Digitas has answered the vexing question: Whatever happened to the middle class?

The Publicis Groupe unit reports that the once “mass affluent class” is the new middle class. The implication: former middle class families are America’s new lower class.

Of the former lower class, don’ t ask. Blame it on the global economic recession, deregulation and the massive shift of income to the top one percent of society.

In a survey called “Affluence in America: The New Consumer Landscape” released today by Digitas and Ipsos Mendelsohn, the former mass affluent group of households with annual incomes of $100K to $199K identifies itself as middle-class. Reason: they lack the spending power that they once enjoyed and live on income alone.

Digitas has disbanded the mass affluent group and divided it into “class affluent” ($200K to $1M household income) and “emerging affluent” (households under 35 years old with $100K-$199K HHI).

The class affluent is a minority of America, representing 8.5M of the nation's 307M population. It is further subdivided into the creative class ($200K to $499K incomes in software, publishing, advertising, PR, architecture), “money class” ($499K to $1M from finance and consulting) and “leadership class” ($1M and up from financial, legal, Internet entrepreneurs).

Digitas can now work on answering an even bigger question. What’s happening to the vast group of American households that earn from $40K to $100K a year. How about naming it the “suffering class” or “forgotten class.”

America won't reach its full potential until each class advances.