When President Obama delivered his first State of the Union address in 2009, 53% of Americans considered themselves middle class. Six years later, just 44% of Americans define themselves that way.
It’s no secret working Americans have been under duress for more than a decade, as wages stagnate, computers and robots displace human workers and wealth becomes concentrated among an alarmingly small portion of the population. Obama has promoted policies meant to help the middle class throughout his six years in office, yet the problem today is quite different than when he started the job in 2009—and it’s not clear Obama fully grasps the change.
The president’s latest proposal to aid the middle class is a “Robin Hood” tax plan that would hike taxes on the wealthy to finance tax cuts for lower earners. Transferring money from the rich to the working class through the tax code has been a recurring theme of Obama’s (and many Democrats’) tax proposals. And his latest plan seems no more likely to pass a Republican-controlled Congress than many other ideas that have starred in a State of the Union address, then quietly retired.
The middle class itself, however, has changed notably during the relatively short time Obama has been in office, as the chart below shows. The portion of Americans who consider themselves middle class has dropped (as has the portion considering themselves upper class), while the ranks who call themselves lower class have swelled.