Shrinking middle class less optimistic about future

How has the economic meltdown changed the mindset of average Americans? Most middle class adults say it's harder to maintain their standard of living and to "get ahead" than it was 10 years ago, according to a new Pew Research Center poll.

The dip in optimism compared to before the recession began in 2008 is most pronounced among middle class people nearing retirement. Median income and net worth fell precipitously for middle class Americans over the past 10 years, which explains the gloomier attitudes about the future. (The percentage of Americans who self-identify as middle class has also shrunk, from 53 percent in 2008 to 49 percent in 2011.) Only 43 percent of middle class folks said they think their children will have a better standard of living than they did, down from 51 percent who said the same just four years ago.

Nevertheless, 60 percent of respondents said their standard of living is better than their parents was when they were of the same age, and two-thirds of middle class people agree that "most people who want to get ahead can make it if they are willing to work hard."

Respondents indicated that a family of four needed to make about $70,000 each year to keep up a middle class lifestyle.

The survey contained some good news for President Barack Obama. While neither the president nor Mitt Romney has cemented support among middle-class voters, about half of them say Obama's policies help the middle class, compared to only 42 percent who say the same of Romney's ideas. The poll also shows that most middle class Americans (62 percent) blame Congress and banks for the group's financial problems, not Obama.

The survey of 2,508 adults has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points.

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