The short answer is “no” – and Media Matters, Matthew Yglesias and others have properly taken news anchor Charles Gibson to task for suggesting that $200,000 is a “middle-class” income. But even if Gibson is wrong about “two professors” at St. Anselm College making that amount, or was wrong because, as Media Matters points out, “only 3.4 percent of U.S. households have an income of $200,000 or more” – he may actually have headed in the right direction policy-wise.
Born in Evanston, IL in 1943, Gibson is at the end of the “Silent Generation,” and grew up at a time of post-war prosperity. In fact, during Charlie’s youth and early adulthood broad-based income growth was the rule, with American family incomes from 1947 to 1973, at the 60th, 40th, and 20th percentiles growing at an annual rate of about 2.7%. A family in the 60th percentile of income, let’s call them the Smiths, in 1947 made $25,728 annually. The Smith’s income 26 years later in 1973 more than doubled to $53,282 annually. Since then the Smith’s income has grown by about 0.8% annually – a big drop – so after another 32 years pass, in 2005, the Smiths increased their income to only $68,304. But had the 2.7% growth rate continued, the Smiths in 2005 would have again more than doubled their income to $124,978 and would earn $135,377 in 2008 (again using 2005 constant dollars).
So maybe Charles Gibson was ambitious in his estimate of “middle class families” earning $200,000 each year – but I like to think he was right in his estimate of how the American economy should reward its workers. American workers that produce American prosperity should enjoy a greater share in its rewards – just like they did when Charlie Gibson grew up.