No room for quitters in the middle class

The American middle class has been declining for decades. But even in its diminished state, presidential candidates still play to it, promising to protect middle-class families, defend middle-class values and cut middle-class taxes. So what is this decaying economic group, and whos part of it? The AJC polled residents in 10 metro counties to find out. Click here for more information about the poll and why the AJC conducted it.

Read Part 6

Looking for quitters? Wont find any here

The takeaway: Most folks may think its harder to get ahead these days and that it will get harder still, but they say theyre not about to stop striving.

AJC poll nuggets: We asked respondents in the AJC metro poll how strongly they agreed or disagreed with the statement: Working hard to improve my life is very important to me. Frankly, we figured that, after the pounding of the past few years, some people might be sick of the whole working-to-live thing.

Were we ever wrong.

More than 91 percent of respondents agreed with the statement, with 45 percent expressing strong agreement. Even people over the age of 65 overwhelmingly agreed.

Of course, as one sociologist remarked, what people say doesnt always reflect what they think or do

But, interestingly, the groups that have yet to reach the upper rungs of the economic ladder expressed the most passionate commitment to getting there. Women were more passionate than men. Forty-nine percent of women but just 41 percent of men strongly agreed with the statement. Blacks (66 percent in strong agreement) and Latinos (59 percent) were more passionate than whites (36 percent).

By the numbers: The U.S. labor force participation rate, which includes adults who are working and those are looking for a job, fell from a high of more than 67 percent in 2000 to less than 63 percent this spring, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That still puts us ahead of most of the 20 nations with the worlds largest economies. The exceptions are Australia, Canada, China, Indonesia, the Russian Federation and, barely edging out the U.S., the United Kingdom.

In Georgia last year, 62 percent of people 16 and older were in the labor force, according to the BLS: 69 percent of men, 55 percent of women, 61 percent of whites, 64 percent of blacks and 70 percent of Latinos.

When it comes to the number of hours worked by full-time American workers, the average has hovered around 42 or 43 hours a week since the mid-1990s. Compared to their foreign counterparts, American workers fall almost dead center among the 34 nations that belong to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Germans work the fewest hours, 1,363 a year in 2013, according to an OECD tally. Americans clocked in at 1,788 hours, and Mexican workers piled up the most hours, 2,237.

About the poll

This survey that forms the basis of this report was conducted for the AJC by the A.L. Burruss Institute of Public Service Research at Kennesaw State University. It was conducted by telephone June 17-24 with 625 adult residents of 10 metro Atlanta counties*. The survey included both landline telephones and cellphones. Prior to analysis, the results were weighted by mode (landline vs. cell), gender, age, education, race, ethnic origin (Latino vs. non-Latino), household size and county of residence to reflect the distribution of these characteristics in the adult population in the Atlanta area. The margin of error for the sample as a whole is 4%.

* Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry, Rockdale