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Las Vegas' Middle Class Is Shrinking

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Associated Press

The middle class is synonymous with the American Dream: the house, the kids, the cars, vacations and a comfortable retirement.

And, for the most part, Las Vegas is known as a place where those things come easy, even without a college degree.

But that might be changing. A new study from the Brookings Institution and UNLV says Las Vegas’ middle class is shrinking.

“The income growth of the 60 percent in the middle has only been about half of that of those above them and below them,” said Richard Reeves, senior fellow of economics at the Brookings Institution.

Reeves said a middle class can shrink or grow based on the definition used for the middle class. He said a city's middle class could be growing because there more rich people, which is what is happening in San Francisco, or because there are more poor people, which is what is happening in Detroit.

In Las Vegas, the latter has happened. Reeves said that between 1999 and 2011 the average income for middle income dropped from $73,000 to $60,000. 

“A lot of people got pushed over into the low-income side of it and pushed down, effectively out of the middle class,” Reeves said.

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To define the middle class, Reeves prefers to look at how the middle 60 percent of the population is doing economically. He is also concerned about making sure people remain in or move up to the middle class.

“It is looking as if a post-secondary credential of some kind, so going on to college and coming out of college with something is becoming a more important predictor of making to the middle class or staying in the middle class,” he said.

Reeves said one of the worst things a person can do to risk their middle class status is go to college but not finish, so he or she has debt but not the degree.

Reeves said people can derail from the middle class if they're not able to get a post-secondary degree of some kind, get a good job, or put off having a family until they're financially ready.

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Richard Reeves, senior fellow of economics, The Brookings Institution

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