I entered college a few days after turning 18, meeting the poverty definition for four years. Afterwards, nearly a decade in the Army had me earning middle class wages. Leaving active duty, marrying and entering graduate school saw my household again beneath the poverty threshold.
In the 15 years I have been a professor, my family income has ranged from just below the national median to the top 5 percent of earners. At any given year over the past 30, my household income was in each of the five income quintiles, including nine years in poverty. But on average we remain firmly in the middle class.
It would be surprising if this century didn’t see as much change in economic and class structures as did the last. If history is any guide, things will be better, not worse. Still, two things remain certain. Education remains a route to economic comfort, not necessarily riches; and, for healthy folks, dodging poverty is easy. Avoid drugs, finish school and wait until you are grown up to have children.
Michael J. Hicks, Ph.D., is director of the Center for Business and Economic Research and a professor of economics at Ball State University.