It's called downward mobility and it's crushing the American Dream.
According to a study conducted by the Pew Charitable Trusts, nearly one out of three U.S. citizens born into middle class households in the 1960s have lost their economic status.
And because the study used data from 2004 to 2006 - before the Great Recession - the numbers today could be even worse.
"Being raised in the middle class is not a guarantee that you'll have that same status as an adult," Erin Currier, project manager at Pew's Economic Mobility Project, told CNNMoney. "With all the economic turmoil in the past four years, there's good reason to think that downward mobility is more severe."
Pew used three different criteria to assess the economic status of the study subjects. According to two criteria, 28% dropped out of the middle class; a third measure showed downward mobility for 19%.
Pew defines the middle class as those falling between the 30th and 70th percentiles of income.
It compared the households of the target group in 1979, when middle class meant incomes between $32,900 and $64,000, to their income in 2004-2006, when middle class meant making between $53,900 and $110,000.
Any middle class workers hit by the current recession will have a long road back.
In another Pew study, half of people who lost 25% or more of their income during better times in 1994 were still making less money four years later. One third of the group had not recovered even after 10 years.
With the unemployment rate still at 8.5% and so many people working at jobs making less than they once did, it will take years for the middle class to recover - if it ever does.