Households making over $200K are middle class in some Bay Area cities, study says

New research suggests the term “middle class” doesn’t mean what it used to. We all know it takes a lot of money to make it in the Bay Area. But now, a new study finds “middle class” has taken on a whole new meaning.

“Seventy-five thousand,” said former Bay Area resident Renee Shryock, when asked how much money it takes to be considered middle class. Mary, another South Bay shopper said, “You’re talking at least $100,000 to 150,000 now, in the Bay Area.”

According to a survey of 200 cities by GoBankingRate, an on-line personal finance resource, some cities require a household income to be close to a small fortune to be considered middle class. 

On its Top 10 list, numbers one-through-three are Bay Area cities. In San Francisco, it's up to $192,530. In Oakland, up to $126,502. And in Fremont - up to $244,382. San Jose was number six with up to $193,324 and Sunnyvale was number eight up to $236,628.

They also looked at the growth of median incomes dating back as much as five years.

“I was born and raised here. So we understand how much it costs to live in the Bay Area,” said Tammy.

Bay Area residents have watched real estate prices for decades go from high to crash, to high again, and now almost out of reach.

“When I moved here at the height of the dot-com boom, we made good money. It was great. And now that same money just doesn’t go anywhere,” said Shaunn Cartwright,  South Bay housing advocate.

While working in her campus office, San Jose State Economics Department Chairwoman Dr. Colleen Haight said the laws of supply and demand tell part of the story.

“Price is just another system for the allocating of a scarce resource. And here, land is a pretty scare resource,” said Haight.

She says “middle class” is more about how you live, as opposed to how much you make. Two hundred thousand dollars may seem like enough for a household of two people. But here, experts say, it’s centers on what you can purchase with that money.

“Middle class is a lifestyle. I may be middle class at $200,000,” said Haight. “Two-hundred thousand buys me what average middle class people have in the U.S.,” said Haight.

Experts say it’s more statistical proof, the cost of living in Northern California, really does set us apart.

“I’m not middle class, so I have to look for sale prices,” said Mary, as she looked over a sales rack sitting outside a South Bay boutique clothing store.