ARLINGTON, Texas (From CBS News) -- In the presidential campaign, both candidates have made the election all about the middle class.
A report out Wednesday from the Pew Research Center shows us why so many members of that class are frustrated -- their net worth has dropped dramatically since the Great Recession. About 85 percent say it is more difficult than it was a decade ago to make ends meet.
The study of middle-class Americans, like New Jersey garage owner John O'Connor, looked at households with incomes ranging from $39,000 to $118,000.
"We don't dine out." he said. "We don't go to the movies the way we used to. Like everybody, I think we've become more frugal," said O'Connor.
Between 2000 and 2010, median middle-class wealth dropped 28 percent from about $130,000 to $93,000. Lower real estate values played a big part. About 42 percent said their financial situation is worse now than before the Great Recession.
"This is the first decade in the post-World War II era where the middle class -- indeed all families -- have actually less income at the end of the decade than they had at the beginning of the decade," said Paul Taylor, who co-authored the report.
The study also found the percentage of Americans in the middle class fell from 61 percent in 1971, to 51 percent now.
"I find that I am running in place at best," O'Connor said, "and in some areas I am probably slowly falling behind."
"I see it getting even worse, to be honest with you," said Dallas resident Theresa Martinez. "Because the money I bring home is not enough."
Martinez is a teacher's assistant. The mother of five was forced to file for bankruptcy four years ago. She has no savings.
"I don't feel that I have any money left for my kids," she said tearfully. "It's just hard, honestly."
Despite the anxiety, the Pew survey of 1,300 adults showed most have not lost faith. More than half say they are optimistic about the country's long-term future.
"I think the American dream is still there," said O'Connor. "It's still intact. I think the road to getting there is much bumpier, though."
Another question asked in this survey: Who do you blame?
The answer from many was very clear: Two-thirds of those middle-class Americans blamed Congress.