A Jittery Middle Class

A new poll shows 59 percent of middle class Americans are concerned that a job loss, medical emergency or paying for a child's college education could nudge them out of the middle class.A battle over middle-class voters raged last fall in the presidential election, but that hasn't settled down the nerves of middle class adults who feel like they are on an economic banana peel.

As reported by NPR, many workers making a decent living worry about sliding out of the middle class by losing their job, facing a medical emergency or trying to pay for a child's college education.

In fact, 40 percent of respondents to a quarterly Heartland Monitor Poll this month said paying for a college education for a child is now an unrealistic financial expectation for them.

The survey of 1,000 middle-class adults nationwide indicates Americans have adopted a more dour mood about the economic direction of the country. Only 29 percent say the country is headed in the right direction, down sharply from 41 percent recorded in the same quarterly poll last November.

President Obama's approval rating has dropped, but not as low as that of Congress. Obama's approval rating has slipped to 46 percent from 54 percent in November 2012. Congressional approval ratings didn't fall that much, largely because it is hard to fall out of a basement window. Its April 2013 rating of 3 percent is down from 4 percent last November.

By far, the biggest concern is losing a job. More than 50 percent of respondents said that is their greatest risk to dropping out of middle-class status. Unexpected illness or injury to a family member is viewed as the next greatest risk at 28 percent. A death, property damage or divorce are seen as economic threats, but to a far lesser degree. 

A third of middle-class respondents say spending wisely and investing for the future is the best way to avoid economic catastrophe. Some 22 percent favor paying off debt and avoiding new debt, while 16 percent embrace the idea of "continuing to work hard." Other ideas mentioned by at least 10 percent of respondents are "gaining new skills and education" and "improving or maintaining your health."

But the most overwhelming data point in the survey is that 59 percent of respondents are either very or somewhat concerned about toppling out of the middle class, compared to 40 percent who are unconcerned. It makes for jittery bridge games on Thursday nights.