One Man’s Post-Graduation Struggle to Enter Middle-Class America

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The American Dream promises that anyone who works hard will be able to earn a decent living for themselves and their family. But these days, this dream is getting harder to fulfill.

From 2000 to 2013, the number of middle-class households fell in every U.S. state, according to a recent analysis from the Pew Charitable Trusts. Pew defines the middle class as any household earning between 67 percent and 200 percent of a state’s median income. Matt, a young worker in Delaware, knows firsthand the struggle to break into middle-class America.

Struggling After Doing Everything Right

For most of his life, it seemed Matt would be a definitive member of the American middle class. He worked hard in school, came from a supportive family, and graduated with a valuable business degree from the University of Delaware. “I saw college as an investment and picked a degree that I thought would help me get a job,” Matt says.

Unfortunately, he graduated in 2010, right at the peak of the Great Recession. “There just weren’t any jobs,” explains Matt. “I went to career fairs, asked for help from friends, and sent out so many job applications. There was nothing.”

With no job, Matt had to move back home and live with his parents after college, a new reality for many graduates.

Breaking Into Middle-Class America

Post-graduation life wasn’t easy for Matt, though he moved forward. He did some work as a commission salesman, tried launching an Internet business, and kept sending out applications. Eventually, this hard work paid off, and he landed a job in the credit collections department at Bank of America—nearly a full year after graduation.

Matt’s starting salary was around $40,000, which put him just barely into middle-class America: The lower end of middle-class household income in Delaware starts at $38,564. “It was a huge relief to finally be working,” Matt says. “I never want to go through a stretch of unemployment like that again.”

Moving Forward and Building a Career

Although Matt enjoyed working for Bank of America, he wanted to do more with his career. He was also scared that another recession could push him down again, especially with his current earnings. In response, he decided to go back to school.

“Even though I was making pretty good money, I still lived at home. I saved every dollar I could and put that into savings for graduate school,” Matt says. After about two years at Bank of America, Matt re-enrolled at the University of Delaware to obtain a master’s degree in management information systems (MIS).

“I enjoyed the MIS classes I took in undergrad and had some friends working in the field who said this degree has a ton of potential.” When Matt graduated a few years later, he immediately landed a job with SEI, a technology firm that specializes in providing support systems for the financial industry. This new job came with a sizable pay bump, which put Matt much more securely in the middle class and on track for even bigger and better things in the future.

Matt’s story, like so many others, shows that the middle-class struggle is real. For Delaware, 52.2 percent of households were considered middle class in 2000, with a median income of just over $65,000. By 2013, that number lowered to 47.9 percent and a median income of below $58,000, according to Pew results. Whether you are a new graduate, like Matt, or have been in the working world for years, solidifying where you stand in the shrinking middle class may require a reevaluation of your financial and personal goals.