Defining the middle class

A Yahoo! article lays out six markers of being middle class, according to an unnamed government task force. As the article suggests, middle class is a nebulous term in America:

People earning 20% of the average income and people earning 80% all claim to be part of the middle class. More than a few millionaires make the claim too.

Here are the six markers according to the task force: home ownership, automobile ownership, providing a college education for children, having retirement security, having health care coverage, and being able to take family vacations.

Looking at this list, I’m struck by three thoughts:

1. It seems quite American with its emphasis on owning a home, owning a car, and being able to take vacations.

2. This sounds like a life that has to be, or at least typically is, lived in the suburbs.

3. This would take quite a bit of money. Particularly with the point on providing for college, the middle class lifestyle is going to take a decent amount of income. Would the US median household income of $52,029 (2008 estimates from the American Community Survey) cover this? I’m guessing it would be difficult and it means most families would have to have two good incomes. Critical to all of this (and it was not mentioned) is to have a fairly high-paying career.