Most Americans gloomy over progress: report

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Fewer Americans believe they are moving forward in their lives than at any time in the past 50 years, according to a new report.

It showed that 25 percent of Americans don’t think they have made any progress and 31 percent feel they have fallen behind over the past five years.

“This is the most downbeat short-term assessment of personal progress in nearly half a century of polling by the Pew Research Center and the Gallup organization,” according to the report.

It delved into the mood of the American middle class by combining the results of a Pew Research Center public opinion survey with an analysis of economic and demographic trend data from the Census Bureau.

“By bringing together these complementary frames of analysis, we hope to shed light on what the ‘middle class squeeze’ means in the real lives of middle class Americans,” the report added.

People who took part in the poll were asked to rate their past life compared with their present life.

Since 1970, median household income in the U.S. has risen by 41 percent, and two-thirds of those polled said they are better off than their parents were at their age.

But as of 2006 -- the last year for which data was available -- median annual household income hadn’t hit its 1999 peak, which makes this decade one of the longest downturns ever for this widely accepted measure of the middle-class standard of living.

The survey allowed people to decide for themselves if they were middle class.

“We should acknowledge that ‘middle class’ is a term that is both universally familiar and devilishly difficult to pin down,” the report said, referring to the label as “a social and economic construct” with “fuzzy” borders.

Of the 53 percent of respondents who said they were middle class, four in 10 had incomes below $20,000 and a third had incomes above $150,000.

Members of minority groups who said they were middle class had far less income and wealth than did whites who said they were middle class, according to the report.

Researchers interviewed 2,413 people living in the U.S. by telephone.

Reporting by Julie Mollins; editing by Patricia Reaney