Wednesday, October 19, 2011

What Does It Take to Be Middle Class?

A lot more than poverty-level income, which the Census Bureau defines as an annual income of $11,344 for one person and $22,113 for a family of four with two children.

For one worker who lives alone, a middle-class lifestyle requires an annual income of at least $30,012 (or earnings of $14.21 per hour), according to the Basic Economic Security Tables (BEST) Index--and that's only if your job provides employment-based health insurance and a retirement plan. If you are a family of four with two workers and two children, you need to earn at least $67,920 ($16.08/hour per worker), assuming employment-based benefits. These estimates are bare bones and do not include eating out, vacations, or other discretionary spending. They do include modest savings toward a rainy day fund and retirement, but no savings for homeownership or college. Among full-time workers in 2010, one-fourth of men and one-third of women earned less than $30,000 per year.

The BEST estimates of what it takes to be middle class were produced in a joint effort by Wider Opportunities for Women and the Center for Social Development at Washington University in St. Louis. They were created to help policymakers and workers evaluate economic security in the United States. The BEST estimates show how much is needed for economic security for 400 family types, from single to double earners with up to six children. The estimates are calculated for workers with or without employer-provided health insurance and retirement benefits.

 Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the BEST estimates is the requirement that savings are necessary for economic stability. Emergency and retirement saving, notes the report, "promotes lifelong and intergenerational economic security." A single worker needs to save $75 per month for emergencies. A family of four with two workers and two children needs to save $170 per month to help them weather hard times. To download the study, visit The Basic Economic Security Tables Initiative on the Wider Opportunities for Women web site.

1 comment:

humanedesign said...

Curious, who determined that "middle class" didn't even include homeownership? I would suspect that a poll of Americans would easily prove that "homeownership," or at least the ability to own a home, is presumed for "middle class."

And in what geographic area is this based? $30,000 is effectively poverty level where I live.