Many college grads feel their grip on middle class loosening

Published 8:04 am Thursday, May 2, 2019

WASHINGTON — A college degree has long been a ticket to the U.S. middle class.

It typically confers higher pay, stronger job security, greater home ownership and comparatively stable households. Those benefits have long been seen as worth the sacrifices often required, from deferred income to student debt.

Yet college graduates aren’t as likely as they once were to feel they belong to the middle class, according to a collaborative analysis of the 2018 General Social Survey by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and GSS staff. The survey found that 35 percent of graduates described themselves as working or lower class, up from just 20 percent who felt that way in 1983. By contrast, only 64 percent of college grads say they feel they belong to the middle or upper class.

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The findings might seem surprising given that the nearly decade-long U.S. economic expansion is on the verge of becoming the longest on record and unemployment is an ultra-low 3.8 percent. Yet the financial insecurities that afflict many college graduates point to the widening gap between the richest Americans and everyone else. Dan Black, an economist at the University of Chicago, suggested that the consequences of the trend could include delayed family formation, lower levels of consumer spending and, eventually, slower economic growth.

“Concerns like this will definitely have impacts for the economy, Black said.