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Defining $250,000 a year as “middle class” presents a policy nightmare for Democrats like Clinton and Obama.

Scott Olson / Getty Images

If you ask Hillary Clinton (as well as Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama), families pulling in $250k per year are definitively middle class. This classification, Bryce Covert points out in the New York Times, rhetorically ropes in the top 5 percent of earners with actual median earners, who make a mere $53,657 per year. And, because Clinton has emphatically pledged not to raise taxes on “the middle class,” this means no Clinton-backed policy can result in a tax increase for these increasingly wealthy households. 

Covert observes that Obama’s adherence to the $250,000 standard of middle-classness helped torpedo his proposal to tax some college savings accounts, and could similarly undermine the policy potential of Clinton’s professed commitment to paid family leave. 

“Over the last decade and a half,” Covert notes, “fewer and fewer Americans are identifying as middle class, and a growing share says it is working or lower class,” meaning that sought-after middle class vote may be increasingly elusive as inequality increases and politicians’ class definitions fail to keep up.