The new middle

by Rhode

A Portrait Of America’s Middle Class, By The Numbers

Our favorite topic – what is the middle class…

Do you agree with the numbers?

I found the shape of the middle class by numbers interesting. Who knew Sheboygan had 3.6 million people? But seriously, the more expensive the area, the larger the proportion of lower income (and the lower the median income). The McAllen Texas area is telling – and probably more representative of “middle America” than we on the coasts would like to believe.

How do you think these numbers will shape decisions at the Federal level? When we talk of political candidates talking to the middle class, do we mean middle class by income (like this article), or is it a more “cultural” middle class defined by attributes and values?


115 thoughts on “The new middle

  1. “The middle class may be shrinking, but two-thirds of those who leave have moved up, while one-third have dropped to a lower income group.”

    I did not know this. Interesting.

  2. Rhode, finally started on the mortal instruments last night, only read a couple chapters because I was dead tired yesterday. Hope to dive in this weekend

  3. If $126,000 is the upper cutoff nationwide, I’d say that it also matters a great deal, in a two-parent household, if that is from one parent earning $126,000 or two parents earning $63,000 each. The expenses are a lot more significant in the latter case with children.

  4. By those numbers, we are on the border of middle and upper so that in the past 5 years, some years we are middle and some we are upper. Midland tends to boom and bust as the oil cycle does. I think depending on the year, it could look very different. But, overall Texas follows close to the same median as the country as a whole.

    The fact that more move up than down doesn’t surprise me, but I think that has more to do with two working adults in a household with a college education.

  5. I enjoyed the article about Detroit Coney Dogs at the bottom of the middle class article. What the coney dog story didn’t tell you is that if you walk into a coney island in downtown detroit you’ll see the true american mixing bowl – all income levels, all races and religions – squeezed in elbow to elbow at the counter with their $2 coney.

  6. First, I always love this kind of demographic research.

    Causation / Correlation??:
    27% of my age group (45-64) is upper income vs 21% across all ages
    41% of my educational attainment group (bachelors or higher) is upper income vs 21% overall
    — for this one does the education enable the income or is (parental) income an enabler for a bachelors degree?

    Typical journalist innumerate comment “For every Fargo, N.D., where the unemployment rate is 3 percent, there’s a Flint, Mich., where it’s 10 percent.” Uh, no. otherwise the unemployment rate would be ~6.5% vs 4.9% reported last week.

    Based just on the numbers, it’s good to know DS1, technically a family of 1, is earning a middle-class income (>$24k/yr) at the age of 22, having yet to complete his college degree. Some measure of parental success.

  7. I just glanced at the article about the middle class in the advanced countries. In the developing world millions of people have moved up the economic ladder, so my thinking is globally there has been a redistribution of wealth.

  8. Fred, in the situation where you see an innumerate journalist, I see a reader insisting on being a humorless literalist refusing to bend or flex.

  9. S&M – maybe, but if they would have said “…there are many places like Flint…” I’m good with their writing / reporting, which, IMHO, should be accurate above all else.

  10. This is interesting. What struck me is the fact that the 65+ demographic seems to be faring the best – this argues against increasing social security on the backs of young workers.

  11. Rhode, the article from Fortune is about 25 countries, so basically N America. Japan, Austealia, and Europe, maybe South Africa &/or Singapore, not about the global economy. Doesn’t mean it isn’t interesting, but middle class globally is a whole different ball game.

  12. Fred, that’s pretty much how I interpreted that sentence.
    Rhett, I try hard to see him that way, but it isn’t easy.

  13. This is great stuff but too hard to read on the phone. To Milo’s point, there are also cultural differences between the one income and two income families at the same income level. The two equal earners are more likely a teacher and middle manager, where the single earner is more likely a professional with an advanced degree. And a retired household at that income level would be different too.

    I wonder how the numbers shake out if you just look at married couples with at least one kid at home. Are they doing better or worse now than 10 or 20 years ago?

  14. MBT – But, are they faring that well because they are still working? I see many more 65 plus workers now than in the 1970s. Plus, using my limited observation, those over 65 who are working tend to be in white-collar, higher paying jobs. Those who did more physically demanding jobs tend not to be able to continue them into their 70s.

  15. I see a LOT of workers over the apparent age of 70 at retail and food service jobs. A bagger at our local grocery store has got to be pushing 90. He is a WWII vet; they had a special event for him on Veterans Day. I have chatted with several of these folks at the checkout. Some really love it, but most are counting the days till they can quit.

  16. Austin, that’s a good point. And I agree with your comment on who is able to continue working past 65. Like the discussion yesterday on adjuncts who are retired professionals wanting to stay active, it is certainly much easier than the people I know who do heavy manual labor and are trying to figure out how they can keep going until social security can cover them. I think people in the latter category are more likely to start drawing at 62, also.

  17. Back in DC, those jobs would be held by immigrants but we don’t have as many lower-skilled immigrants here. So there are more jobs for teenagers to check and bag groceries too. They aren’t allowed to scan alcohol though and always have to call for a grownup to do it.

    We rarely saw the local teenagers working at Safeway or Giant.

  18. Scarlett, where are you located? On a separate note, I’m looking forward to your reply to my question at the end of the customer service thread.

  19. I see a lot of people aged 60+ who are doing home health care. None of them are there because they love it. However, it’s an option for people who don’t have a lot of formal education, but can’t stand on her feet all day.

  20. Home health care can be physically demanding too. We are just wading into these waters with MIL, who is an easy client so far, but I’m guessing that there may be a different caregiver pool for the 250 pound man who needs assistance getting out of bed. Just getting some wheelchairs schlepped into and out of cars would be a stretch for an older worker.

  21. From a 2004 scholarly paper Berkeley & MIT Economics/Policy Research about relative well being of elders and the effect of SS on the change over time.

    One of the most striking trends in elderly well-being in the twentieth century was the dramatic decline in income poverty among the elderly. The official poverty rate of those 65 years and older was 35 percent in 1960, more than twice that of the non-elderly (those 18-64), and had fallen to 10 percent by 1995, below that for the non-elderly. Smolensky, Danziger and Gottschalk (1988) found similar steep declines in elderly poverty back to 1939. This poverty reduction exceeded that for any other group in society.

    The conclusions.

    First, while there has been a major decline in absolute poverty among elderly households, that decline has been much smaller for relative poverty, which did not decrease in the 1980s and 1990s.
    Second, these changes in the income position of low income elders are fairly similar across age groups [young old and old old].
    Third, the declines in absolute poverty that we see in the data are much stronger for married than for unmarried elders.
    Fourth, we document a major causal role of Social Security in driving these time series patterns. Increases in Social Security generosity over time are strongly negatively associated with changes in poverty. There is, however, a weak association with income inequality, suggesting that Social Security is benefiting higher income elders at the same or higher rate that it benefits low income elders over this period.
    Finally, we illustrate the critical role of elderly living arrangements in driving these conclusions. Our regression results show that the effect of Social Security on poverty is much stronger for
    families than for households, in particular for widows/widowers and divorcees. This is consistent with the findings of Engelhardt, Gruber and Perry (2002) that higher Social Security benefits cause more independent living among widowed and divorced elders. When those elders move out on their own, they are in the same family, but they become relatively poor households, raising the poverty rate among households. This offsets to some extent the measured poverty reduction among the elderly from higher benefits.

  22. Anon 11:01, I’m not sure if you’re referring to my comments on the customer service thread or my remark to Fred. None of them were sneak attacks or indirect passive-aggrwssice crap like hiding behind “anon”. Sure, I criticized Fred’s comment, but it was a clean hit. His reply doesn’t look like he had a problem with it. I don’t think there are many here who are thin-skinned about legit plays–unless the sore loser who lobs in grenades from behind the bleachers is a regular. But nobody knows that, because they are afraid to come out and state their concerns in the open.

  23. I think home health runs a broad spectrum – from those who mainly need a companion and someone to cook and clean to those who need significant physical assistance to do every activity. We saw are wide range of care givers, but those who were providing the most physically demanding assistance were younger and stronger.

  24. Scarlett, I don’t know about requirements in the US, but when I was in Berlin, illness prevented me from completing my research before the grant was up, so I took a course to be a health care worker. It took up several whole weekends, and mostly focused on the kinds of things you mention–how to turn somebody much bigger than yourself over in bed, getting the best leverage while pushing a wheelchair (including up stairs), transferring people of any size from point A to B. We spent probably half an hour on “if you give them meds, keep a chart like this”. I think the assumption was that if other types of care were required, someone else with that training would do it.
    I never had a job like that, because I found a better-paying job translating software documentation. I’m sure it is tiring, but the techniques really did make a difference.

  25. I liked the charts that break it down by area, because the geographical differences seem to muddle the nationwide conversation. When we were in NYC last weekend, we played the “what-if” game — here’s how much condo we could afford, here’s what the mortgage payments would be, don’t forget maintenance charges, etc. — and it was just flat-out ridiculous how much we’d have to spend there to replicate our general lifestyle (ie., not looking for a huge house, but 3 Brs for kids, subway/cabs/uber instead of car, etc.).

    @Fred, I thought of your DS the other night watching “House Hunters Int’l” — the basic story was a kid was “taking a break” from college after a year and a half, and so his mom decided to buy him a condo in the Caribbean so he could take a break and “figure out what he wanted to do with his life” (and so she could have a beach/investment property). And my total knee-jerk was: perhaps he should “figure out what he wants to do with his life” by getting an entry-level job somewhere and paying his own way — maybe he’ll hate it and go back to school, or maybe he’ll find a niche and take to it and work his way up like Fred’s kid. Not sure the mom was really doing him any favors by buying him a free crash pad so he could scuba dive. (Although in the requisite happy ending, he had decided to go back to school).

    On a more fun/frivolous vacation-splurgy-no-really-I’m-cheap note, we are off tonight for Europe, so enjoy the next few weeks, y’all. I was glad DD was nowhere near Nice yesterday, that’s for sure; doing a good job not panicking (my irrational fears tend to center on airplanes), but will still be a little extra nice to see her in person.

  26. S&M, I approved your comment that had been in moderation. For future reference, any comment with 3 or more links is held back in moderation.

  27. I found striking that the NPR post conflated “middle income” and “middle class.”

  28. ““For every Fargo, N.D., where the unemployment rate is 3 percent, there’s a Flint, Mich., where it’s 10 percent.” Uh, no. otherwise the unemployment rate would be ~6.5% vs 4.9% reported last week.”

    The combined unemployment rate can’t be calculated with the data provided. The sizes of the labor forces in Fargo and Flint are needed to calculate that.

  29. @Scarlett — OMG, I packed it last night, with two different-colored packing cubes for me and DS, and I *love* it. I feel more organized to go from place to place than ever before in my entire life! I keep wanting to take a pic of the fully-packed bag and post it somewhere. Plus I got the teal one with the polka-dots, and it’s soooo cute! Happy happy happy. Now if only these annoying clients would go away so I could finish all of the other crap I need to get done. . . . :-)

  30. “Older Americans and black Americans, meanwhile, are still the least likely to be upper income — and the most likely to be lower income”

    For the older Americans, it seems the appropriate response is, “duh.”

    A lot of older Americans aren’t working, so their incomes are from some combination of pensions, SS, and investment income, with pensions becoming less of a factor, but for many, much of their cash flow requirements are covered by drawing down savings.

    Consider the retired couple owning a fully paid off house and pretty much all the stuff they need, with $2M in investment and bank accounts, $0 in SS income (waiting to hit 70 before starting to collect), and drawing just a small income from their investment accounts, while drawing down their cash accounts to cover their expenses, which can be quite low if medicare covers most of their medical expenses and they live modestly. Categorizing poverty by income would put this couple into that category.

  31. Enjoy your trip!

    We have visiting day tomorrow and I’m just hoping it will not be too humid.
    The dry heat I had last week in Las Vegas was definitely kinder to my hair.

    There is a front row seat to the different classes in Las Vegas. I met a few people that work in restaurants and casinos that have more than one job. One of the people that we met working in our hotel explained that jobs are plentiful, but they don’t pay a lot unless it’s one with a lot of tips.

    One waitress was pregnant and she explained that childcare in LV can be very difficult to arrange since places are open 7 days a week, and the hours are not always typical for daycare.

  32. Laura, your daughter who I love is in France? What?! Doing what? For how long? If you’ve already said all of that on here, email me. Travel cubes sound great, but when ever I think I’m going to get some, I get lost in the weeds re which ones to get. The Container Store has some on sale this month.

  33. LfB – have a great trip! Looking forward to hearing all about it when you get back. Enjoy the discounted pricing ($ vs euro).

  34. Finn, the obvious response for Black Americans is the same, isn’t it?

    CoC, yes, that’s why I said it was caught in the filter.

  35. LfB, if I can fit myself in a packing cube, can I come? I need a vacation from summer vacation :)

    The income ranges sound right to me but I agree with everyone who said that there is a huge difference in expenses between a one income couple making $125k and a two income couple making that together.

    OT, has anyone tried vacuuming a dog? I’m trying to find some way to cut down the ambient fur level around here….

  36. You need to get a FURminator comb for your dog (not cheap) as well as the vacuum attachment that is offered in the link.. When DD was working in private practice, the Patent Office challenged the patentability of any grooming comb (it is a routine review process in granting full patent protection). The law firm brought in a dog a cat to the hearing room, used a common comb and the FURminator on the “witnesses”, and there was no further challenge.

  37. LfB,
    Right with you there. I looked at my grasshopper colored packing cubes nestled in the suitcase and thought about creating a new Pinterest board. Eternal gratitude to Houston for posting about them. Only wish that I had gotten them years ago. Like the rice cooker.

  38. LfB, you’re still dealing with clients and your “out of office” reply is already on. Must make the ones you get back to feel mighty important! ;)

  39. Echo the comments to Houston for the thank yous on the packing cubes.

    Have a great trip LfB, want a full report when you get back.

  40. I am obsessed with packing cubes and traveling light. The MiaMama family has backpacks (with packing cubes) and passports ready to travel. We never check and everyone can haul their own stuff. Any recommendations for discounted air sites? If I saw a dip in international fares to somewhere interesting, we are up for adventure and could hop on a plane on short notice.

  41. Mia, we have wheelies, not backpacks, but have each pulled our own since DS was about 3. We would already have packing cubes if I didn’t get analysis paralysis every time I looked at them. Last year I got some from Eagle Creek at The Container Store’s annual sale for my mom and a nephew who was graduating. They both agreed to give feedback, but neither has. The nephew has traveled a bunch, but I’m not sure if he’s used them. I know Mom did, but no comment from her. They cost enough that if she didn’t like them, I’d prefer she say “no thanks” and let us have them rather than buying more.

  42. mia – try; it’s not a discount site, but it shows (most) available fares. Some airlines not represented: Southwest (of course), RyanAir, EasyJet

  43. S&M – Packing cubes work well, BUT, you need to think about it like a tetras game. The sizes/shapes must work for the clothing/accessories, items you take PLUS the sizes/shapes must fit in your suitcase/backpack.

    One suitcase I have pulls, so the inside back is not flat, but has a narrow space on each side of the handle and a bigger space in the middle. I have four cubes that fit, two on each side standing up in the narrow space and take up from top to bottom. That leaves me the space in the middle to pack. It works very well. But, I don’t try to do cubes in the middle. This size also works in my duffle bag that I use at the gym when I need to take clothes and shower there or for a one night stay somewhere.

    My slightly smaller than carryon size was tortured by DD2, so I just bought a replacement and cubes for it. I bought two sizes of cubes (one bigger and one smaller) than the size I have now to get the most use of the space in the bag.

    I will be doing a dry run packing that new bag this week in preparation for taking it the first time next weekend. I will see if the measurements all work out. I am considering adding one compression cube to the mix. If it works as planned, it should be able to handle up to a week of travel clothes unless we are going somewhere that needs a number of heavy layers.

  44. In today’s installment of the world is going to hell in a hand basket, there is a potential coup going on in Turkey!

  45. Our upcoming trip is 3 nights each in 3 different hotels. So each packing cube = clothes needed for that one hotel (Houston’s suggestion). Brilliant. The 4th cube has the things we’ll need at all hotels – bathing suits, pajamas, lightweight jacket, etc. I could not be more pleased.

  46. RMS – I guess it was successful? I am seeing conflicting reports. I am going to climb in to my bunker momentarily.

  47. Austin Mom,
    The details you provided are so very helpful to a packing cube newbie. To use LfB’s wonderfully descriptive phrase, I dithered about sizes and eventually got 1 large 4 medium and 1 small. The large works in the big roller but is too big for the carryon. I love that I can put the conference clothes in one cube and the workout clothes in another. My experience with compression bags on an overseas trip was that they really added weight to the bag.
    No one in my real life shares my passion for organized packing. So glad to be able to indulge here.

  48. Can someone provide the link to the packing cubes? All this giddy talk about them has me intrigued. It is more interesting than the hell in a hand basket news.

  49. Lemon, I just watched a video on another brand, and it showed how you can unzip the top and fold it under the cube, then place the cube in the dresser drawer and it keeps everything neat. I think I’m sold

  50. DD loves her packing cubes too. DW bought some for her at the Samsonite outlet. I think Black Friday might be a good time to buy them, so you have some time to dither between now and then.

  51. I think I’m starting to drink the kool-aid. This talk about packing cubes reminds me of the cozi discussion. So much passion.

  52. Oh my, I’d forgotten about Cozi! I think I missed the first discussion about packing cubes, and I always love something that I can imagine will make me more organized.
    Welcome back, SM!

  53. I am using a north face women’s travel backpack and a small packing cube from REI. Backpack holds the laptop and can zip completely open for security screening. The small packing cube looks deceptively small but unzips to expand. I fit undergarments for a week, bathing suit and pj’s into the small cube. I have a larger packing cube that was free with purchase at a women’s store and is the width of my backpack. I fit one week’s clothing in that with most things rolled. Will replace that cube with a “real” packing cube before my next trip. Prefer one that offers compression. Suggestions?

  54. Again, late to the party, with a few comments…
    -“Middle-class” by the numbers requires arbitrary assumptions about what constitutes “middle”. The most common move is to look at the middle three quintiles. But for the angle of this article, the middle 60% can’t shrink or grow by definition, so that may not be “helpful” (or better!). (Watch also whether people are giving you stats on households or individuals, over time. If households, they may be trying to ignore the significant changes in household composition over the last, say, 50 years. This is a common problem in the recent focus on income inequality.)
    -FM makes a huge point about age and the “life-cycle” of earnings.
    -Likewise, geography is a big deal: $40K and $120K in Louisville are far different than in SF or DC.
    -As an aside to Meme’s aside on SS: At least with a static analysis, SS has helped with poverty among the elderly, given the way poverty is measured in the US. But nobody should be especially excited about SS, given its 0% average rate-of-return and the oppressive burden of the 15.3 % FICA tax on every dollar earned by the working poor and middle class.
    -Finally, if you’re into the class discussion, the far larger issues are the working poor and lower-middle class vs. others– given family structure/stability problems and the govt’s provision of K-12 education for the lower income classes. Charles Murray’s Coming Apart is indispensable reading on this. And if anyone’s interested, I have a Markets & Morality article talking about Murray and Harrington’s classic book on poverty from the early 1960s.

  55. I bought packing cubes because of the last discussion and used them on the Italy trip – thanks Houston. Not quite life-changing, but huge improvement for my usual chaos. I think I bought the Amazon Basics brand.

    Also, we bought Osprey 46L travel packs. Perfect for the trip – carryon-sized, but easily held 10 days of stuff.

    MiaMamma – check out Secret Flying. Constant updates on airfare deals. The daily update is the one piece of spam I allow in my inbox.

  56. Kate/Rocky, I haven’t had the news on. Getting rid of Erdogan sounds like a good thing, no?

    What cube brands besides Eagle Creek have compression?

  57. Did anyone here get in on REI’s free classes promo? It was announced yesterday, and was already all full (except for “celebrations” that include things like make your own trailmix, trail running, and a “class” that’s basically a live infomercial for water filters and cook stoves) by the time I saw it today.

  58. Eric, doesn’t it depend on if you’re dividing people into five equally sized groups or parsing data?

  59. Why doesn’t Southwest participate in the aggregator sites?

    Because they don’t want to pay commissions.

  60. @Mia: Condor Airlines. $1K for business class with lie-flat seats (and they go out of BWI, which is perfect for us). I will report back after this trip.

    Packing cubes: I got Shacke(sp?). 4 large, 1 medium. ITA that it’s all about fitting in the suitcase – that was the miracle that led me to buy the new suitcase, they stacked like books perfectly. I have three weeks of clothes for 2 people in one 25″ bag.

    @Scarlett: for me it’s less about finally achieving packing nirvana than it is “holy crap this might not be a total fubar” — I am *never* organized and packing is horrible, so this feels like a revelation. Thank you, thank you Houston. Possibly the best $140 I ever spent (suitcase + 2 sets of cubes).

  61. S&M – I am not sure. Anything that destabilizes the region even more kind of scares me.

  62. @ Lemon, I got the Amazon basics ones, 4 medium size for approx $20. Love them!

  63. Why must saac come back and post 100 comments in one day?!?

    This is the best entertainment I’ve had in quite a while.

  64. Finn – thanks for the college impressions. CMU in Pittsburgh is urban, so is Georgia Tech in Atlanta.

  65. Finn: Another college visit report: When vacationing in Colorado a few weeks ago, we visited Mines. DH loved the location (he can visit DS when he goes to ski–many more excuses to ski). DS thought it was too rural for his tastes, even though Denver is not too far away. Both thought it was a solid engineering school that DS would be happy attending. Small classes (big plus for me), rigorous curriculum, and good reputation.

  66. Houston, he thought Mines was too rural? It’s in a suburb 15 minutes from downtown Denver. Of course Denver is just a big suburb itself, but Golden is certainly not rural by any stretch. Bit if he wants to go to an urban school, he’s not going to find one around here.

  67. Houston, Louise and others thinking about an engineering school – you may want to look at Case Western. Medium sized, urban, good merit aid. Not as hard to get into as Carnegie Mellon, but getting more competitive.

  68. Y’all have certainly visited a good number of colleges. I suspect we will not be as methodical in the final choice. In our case there is base research but there has been element of randomness running through all the important decisions.

  69. “@Fred, I thought of your DS the other night watching “House Hunters Int’l” — the basic story was a kid was “taking a break” from college after a year and a half, and so his mom decided to buy him a condo in the Caribbean so he could take a break and “figure out what he wanted to do with his life””

    We may have fallen asleep to that one. First I assumed they were a couple and figured he had a thing for older women. Then I realized it was his mom.

    About a week ago on one of the lakefront real estate shows, there was a couple of 20-year-olds buying a place together on some lake in AZ (most popular Spring Break destination west of the Mississippi River–who knew?). He was a professional BMX bike racer, and she was a secretary for his parents’ pest control business. He wanted to be in a condo on the lake with a big great room and the site of a huge wall-mounted TV and a gigantic sectional enticed him as he imagined all their friends hanging out and crashing there. She wanted a single family home in the suburbs with a big outdoor kitchen and huge walk-in closets.

    They were young. He’s still trying to comb his hair like Bieber used to, and was wearing his baseball cap backwards and crooked.

  70. Milo- I bet it is Lake Havasu, the location for an interesting law enforcement/wild party show called “Party Heat”

  71. SSK, I bet your right. I’ve heard my AZ cousins mention that lake. But who would want to spend spring break there, with actual ocean just a few hours away? Smh

  72. Well, we spend a lot of time at lakes within a few hours of an actual ocean. Although we are going to the ocean next week.

    You can’t really waterski on the ocean.

  73. S&M – They can jet ski, water ski, drive their boats around the lake, and if they are college students looking for a party – tie up their boats together in big groups and get very drunk!

    A different experience from going to the ocean, but it appeals to a lot of people.

  74. The other aspect of the stat, assuming it’s true and not something that the local Chamber of Commerce cooked up, is that just because it’s the single most popular Spring Break destination west of the MS does not necessarily mean that more Spring Breakers go there instead of the ocean. There could simply be more oceanfront spots to visit.

    I was surprised by the stat just because boats are expensive, and I don’t know that rental agencies are eager to rent to people under 25. But maybe they don’t care.

    Then there’s this recent WSJ article about a different sort of lake vacation:

    I want to go!

  75. Milo – I read that article – it does look very appealing. I know very little about the Great Lakes summer vacation experience, but I am interested! I have visited vacation towns in the East and West but never in the Midwest – even when I lived there we went to the East Coast.

  76. I’m an old curmudgeon to whom noisy motors on the water and getting drunk are so unappealing that I forgot there are people who would ask them out Sorry!

  77. Door County, Mackinac Island and the like are nice, but I’ll pick jumping the waves in the Outer Banks of NC over them any day.

  78. I really like Mackinac (pronounced with an “aw” not an “ack” at the end). Milo – I think you would really like it. The OBX are fine but I prefer Mackinac.

  79. The few lake vacations I have been on, I have enjoyed. We do plenty of ocean vacations but lake vacations have a different charm to them. It all depends on which lakes you go to. If you go to a large lake or lake system that’s better as people are spread over a wide area.
    The family friendly lakes are like the ones in the WSJ article. Kayaking, canoeing, hiking, fishing, sampling, local specialities. My kids learnt paddle boarding on the urban lakes here, so they can do that.

  80. “that lake. But who would want to spend spring break there, with actual ocean just a few hours away?”

    Someone afraid of sharks?

  81. Hahaha. Good answer, Finn! And I guess Kate would like to as well. To each their own.

    On Mackinac/aw. I believe the island has one spelling and the bridge the other, but they are both pronounced the same way.

  82. S&M – I agree with you about noisy boats. I like a nice soft puttering motor and the quiet slap of paddles!

  83. And the drinking and driving (of boats) is sort of the main theme of Party Heat – it is scary how drunk some of these people are when they get pulled over. And they always seem to give the same response when asked about drinking “I had a beer or two.”

  84. @Milo. I think that you would love Door County or the lakefront areas of Western Michigan. It’s family friendly, incredibly pretty, and relaxed.

    IMHO, it’s not that much different in the summer from some resort areas along the Atlantic although the water is colder than Maryland/VA and the waves are smaller. The dunes in VA reminded me a lot of the dunes in Michigan. Also, I enjoy the lack of salt in the water, but others may not. The Great Lakes are very different from smaller lakes due to their size of course. Not muddy, wider beaches in some areas, deeper from the shore, more waves, etc. (But the Great Lakes are not totally calm – there are storms and rip tides that are nothing to mess with.)

    To me the appeal of FLA is not that the ocean is so much better than Lake Michigan as a beach in itself, but that the weather in February/March is so appealing.

  85. Ivy, what beaches in western Michigan do you like? I’ve been to South Haven and some state park beaches in Indiana, and I agree that they look like ocean beaches, at least on high-wave days. And the water is clear and free of stinging creatures. The only thing missing is the sound of crashing surf, but there is an app for that. Well, and no sea shells, but the flip side of no shells is that the sand is really soft. But there are usually no lifeguards, and people drown on a depressingly regular basis.

  86. Ivy – I’m still working my way through The Living Great Lakes, and I’m shocked at how dangerous he makes them sound by relating the history of all these mega storms and shipping disasters. I don’t know if he’s just a little bit prone to hyperbole because he feels a need to overcompensate for the bias in most of the country that “it’s just some lakes in the Midwest.” But at 19 and 20 years old, I obliviously sailed (as crew) the wide-open Atlantic to Nova Scotia, and then to Bermuda, and now I’m terrified of taking a boat onto Lake Michigan!

  87. The best well known beaches are Sleeping Bear Dunes or Saugatuck S.P. Holland S.P is also really nice. But along West Michigan you’ll find small little beaches with beautiful sand. As a kid I never minded the cold water. The thing about drownings on the Great Lakes is that people underestimate how big they really are, and just like an ocean, gets rip currents. And then because of the cold water temps, hypothermia sets in, even in the summer.

  88. Louise: Thanks for the referral. I’ve bookmarked it and look forward to watching it.

  89. @Milo – It’s probably some of each. Tension is needed for the book. But I think people do get surprised by rip currents and the like (hence the drownings in the lakes). I know nothing about sailing/boating, so I can’t speak to the differences there.

    Agree with Lemon – we’ve been to Warren Dunes quite a bit because it is close, but I think some of the beaches further north that Lemon mentioned are nicer. We have had some really nice rentals on private beaches along the shore too. The sunset over the lake from the tops of the dunes is pretty spectacular. The water gets warm enough for me to swim as an adult in late July or August most years. It depends how cold the previous winter was.

  90. “I know nothing about sailing/boating, so I can’t speak to the differences there.”

    It does seem like navigation can be very tricky, especially prior to GPS, and there are lots of shoals, and then very powerful storms can come out of nowhere. Add the cold water on top of that, and you’ve got some problems. If your ship breaks up on the rocky shoals because you couldn’t see in the sudden fog, and the water is 45 degrees, it’s not much help that the water’s only 30 feet deep and you’re not THAT far from land.

  91. Even water close to 60 can lead to hypothermia. I spent a summer as a lifeguard at a camp on Lake Superior. One of our duties was polar bear swim tests in the afternoons. We’d paddle a rowboat as someone swam right beside. No dramatic rescues, but I was surprised at how much difficulty breathing some people had at first. We’d have them stay on the dock ladder until that slowed down and got deeper. The waves were not usually as big as the crashing waves at the ocean spots I love, but that fall, I really missed the constant sound of them lapping at the shore. We had one big storm and yes, that was impressive. I may’ve mentioned on here before that the camp made a little money by letting a couple people moor their boats there. When they went down in a storm, the camp Rec leader took another guard and me out to go dive for them. Found the lines and got back in the motorboat before it hit me how stupidly dangerous that was. I was 20, so what did I know.

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