In these stringent economic times, we often hear about the "disappearing middle class." Let's make sure we don't let that happen in network marketing.

In fact, the network marketing middle class has actually been getting steadily stronger for years. And this is a good thing, because in network marketing, it is the middle class that makes the whole thing work.

There are three broad groups in network marketing.

At the topmost layer, there are those who earn a full-time income. Call it $100,000 annually and up. This group is a very tiny minority. If "making the big money" were the way we defined success in network marketing, then to be fair, we would have to say that most network marketers are not successful.

But that's not how it is. Most people who are in network marketing will not be part of that topmost layer, and that's okay with them. They cannot live purely off their MLM income, but they don't have to in order to experience success.

Proof? Look at the bottom layer, those who earn little or nothing. This includes those who make just enough cash to pay for their monthly product usage. For many, that is success. They love their products, wouldn't want to live without them. Being part of the program gives them a slight supplemental income stream that allows them to buy these products and break even.

Then there are the people in between, those who take their network marketing business seriously, work at it, and earn anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand a month. Not enough so they can turn their backs on any other income, but enough to make a significant difference in their household.

For me, these people are the engine that makes the whole thing go. Sure, the top leaders have enormous influence and generate widespread inspiration. But top leaders can't be everywhere at once, having all those person-to-person conversations that are the living fabric of a thriving network. And sure, all those break-even consumer-distributors are the salt-of-the-earth volume blocks that are the bulk of the business—but they are not involved enough in the business to make it grow. So who really drives the network? The committed, involved part-timers.

They are the middle class of network marketing—and practically every one of them does something else for an income, too. In network marketing households, multiple streams of income is the norm.

Most network marketers I've known have always done something else, alongside their networking business. We do this in part for the income. We also do it because we have many interests. We don't necessarily want to quit our jobs or "fire our bosses." We like what we do. We don't want network marketing to replace our current lives. We want it to enrich them.

JOHN DAVID MANN is Consulting Editor of Networking Times.