Back in 1971, 61 percent of the country was considered middle class.
Now for the first time in recent memory, the number of Americans in that group is not in the majority.
That’s according to a new report from Pew Research Center, which found that slightly less than 50 percent of the country now counts as middle income — meaning that a family of three would need to pull in between $42,000 to $126,000 a year in 2014 to count as middle class.
Pew defined middle-income households as those earning two-thirds to double the overall median income, while adjusting for household size.
Pew described the news as a milestone in the “hollowing of the middle class” that’s been underway for more than 40 years.
But it’s less about a shrinking middle class and more about the overall stratification of wealth in the United States. More people are richer, and more are poorer. There are fewer people in between.
Here’s how news and data site FiveThirtyEight breaks it down:
The share of Americans that are in high-earning households, those with more than double the median income, has grown by seven percentage points since 1971. The share of low earners, those earning less than two-thirds the median, has grown just four percentage points. In fact, what Pew calls the “hollowing of the American middle class” is even starker than that: Most of the growth has come at the extreme bottom and top of the income spectrum. In other words, the shrinking of the middle class is less about decline than polarization.
FiveThirtyEight points out some causes, like the fact that the U.S. is getting older and has more immigrants — who statistically earn less.
Pew built this calculator that can show where you rate.
Here’s another look at the history of the middle class, courtesy of Al Jazeera, which lays a lot of the blame on the North American Free Trade Agreement and the decline of unions. (Because of technical problems with the interactive above, I had to remove the previously embedded video.)