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Around half the American population is considered middle class, according to the most recent Pew Research data. But being middle class looks different depending on where you are.
Pew’s commonly used definition of middle class sets the range of middle income salaries between two-thirds and double the median salary for a given area. That means you can earn $100,000 and be considered middle class in some locales, but not others.
In fact, middle class income ranges vary widely across the largest 100 U.S. cities, according to a new study from SmartAsset. Fremont, California, has the highest-earning middle class with those earning up to $311,936 still falling in the middle-income range there. That’s more than $50,000 higher than the next city’s upper limit.
SmartAsset used a variation of Pew’s middle class calculation to determine where middle class Americans are making the most money. Naturally, places with higher median incomes — like many cities in California — will have higher-earning middle classes.
Three cities near or within California’s Silicon Valley — Fremont, San Jose and San Francisco — have some of the highest-earning middle classes in the country. That makes sense, as the tech industry has earned a reputation for its high-paying roles.
These are the 10 U.S. cities with the highest middle class income thresholds:
- Middle income lower limit: $104,498
- Middle income upper limit: $311,936
- Middle income lower limit: $84,673
- Middle income upper limit: $252,754
- Middle income lower limit: $84,186
- Middle income upper limit: $251,302
- Middle income lower limit: $81,623
- Middle income upper limit: $243,652
- Middle income lower limit: $74,223
- Middle income upper limit: $221,562
- Middle income lower limit: $70,869
- Middle income upper limit: $211,548
- Middle income lower limit: $70,217
- Middle income upper limit: $209,604
- Middle income lower limit: $66,395
- Middle income upper limit: $198,194
- Middle income lower limit: $63,651
- Middle income upper limit: $190,004
- Middle income lower limit: $63,391
- Middle income upper limit: $189,226
High local median incomes tend to correlate with high costs of living.
Someone earning a middle class income by San Francisco’s standards might appear wealthy to a resident of Cleveland, where a middle class income is between $23,827 and $71,124, the lowest threshold in the country, according to SmartAsset. But the cost of living in San Francisco is estimated to be twice as much as in Cleveland, according to NerdWallet.
And while Pew’s equation might tell you whether your salary fits into a numerical definition of middle class, it’s often more of a mindset. Although the share of people — about half of Americans, according to Gallup polling — who identify as middle class is about the same size as the share of people Pew defines as middle class, not everyone uses the same definition.
To be in the middle class generally means to be doing well enough financially to live fairly comfortably. You might own a home, but have to work to be able to afford your mortgage payments. You aren’t necessarily living paycheck to paycheck, but you can’t afford to retire early.
Generally speaking, being in the middle class means you can reasonably meet your financial obligations with a little room to save for the future or splurge on your passions.
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Check out: Money doesn’t make you middle class—here’s what does, according to an anthropologist, sociologist, and philosopher