No longer does being middle class mean getting ahead. It now means just not falling too far behind.
That's according to the 16th quarterly Allstate-National Journal Heartland Monitor Poll released last week. Here, 54% of those surveyed defined the middle class as those who could still keep up with bills, not get too buried in debt, and not lose their jobs.
Once basic economic goals -- such as paying for a child's college education, retiring comfortably or even just surviving a health care emergency
-- are only realistic for the upper class, according to 40% of those surveyed.
Annual vacations, regular pay increases, quality health care, and even just basic job security
-- these things are now only manageable for the upper class, about one-third of those surveyed reported.
"People are not really asking the Ronald Reagan question anymore -- Are you better off than you were four years ago? -- because they don't expect to be," said Ronald Brownstein, editorial director for National Journal, in a telephone interview. "Not falling through the floor is the new getting ahead."
People surveyed may know more about the economy because they bear the brunt of it. Here's what a few of them said:
"The middle class has become a treading-water position. …. Opportunities have been stifled in the past 20 or 30 years." -- Loren Cowdery, a graduate student who delivers pizzas
in Bellingham, Wash.
"I feel sorry for my kids
-- they're just getting out of college -- because they have nothing to look forward to. They're not going to have the ability in the near future to buy a home. There are thousands of people who are going to be stuck with their student loans." -- Tim Cooper, an equipment salesman who lives in the Chicago suburbs.
"Everything is going up, but wages are staying the same. By the time I retire, I hope I have Social Security, because other than that I've got nothing
." -- Dale High, a 54-year-old trucker from Idaho.