What is Middle Class?

The coupon clippers at Red Flag Deals had a year long debate, worthy of a sociology class, on the definition of middle class. In an extended thread, they hashed out appropriate income ranges, lifestyles and purchasing power.

It’s one of the harder questions to answer in a country like Canada where most of us see ourselves as middle class.

The “middle class” are receiving a lot of focus these days as the economy worsens. So who are we?

Earlier this week, on TVO’s The Agenda, economist Armine Yalnizyan laid out what a middle class family in Canada looks like. It lined up fairly closely to the Red:

  • You own a home, rather than rent it – this has a significant effect on your ability to accumulate wealth.
  • You can save enough to send children to after-school activities and/or post-secondary education.
  • You can save enough for retirement.
  • You can take vacations occasionally.

In advance of the Good Jobs Summit last November, Jim Stanford and Hugh MacKenzie looked at what a middle class income, or living wage, would be in Toronto. Their report for the CCPA estimates that, in a two parent family with two children, each adult, working full-time, year-round, would have to earn $16.60 an hour each for a net family income of $57,400. A single parent of one child would require a similar hourly wage ($16.15). (All this casting a different light on Premier McGuinty’s recent speculation about delaying a hike in the minimum wage.)

To find out how your family income compares to most other Canadian families, take a look at the Growing Gap’s income calculator. Adjusting for family size, it allows you to see where you sit within the range of incomes in Canada.

A final note, The Economist recently reported on a study which showed that more people in the developing world are middle-class than ever before, although, it reports, researchers  wrestled with the definition of middle class as well.

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