Money

Here's how much money Americans think you need to be considered middle class

It's hard to pin down exactly what makes someone wealthy versus middle class — is it a certain amount of money, or perhaps a state of mind?

To 84 percent of Americans, the defining factor is your annual income, although 70 percent say that lifestyle and perspective also play a key role.

That's according to a new survey by Northwestern Mutual, which found that 70 percent of Americans consider themselves middle class. However a 2015 report from Pew Research Center shows that the middle class has been shrinking over the past four decades and now makes up only 50 percent of the United States' total population.

Phil and Claire Dunphy on ABC's "Modern Family."
Eric McCandless | ABC | Getty Images
Phil and Claire Dunphy on ABC's "Modern Family."

So what income levels have Americans feeling solidly middle class? Of the survey participants who labeled themselves as such, 50 percent earn between $50,000 and $125,000 annually.

Although these Americans consider themselves in the middle, the actual dollar amounts needed to qualify as middle class are slightly lower. Pew Research Center defines it as adults whose annual household income is two-thirds to double the national median, which was $55,775 as of 2016.

For singles, that means earning between $24,042 and $72,126 annually. For households of two, it's between $34,000 and $102,001.

Similarly, a recent survey from Charles Schwab found that Americans have a remarkably high threshold for what makes someone rich. When asked how much money is required to be considered "wealthy" in America, survey participants say it takes an average net worth of $2.4 million, Charles Schwab reports. That's nearly 30 times the actual median net worth of U.S. households, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Of course, annual income and net worth are very different. As one couple shows, you and your partner could be making $500,000 a year and still feel like you're struggling.

At the end of the day, it seems there's no clear answer to what makes someone wealthy, middle class or otherwise — it's different for everyone. Maybe that's why so many millennials are focused instead of saving for long-term "financial freedom."

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