The American middle class can be difficult to categorize.
It makes up the vast majority of the country’s population, accounting for 52 percent of all American adults as of 2016, according to the Pew Research Center, a percentage that is virtually unchanged since 2011. But the line between what constitutes the middle class can be difficult to determine, as it’s always changing.
One thing that isn’t changing, however, is the middle class’ financial standing. Over the last decade, income gains for middle-income Americans have been modest, with most gains going to higher-income households. In fact, adjusted for inflation, the median income of middle-class households in 2016 was about the same as in 2000, a reflection of the lingering effects of the Great Recession.

The average middle-class household made about $78,000 per year in 2016, up slightly from $74,000 in 2010, or a 5 percent gain. Upper-income households, on the other hand, saw their incomes increase by about 9 percent over that period, from $172,000 to $187,000.
Here in the Denver metro area, including – Denver, Aurora and Lakewood – the middle class is doing a little bit worse than these national averages, with the median income for a 3-person household (the same size factored into the national averages) is about $71,000.
What’s the difference? What factors are at play locally that are impacting the Denver metro area’s median income?
In order to dig deeper into these questions, researchers from the University of Colorado Business Research Division are partnering with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on a study of factors impacting the well-being of middle-class Americans, and they’re conducting focus groups all over Colorado this spring to collect the necessary data. These focus groups will include a representation of middle-class employees as well as middle-income employers and involve discussions about perceptions in the community about the middle class, particularly the factors that have impacted the middle class over time.
The findings and data collected by CU will be presented in a joint report with the Carnegie Endowment later this year.
And they need your help! We’ll be hosting a focus group at Denver South on April 2, 2019 and are looking for members of the community who are interested in participating. This is a great opportunity to express your opinions and perceptions about the middle class in Colorado.
Want to help? Please call us at 303-792-9447 or send us an email at to get started.