October 8, 2018 (Salt Lake City) – At the request of the President’s Office at the University of Utah and in support of the Alliance for the American Dream, the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute reviewed leading definitions of the middle class, with an emphasis on income-based measures, and created a policy brief that helps define the middle class and analyze trends over time.
Consistent with nationwide trends, Utah’s middle class population share has decreased since 1980, as the lower and upper classes grew. The size of Utah’s middle class declined from 51.4 percent of the population in 1980 to 48.6 percent in 2016, a modest decrease of 2.8 percentage points (see Figure 1). However, the middle class share stabilized during the economic recovery following the 2007–2009 recession, increasing by 0.4 percent.
Figure 1: Middle Class Share of Utah and U.S. Population, Selected Years 1980–2016
“The Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute is pleased to support both the University of Utah and the Alliance for the American Dream with new and updated definitions of Utah’s middle class, “ said Natalie Gochnour, associate dean of the David Eccles School of Business and director of the Gardner Policy Institute. “We expect these results will support efforts to create pathways to Utah’s middle class and improve stability for people already there.”
“Middle class” is a malleable, multifaceted identity tied to opportunity, quality of life, and financial stability. There is no standard definition for the U.S. or Utah. Researchers measure this fluid concept with criteria such as income, wealth, occupation, educational attainment, and self-perception.
The new brief from the Gardner Policy Institute defines the middle class based on household income, compared to median income and federal poverty guidelines. In 2016, the regionally adjusted lower and upper income bounds for Utah’s middle income households were $39,690 to $98,270.
The full policy brief is now available online.