A number is never just a number: What is middle class?

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Agreement among economists on what constitutes Canada's middle class. It varies based on whether you look at family or individual income, provincial or national data, before or after tax. Here we look at median and total family income to get a sense of the range.


The median total income for all Canadian families. That's the dead centre of all family total income earned in Canada in 2010, meaning half earned more than $69,860 and half earned less. (Source)

$60,000 - $85,000

The family income range that puts you in the middle quintile (one-fifth) of Canadian families (total income, 2009). (Source)


Percentage of Canadians who told Environics Research they describe themselves as middle class, even if they aren't by income standards. (Source: Focus Canada 2012 report)

$40,000 - $60,000

The family income range that puts you in the second quintile of Canadian families, just above the bottom fifth (total income, 2009). (Source)


Percentage of Canadians who say they're lower middle class. (Source: Focus Canada 2012 report)

$85,000 - $125,000

The family income range that puts you in the fourth quintile of Canadian families, just below the top fifth (total income, 2009). (Source)


Percentage of Canadians who say they're upper middle class. (Source: Focus Canada 2012 report)


Percentage of all income earned in Canada that went to the middle 60 per cent of Canadian families in 1972. By 2006, that number had dropped to 53 per cent. That's what some people mean when they talk about the shrinking middle class: they're getting a smaller piece of the income pie. (Source)


Percentage of two-income earner middle class families in Canada. That's up considerably from 30 per cent in the 1970s, when more Canadians could find themselves in the middle with only one income earner in the family. (Source)


Real average wages in Canada (and the U.S.) have been stagnant since the 1980s. Mexico is the only country on the continent where its middle class has been gaining from economic growth. (Source)


Percentage of Canadians who anticipate the next generation will be worse off, financially, compared to their parents' generation. (Source: Focus Canada 2012 report)


Synonyms for middle class on thesaurus.com: common people, bourgeoisie, working class, educated class, hoi polloi, middle order, middle-income group, ordinary people, plain folks, proletariat. (Source)

20th century

The conceptualization of 'the new middle class'. In his day, sociologist C. Wright Mills distinguished it as educated, well-paid workers who were often in positions of authority. We know it better as the distinction between 'white collar' and 'blue collar' jobs. In short, the middle class is a social construct that keeps changing over time. (Source)

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternative's Trish Hennessy has long been a fan of Harper Magazine's one-page list of eye-popping statistics, Harper's Index. Instead of wishing for a Canadian version to magically appear, she's created her own index -- a monthly listing of numbers about Canada and its place in the world. Hennessy's Index -- A number is never just a number -- comes out on the first of each month in rabble.ca.

Photo: Mike Hiatt/Flickr

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