09/13/2007 - Over the past two decades, a growing share of the public has come to the view that American society is divided into two groups, the "haves" and the "have-nots." Today, Americans are split evenly on the two-class question with as many saying the country is divided along economic lines as say this is not the case (48% each). In sharp contrast, in 1988, 71% rejected this notion, while just 26% saw a divided nation.
Of equal importance, the number of Americans who see themselves among the "have-nots" of society has doubled over the past two decades, from 17% in 1988 to 34% today. In 1988, far more Americans said that, if they had to choose, they probably were among the "haves" (59%) than the "have-nots" (17%). Today, this gap is far narrower (45% "haves" vs. 34% "have-nots").
These shifting attitudes have occurred gradually over the past two decades, although the perception of personal financial stringency appears to have risen more rapidly in recent years. As recently as 2001, a 52%-majority still viewed themselves as resting on the positive side of the economic balance, compared with 32% who felt they were monetarily in need. Since then the number of self-described "haves" has fallen by seven percentage points, a decline as large as that which occurred over the previous 13 years.
Read the full report A Nation of "Haves" and "Have-Nots"? on the Pew Research Center Web site.