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Pew: Bad Times Hit the Good Life

10:36 AM, Apr 11, 2008 • By GARY ANDRES
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The middle class squeeze is in the news a lot these days and on the minds of elected officials. And since about half of Americans consider themselves part of this group, the squeeze is likely to have big political consequences.

The Pew Research Center just released a new study, "Inside the Middle Class: Bad Times Hit the Good Life," that sheds some light on a cohort that gets so much attention from the political class.

Lots of interesting material in the report, but a couple of findings deserve particular attention in this election season. First, the study reveals more evidence of growing economic angst in the electorate: nearly eight out of 10 Americans (79%) now say it's harder to maintain their standard of living today compared to five years ago. I previously wrote about this phenomenon here and called it "lifestyle inflation." It's escalating worries about paying for more "stuff"--cell phones, internet access, car leases, flat screen TV's, etc.--all those "essentials" that didn't exist in your parent's generation, but now seem indispensable. But this high percentage of people who say it's harder to keep up is interesting since 65 percent of Americans also believe they are better off (much or somewhat) economically than their parents.

And who is responsible for the squeeze? Of the 79 percent of middle class Americans who say it's harder to keep up, more than one out of four (26%) say they blame "the government." The price of oil is next at 15 percent, followed by "people themselves" at 11 percent, foreign competition at 8 percent and private companies at 5 percent.

The report should also relieve some of President Bush's anxiety. Despite getting blamed for so much, only 1 percent say he's guilty of hindering the middle class standard of living according to Pew.