Silicon Valley is so expensive, people who make $400,000 think they're middle class - here's what middle class actually is in the 25 largest US cities

Silicon Valley is so expensive, people who make $400,000 think they're middle class - here's what middle class actually is in the 25 largest US cities

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Sergi Alexander/Getty Images for Haute Living

Here's what middle class really is in the largest US cities.

  • The middle class is defined by the US government in terms of income.
  • Middle class Americans earned between $39,560 and $118,080 in 2016, according to Pew, but middle class income ranges vary at the state and city levels.
  • Some Silicon Valley residents earning $400,000 consider themselves to be middle class, even though they're far from it.


Residents of Silicon Valley self-identify as middle class, even when their salaries dwarf the true definition.
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Middle class in America is defined by Pew as those earning 67% to 200% of the median household income - $39,560 to $118,080 in 2016 - but that number shifts as its broken down by state and even city.
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The Palo Alto Weekly, a local paper in Palo Alto, California, asked residents to report their household income and perceived social class. Eighty-one of the 250 respondents with incomes between $10,000 to $399,999 said they were "middle class."

Middle class continues to be a broadly, and often incorrectly, used term even though it is precisely quantified by the federal government. And while the American middle class has been shrinking for decades, a majority of people still consider themselves part of it. In the case of the high-earning Palo Alto residents, they noted the high cost of living as one of the reasons they identified as middle class.

In actuality, the definition of middle class varies depending on where you live. To get a sense of what it looks like in the 25 biggest US cities, Business Insider pulled U.S. Census data from the 2016 American Community Survey for the largest metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs). For clarity below, we listed the largest city that makes up the MSA.
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Below, find out how much income you have to earn to actually be considered middle class in 25 metro areas, ordered from smallest to largest by population.