Join getAbstract to access the summary!

Dream Hoarders

Join getAbstract to access the summary!

Dream Hoarders

How the American Upper Middle Class Is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That Is a Problem, and What to Do About It

Brookings Institution Press,

15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

American inequality manifests most in the widening gulf between those in the top 20% and everyone else.

Editorial Rating



  • Controversial
  • Analytical


Most discussions about increasing economic inequality in the United States focus on the disparity between the top one percent and the rest of the population. But as Brookings Institution fellow Richard V. Reeves points out, the upper middle class is separating from the rest of society at an alarming rate. The upper middle class, which makes up the top economic quintile along with the very wealthy, now holds more than 50% of the nation’s wealth. What’s worse, the top 20% has constructed a highly effective “glass floor” that protects its members from a precipitous fall into the middle class or lower. Reeves shows how the upper middle class wields such tools as exclusionary zoning laws, legacy preferences in college admissions and unpaid internships to shield itself against competition from below. As a member of the upper middle class himself, Reeves is able to reveal these unfair practices without sounding like an anticapitalist ideologue. And he enlivens this relatively dour subject with generous doses of dry wit. This study will benefit policy makers, education reformers, social reformers and labor advocates, and it may spark some soul-searching among the more fortunate. 


Mind the Gap

Critiques of growing economic inequality in America may be missing a large part of the picture. Economists and policy makers have focused on the disparity between the richest one percent and the rest of the population.

But an often-overlooked and possibly more important story may be the widening gap between the top 20% – which includes the upper middle class – and the remaining 80% of the population. Not only is the top quintile holding a rapidly increasing share of the nation’s wealth, but those at the top have been able to shield their status from competition and to pass it on to their descendants.

The Landscape of Inequality

The US sees itself as a classless society. The implicit promise of the American Dream is that anyone who works hard and acquires skills can rise in the economic hierarchy. The US lacks formal mechanisms of class structure, such as inherited titles, but Americans have nevertheless constructed a rigid class system and have come up with effective means for passing upper economic status on to successive generations.

The top quintile of the American financial hierarchy includes not...

About the Author

Senior fellow at the Brookings Institution Richard V. Reeves co-directs Brookings’s Center on Children and Families.

Comment on this summary

  • Avatar
  • Avatar
    C. I. getAbstract 4 years ago
  • Avatar
    M. F. 5 years ago
    If you really want to understand why the upper middle class is doing relatively better in the last 50 years read Charles Murray excellent study called Losing ground .The main idea is that the upper middle class makes better life choices and the lower and some middle class are increasingly making poor choices Examples include out of wedlock births ,poor educational effort, more crime ,alcohol and Drug abuse and general family and community dysfunction .These problems have gotten worse for all strata over the last 50 yrs Lower than the upper middle class.His conclusion is that lower classes are Losing Ground while upper Middle has maintained their traditional family structure and values and therefor their financial situation has remained the same or improved.lets not blame those who make good life choices fore the problems of the others peoples bad behavior or failures.
    • Avatar
      3 years ago
      I'll definitely check out Losing Ground, sounds like a good one. That said, I think it would be fair to say that, for example, legacy enrollment preference isn't about life choices or merit yes? <br> <br>I think this author makes a fair point that there are many non-merit based ways our society favors those with more money. Is it not reasonable to investigate those? I do think it is part of our governing responsibility to ensure laws are fair. One example, different types of income are taxed differently. Why do we tolerate such unfairness?