Neither household qualifies as middle income under Pew’s definition.

    Under both scenarios, the two adults have the exact same level of income, but are categorized differently under this methodology. Both household incomes have declined, while individual incomes remained the same. And the methodology makes sense! Rent for a two bedroom isn’t twice the cost of a one bedroom, etc.

    I don’t mean to argue that this is only a measurement issue, because I do think the growth in single parent household has real implications on household financial stability and a family’s ability to weather job losses or other hardships. But still, the changing composition of American families does present some real challenges when you look at something like household income.

    • May 20, 2016 at 3:20 pm Barbara Carder responds:

      Let’s say that the single-parent household is skewing the middle-class numbers , , , is it not ‘pc’ to talk about this?? I know that generally discussion around this issue have been made to feel racist. Perhaps the ‘definition’ of ‘low-income working class families include single parents, unmarried couples, as well as married couples. Should single-parent households be compared to married/couple households? I don’t think so. Entirely different dynamic . . . including how the IRS treats single people.

  8. May 18, 2016 at 8:04 pm Orielly responds:

    I too hate the “rust belt” name. How come Roch Buffalo Syracuse Cleveland get that derogatory naming but Toronto with in 3hrs of these cities for the most part is cool, fashionable, and really hip? Heck, Hollywood flocks to Toronto every year for a film festivaland it’s the coolest city on the planet for at least a week… but 60 miles away we are the rust belt..? So called by liberals mostly as they fly over on their way to LA.

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