- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 29, 2003

Richard Norwood, a 55-year-old Department of Veterans Affairs official, makes roughly $100,000 annually. He and his wife, a retired accountant, own their home in Poolesville, where they have lived since 1977.

Heather Crunk, 27, makes $35,000 a year at a video-production house in Alexandria. She is single, rents an apartment in Old Town and is paying off her student loan and the loan on her 2000 Ford Escort.

Mr. Norwood and Miss Crunk consider themselves middle class. Neither is correct, unofficially.

There is no real definition of the middle class in the United States, assert economists and sociologists, who say “middle class” always has been more of a state of mind than an actual economic status. Even the U.S. Census Bureau has no official definition, although the middle 20 percent of the country earns between $40,000 and $95,000 a year, according to statistics.

Some Americans are worried about losing their middle-class status, especially after enduring several years of a struggling economy.

“I may not be middle class anymore, but I am faking it. I am going to fake it until I make it,” said Niki Faldemolaei, a Bethesda resident who was laid off in July last year from her job in the marketing department of a publishing-industry trade group.

Before losing her job, Ms. Faldemolaei earned about $115,000 annually. She has started her own marketing business, but isn’t making as much money as she did before. She still drives a Lexus and lives in “a fairly upscale” neighborhood, and she is learning to invest better, something she didn’t do before.

“There’s been major pain. I’ve not taken vacations. I’ve been late on some bills and had to deal with the finance charges and the late fees. It’s no fun,” Ms. Faldemolaei said.

One way economists define the middle class is to divide American families into five equally sized groups, with 20 percent of families in each group. The lowest fifth includes families who earn less than $24,000 a year, and the top fifth covers families who earn more than $165,000 annually.

In the middle are families whose income ranges from about $40,000 to about $95,000 annually, according to 2002 census data released this year.

“There are working families who can pay their bills, but they have to really think about such minimal expenditures as picking up a pizza after work, going to the movies, making a long-distance telephone call. They may have some investments, but they depend on each paycheck for their well-being,” said Jared Bernstein, an economist for the Economic Policy Institute, a think tank in the District.

Almost 50 percent of Americans whose annual family income is $20,000 to $40,000 call themselves “working class” or “middle class,” according to the National Opinion Research Center, a research arm of the University of Chicago.

Almost 38 percent of individuals with family incomes of $40,000 to $60,000 and 16.8 percent with family incomes more than $110,000 annually also put themselves in either the working- or middle-class categories.

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