WEST LIBERTY, W.Va. (WTRF) — Next year’s presidential primary season is already starting up—so get ready to start hearing a lot about the middle class.

But is it a real economic category, or is it just a term that politicians use?

One West Liberty professor says there’s no one way to define it, but no matter your criteria…it’s shrinking.

The country is seeing growth at the low and high ends of the income spectrum, with fewer people in the middle.

Dr. Brian Fitzpatrick points to the 2008 recession and COVID as events that made that trend much worse.

During COVID, you saw that people with more professional jobs, those jobs that tend to get paid more, hey, they could go online, they could work remotely. So they could maintain their income, they could continue what they were doing. Where people with more service-oriented jobs, one, they were more likely to lose their job.

Dr. Brian Fitzpatrick, Assistant Professor of Political Science, West Liberty University

He says even when they kept working, many saw fewer hours and a higher risk from getting sick by being out in the public.

That’s in addition to the growing share of jobs that require a degree.