Six figures ain’t what it used to be.
More than half of Americans who make at least $100,000 say they are living paycheck to paycheck.
To be exact, 51% of consumers earning more than $100,000 annually say they live paycheck to paycheck, up 9 percentage points from the previous year, according to the December New Reality Check: The Paycheck-to-Paycheck Report.
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And the number of respondents who say they are living paycheck to paycheck regardless of income is 64%, up 3 percentage points from the year prior, according to the survey of 3,989 people taken by data and insights company Pymnts and the LendingClub Corporation LC,
“The effects of inflation are eating into every American’s wallet and as the Fed’s efforts to curb inflation drive up the cost of debt, we are seeing near record numbers of Americans living paycheck to paycheck,” said Anuj Nayar, financial health officer at LendingClub. “While the number of Americans living paycheck to paycheck is close to the height we saw in the middle of the pandemic, the causes appear to be very different, as the economy is not sheltering in place like it was back in 2020.”
The U.S. consumer-price index rose at an annual rate of 6.5% in December, down from its peak of 9.1% in June, but is still much higher than the Federal Reserve’s 2% target.
Unsurprisingly, the lower a person’s income range, the more likely a person is to say they live paycheck to paycheck, the survey shows.
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A majority of respondents cited inflation and economic uncertainty as reasons they live paycheck to paycheck.
“Lower and moderate income households are being squeezed the most by inflation,” Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at Bankrate.com, told MarketWatch last year about the rise in Americans living paycheck to paycheck. “And we see that in increased debt levels and decreased levels of savings as households try to stretch their dollars further. Even with low unemployment and robust wage gains, it hasn’t been enough to keep pace with costs that are going up at the fastest pace in four decades.”
McBride noted it’s important to pin down what “living paycheck to paycheck” means. “Defining this may be in the eye of the beholder,” he said.
For example, earners who say they are living paycheck to paycheck may be contributing some disposable income to retirement accounts or college funds. So if those amounts are deducted from their paychecks, then they may feel as if they are making less than they actually are. And this creates somewhat of a safety net that lower income earners likely don’t have.
“If you’re saving through payroll deduction for retirement and emergencies, I wouldn’t define that as ‘living paycheck to paycheck,’ because there is a cushion there in the event of income disruption,” he said. “If you are truly living paycheck to paycheck, there is no cushion. In those instances, if the paycheck stops or is disrupted, then something doesn’t get paid.”
Additionally, overall cost of living can change drastically based on location. A $100,000 salary in San Francisco doesn’t get you as much as it may in Boise.
A 2022 study from Pew Research showed that “middle class” income in San Francisco ranges from $77,000 to $232,000, while the middle class income in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is between $43,000 to $128,000.
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It’s worth noting that Americans’ decline in soft financial literacy skills could also be a factor. Financial literacy has plummeted since 2009, according to a study from the Finra Investor Education Foundation, and lacking this knowledge could be leading to financial mistakes, including living paycheck to paycheck when it isn’t necessary.