The Geography of Middle Class Decline

November 15, 2016

By Richard Florida

Trump’s stunning and unexpected victory in last week’s election highlighted the overlapping divides of class and location in American politics. Almost a decade ago now, Bill Bishop pointed to the ‘Big Sort’ that is dividing Americans by income, education, and where we live. As the election showed, that big sort has become an even bigger sort as America’s middle class has declined and the nation has split into areas of concentrated affluence and even larger spans of concentrated disadvantage.


The decline of the middle class is the key factor in America’s deepening divide between rich and poor. The share of American families living in middle class neighborhoods fell from nearly two-thirds (65 percent) in 1970 to 40 percent in 2012, according to a recent study by Sean Reardon and Kendra Bischoff. At the same time, the share of American families living in either all-poor or all-affluent neighborhoods more than doubled, increasing from roughly 15 percent to nearly 34 percent.