Read this carefully. Nationally, the middle class, if defined as households making between $35,000 and $100,000 a year, shrank in the final decades of the 20th century. For a welcome reason, though: More Americans moved up into what might be considered the upper middle class or the affluent. Since 2000, the middle class has been shrinking for a decidedly more alarming reason: Incomes have fallen.
Interestingly, research shows that younger households have borne the brunt of the wage slowdown. Those headed by people aged 30 through 44 are more likely to be lower income — and less likely to be middle income — than in 2000. Older households have done better. With more people working into their late 60s and wages rising for older workers, households headed by people 65 and older are now more likely to be middle or upper income than in the past, though they are still overrepresented in the lower-income group.
Education matters more than it used to. In the 1970s, high school graduates who did not have a four-year college degree were well represented among the middle and upper class. They no longer are, as high-paying, blue-collar jobs have become rarer. College graduates have not suffered as much, though they are also less likely to be high income than they were in 2000.
These trends appear to hold true in Ashtabula County, which suffers an educational attainment lag compared to Ohio, the nation and many other Ohio counties. However, Ashtabula County has increased its high school graduation rate, which is a help.
Income levels also lag in the county, especially as many good paying manufacturing jobs have been lost in the county in the past two decades, and an insufficient number of workers possess the skills to fill the higher skilled jobs that pay more. By way of perspective, Ashtabula County is not alone in losing manufacturing jobs; many Ohio and Pennsylvania counties have been doing the same. To its credit, Ashtabula County remains a competitive location for manufacturing. And the Growth Partnership’s new Action Plan aims to ensure the county stays competitive in the future.