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The Middle Class

In response to:

Wake Up, America! from the March 1, 1990 issue

To the Editors:

In his review of my book Fear of Falling: The Inner Life of the Middle Class [NYR, March 1], James Fallows complains that I never make clear how many people I am talking about. Not so: On page 12 I estimate that the professional middle class comprises about 20 percent of the US population.

Barbara Ehrenreich
Syosset, New York

James Fallows replies:

Touchy, touchy! As part of a quite charitable review, I mentioned, not “complained,” that Ms. Ehrenreich “never makes clear exactly how many people she is talking about” when she refers to the professional class. Before writing those words, I had of course seen the sentence on page 12 of her book, which is slightly different from the paraphrase offered in her letter. If she prefers, I would be happy to oblige her with this restatement of my point: Ms. Ehrenreich asserts that the professional middle class is a minority, “composing [sic] no more than about 20 percent of the population,” but she provides no data to support even this rough estimate and never clarifies how the group is subdivided among such economically different categories as school teachers, TV newscasters, and investment bankers. The only citation she offers about the group’s overall size is to an article that she and John Ehrenreich wrote in the late 1970s, before any of the Reagan-era changes in class structure, which she describes in her book, could have taken place.

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