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Michigan's Middle Class has shrunk, making it hard to feel the economic "comeback"

If you're not basking in the warm glow of Michigan's economic "comeback," you're not alone.

The median income in Michigan has shrunk by a startling $13,278 this century, according to data newly released from the Pew Charitable Trusts. In 2000, the median income was $61,551, but that tumbled to $48,273 by 2013.

That's a staggering drop.

Pew's analysis also found the the percentage of middle class households has plunged 4.3 points during that time. ("Middle class" is an oft-amorphous term; Pew defines it clearly as households making between 67 and 200 percent of the state's median income. That typically hovers around 50 percent of a state's population).

That's why when Gov. Rick Snyder chirps about Michigan's economic recovery, it rings hollow for many folks who are still struggling.

And that's the key reason why the governor won such a narrow re-election victory in 2014, even in a wave GOP year nationally.

There are certainly some visible signs of an improving economy here. Unemployment is down from 10.7 percent in January 2011 to 6.6 percent in January 2015 (although it remains well above the national rate of 5.7 percent).

Michigan's business tax climate now ranks 13th compared to other states, according to the Tax Foundation.

But when median income takes such a big hit and thousands of families fall from the middle class, it takes awhile for people to feel an economic recovery.

And it doesn't help when individuals have seen a huge tax increase since 2011. It's great that businesses have seen their burden plummet, but it's come at a cost for average taxpayers.

And it's deeply troubling that job growth has slowed and Michigan is back to running budget deficits.

These facts don't bode particularly well for Michigan's economic future.

It's not much comfort, but we're not alone. All 50 states have seen their middle class ranks shrink, Pew reports.

And things are actually worse in some of our neighboring states, even though Michigan languished in a single-state recession for years. The percentage of middle-class households dropped in Wisconsin by 5.7 points, in Indiana by 4.4 points and in Ohio by 5.2 points.

None of those states saw such a dramatic drop in median income as Michigan did, however.

Even states like North Dakota, which regularly posts the nation's lowest jobless rate, aren't immune to falling incomes. The percentage of middle-class households is down 5.1 percent in the Roughrider State -- higher than Michigan's rate.

Wages haven't kept up with inflation, which makes it feel like the recession never ended, as the Washington Post points out. Indeed, an August Wall Street Journal/NBC poll found that half of Americans believe the recession is still going on.

It used to be a truism that Americans, by and large, considered themselves middle class, whether they were waitresses or Wall Street investment moguls.

Now it looks like our perceptions are keeping up with reality.

The number of people calling themselves "middle class" has dropped significantly. A January 2014 Pew Research study found 44 percent identify as middle class, compared to 53 percent in 2008, at the start of the recession.

All of this explains why, despite low national unemployment and a record-breaking stock market (the Dow Industrial Average is still above 17,000), Americans still feel uneasy about the economy.

And that's a key reason why President Obama failed to make the case to voters last fall that they were better off than they were four years ago, a la Reagan. People weren't feeling it.

Here in Michigan, Gov. Snyder has a real opportunity.

Now that he's safely won re-election, he should can the happy talk and get real about how to make the recovery work for everyone.

Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. She can be reached at