People often say that they don’t necessarily wish to be rich, they just want to make enough money not to struggle financially. But how much does a person really need to reach that point?
One-in-three people in households earning more than $75,000 say they still live paycheck-to-paycheck at least some of the time, according to a survey by SunTrust Bank that I reported on last week. One-in-four people earning $100,000 said they felt the same.
These paychecks are far above the poverty line and many of the roughly 500 people surveyed blamed their poor saving habits on too many nights out and too much spending on entertainment. But data show that depending on where people live, how many children they have and what their health care needs are, even $75,000 might not be enough to cover the bills. Never mind having money left over to save for college or retirement or an emergency.
“Often times when you think about the middle class you think about people who are able to invest in their future — being able to save for a rainy day or if somebody loses a job in your family, being able to cover that,” says Elise Gould, a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute. “$75,000, depending on where you’re living, may not allow you to make that kind of investment.”
In New York City, for example, a family of four with two parents and two children would need an annual salary of $94,676 to pay for basic living expenses like housing, food and transportation, according to a budget calculator from the Economic Policy Institute based on 2013 prices. In Washington, they need $89,643 to live. Those figures don’t include savings.
Of course, in other parts of the country, people need a lot less than $75,000 to get by. In St. Louis, a family of four needs about $64,000. But here is a look at some reasons even someone earning that much money could end up living paycheck-to-paycheck.
For a family with two children, just paying for someone to care for the kids while mom and dad are at work could eat up close to a third of that $75,000 salary. Consider, annual day care costs for a 4 year old can range from $4,312 in Mississippi to $12,355 in New York, according to Child Care Aware of America, a group that works to improve access to child care.
In 19 states and the District, the average cost of child care for families with two children was more than the average cost of housing in 2012, according to the organization. In 31 states, average annual day care costs for an infant was more than a year of tuition at a public four-year college.
There are subsidy programs available for people who need help paying for child care, but many times, the need exceeds the state and federal government’s ability to offer it. “There are many states that have waiting lists,” says Gina Adams senior researcher for the Urban Institute.
Many readers arguing that $75,000 isn’t enough to avoid running out of money pointed to the sky-high rents in major cities. Yes, some millennials pay obscene rents to live in popular neighborhoods in major cities. And sometimes, expensive housing is unavoidable. That family of four in New York City would need to pay close to $1,500 a month on rent, or about $18,000 a year, on rent. That’s close to 20 percent of the monthly budget. (And those costs have likely climbed since 2013.)
For many families, transportation costs is the second-largest expense after housing. Households in cities that require cars can spend about 25 percent of their pay on transportation, according to the Federal Highway Administration. People trying to balance housing and transportation costs often face a Catch-22. Living in a more central location in a major city can often increase housing expenses, and people who make sacrifices on where they live to avoid sky-high housing costs can face steeper transportation costs that wipe away the savings.
Many families are paying more for health care, especially if they get the coverage through their employers. The average cost of an employer-sponsored family health plan increased to $16,384 in 2014, up 3 percent from 2013, according to an annual survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research and Educational Trust. Employees were responsible for $4,823 of those costs. Health-care premiums for employer-sponsored plans have increased by 26 percent over the past five years, according to the survey. The average deductible has grown by 47 percent over the same time period. A slight silver lining: A family of four with two children and two parents earning $75,000 and buying insurance on the public state and federal exchanges might still qualify for a federal subsidy to help pay for their premiums, according to a calculator from the Kaiser Family Foundation.
The share of people with student loan debt grew by 92 percent between 2004 and 2014, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. People have been borrowing more often, and in larger amounts, in order to keep up with rising tuition costs. Delinquencies rose slightly at the end of last year in a sign that more people are struggling to keep up with their payments. Those folks may qualify for income based repayment plans or student loan forgiveness on their federal debt, but the most flexible options for people with private loans are still reserved for those borrowers with top-notch credit.