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Still In The Middle Class, But Standing On A Banana Peel

Most U.S. workers fit snugly into the middle class, but they worry a lot about falling out of it, according to a poll released Thursday.

After years of watching home prices slide and job creation stall, 6 in 10 Americans say they fear tumbling from the middle class in the next few years, the Allstate-National Journal Heartland Monitor Poll suggests.

And the negative sentiment is increasing: Only 29 percent of respondents say the country is headed in the "right direction." Back in November, they were feeling much more optimistic, with 41 percent saying they felt the country was on the right course.

So if most people are feeling insecure this spring about their economic futures, who are they blaming?

Elected leaders, take note: 64 percent say Congress is making things worse, and only 8 percent believe it is making things better. President Obama is more popular than lawmakers, with 36 percent of Americans saying he is making things better. Still, the poll found that 45 percent say Obama is making things worse, and that optimism has faded since his re-election.

The head of the president's National Economic Council, Gene Sperling, spoke at a National Journal event where the poll was released. He pointed a finger at Congress, saying it should not have allowed massive, across-the-board spending cuts to kick in on March 1 to reduce deficit spending.

Sperling thinks the automatic spending cuts are creating a drag on job creation. "For us to be putting a brick on the economy ... is the opposite of what we should be doing," he said Thursday. "It's moving us in the wrong direction."

The poll, which is conducted quarterly, surveyed 1,000 middle-class adults by telephone April 5-9. Respondents defined being in the middle class as having a job and being able to pay their bills. U.S. Census data show the median income for a family of four is $68,274.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Marilyn Geewax is a contributor to NPR.