Middle Class Living Standard

Recently, USA Today published an article stating that a “middle class” living standard in the United States would require a couple with two children to come up with $130,000 annually. I’d heard this figure cited, and decided to look into it. USA Today broke the numbers down into three categories: essentials ($58,591), extras ($17,009), taxes and savings ($54,857).

Topping the essential category was housing costs, at $17,000 a year. Obviously, this cost would vary enormously by area, but a thirty year mortgage on a $150,000 home, with 20% down, would run around $700 a month, which is middle class if you live in a low-cost area. In much of the country $250,000 is closer to the mark, and that would raise the annual cost of just mortgage and insurance to close to $18,000. I also thought car expenses, figured for a single mid-sized SUV at $11,000 annually, were actually low, because these days it’s difficult if not impossible for most families to get by with a single wage-earner, and that means transportation for two. We’re a two-car family with one 15 year old car that gets 30 mpg and a five year old moderate SUV that gets 15mph, both paid off, and we’re very low mileage drivers – and our annual car costs are still close to $5,000 a year – with no car payments and low insurance. When I was commuting into Washington, D.C., with a small car that got 35 mpg, the gas costs alone for just that one car were over $3,000 annually, and with current gas prices, they’d would be closer to $6,000. USA Today lists medical expenses at $9,000 annually. For a family of four, insurance costs alone will total that – unless that’s a benefit paid by the employer. And total utility expenses of $2,000 a year? My base sewer, water, and trash services are $700 annually, without including gas and electricity. A clothing allowance of $2,600 for four people for a year, when two are children, especially when they become teenagers? All in all, I found the USA Today figures for “essentials” low for a comfortable middle-class lifestyle.

The $17,000 “extras” category included vacations ($4,500), entertainment and eating out ($7,500), communications, such as satellite, cable, cell phones, internet ($3,000), and miscellaneous ($2,000). I do wonder about the entertainment and eating out expenses being far too high, but if one has even the basic version of the communications services listed, I’d like to know how they manage on that little, because we live in one of the lowest cost areas of the country, and the lowest cost variety of each of those services right here total just about $3,000.  Now, obviously, many of these “extras” are just that, but some aren’t, and doing without any of them means you really aren’t living a middle class living standard.

The last category is the one that I have the most trouble with. The total tax bill of $32,000 seemed high initially, but if one assumes an income level of $130,000, for most couples, the combination of Social Security/Medicare taxes, federal and state income taxes, a six percent sales tax, property taxes, etc. comes to between $25,000 and $40,000 for most families, depending on where they live. On the other hand, I don’t see most middle class families saving $23,000 annually. Perhaps they should, but the figures show it isn’t happening.

Overall, after looking at the expenses used to arrive at the USA Today cost figures, I was surprised, because except for entertainment and eating out, most of the costs cited seemed all too in line with actual costs, and sometimes even low, for what one might expect for a middle class life-style. And that’s disturbing, very disturbing, considering the median family income is around $55,000, which, in turn, might explain why more than a few people in the United States are less than pleased with their situation. As a side note, I saw a similar study that made a similar conclusion about Great Britain. What’s happened to those of us divided by a single language?

2 thoughts on “Middle Class Living Standard”

  1. Lourain says:

    Interesting information…and sobering.
    I am a public high school teacher, and have been for many years. According to this information I do not qualify as middle class.
    I am able to afford fewer of the ‘extras’ each year (dropped cable four years ago), and my savings account has decreased, not increased. I do live in a part of the country where the cost of living is low, but my salary is low compared to other areas. I, and the people I know, have definitely slipped back.

  2. Tim says:

    I read a report a few years ago concerning what middle class actually meant nowadays in the UK. 20-30 years ago, apparently, using the economic view (rather than education or “who your parents were” views) it meant you could a) afford to send your children to private schools and b) your partner did not need to work.

    Using these criteria middle class would be what the UK would have previously termed ‘upper middle class’ (the UK loves this sort of thing) – which means, for example, moneyed with private income, surgeon, GP senior partner, barrister in a good chambers or well placed in a multi-national etc. Income levels well above £100k pa as a good private school is generally £18k (day) and £30k (board)without extras.

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