While the U.S. economy is strong – and wages are slowly increasing – many middle-class Americans are still having trouble affording basic necessities.
A new study published by The Manhattan Institute offers one explanation as to why the average male earner is unable to provide for his family, detailing a disparity between the rise in costs and wages over time.
The study centers on what author Oren Cass calls a “Cost-of-Thriving Index,” which is based on the cost of housing, health care, transportation and education. It calculates the number of weeks per year it would take the average worker, earning the median weekly wage, to earn enough to cover the total value of those basic expenses.
In 1985, it would take the average male worker 30 weeks to cover those costs. He was earning $443 per week and his total costs were valued at $13,227.
In 2018, it would have taken the average male worker 53 weeks to cover those same basic expenses – or more than a year. Costs for the four basic necessities had risen to $54,414, while the median weekly wage rose to $1,026. So while wages had just about doubled, costs had more than quadrupled.
“The COTI shows a declining capacity of a male full-time worker to meet the major costs of a typical middle-class household,” Cass concluded.
For women, the problem was even more exacerbated. In 1985, a woman would need to work 45 weeks to cover those same expenses. By 2018, she would need to work 66 weeks.
The study focused on males since they have earned – and still earn – higher average salaries, and this group has traditionally been recognized as the breadwinners.
Cass noted that families have found “workarounds,” including relying on government support. But those workarounds come with their own costs.
“Recent decades of economic growth have eroded, rather than reinforced, the American model of thriving, self-sufficient families,” Cass wrote. “The decades to come will need to do better.”
As previously reported by FOX Business, half of Americans said they expected to live paycheck to paycheck this year.
That is despite the fact that wages have begun to pick up for low-income Americans. According to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, wage growth among low-wage workers has recently outpaced that of high-wage workers. Pay for the bottom quarter of wage earners, for example, rose 4.5 percent in November, compared with 2.9 percent for the highest 25 percent of earners. During prior years in the economic recovery, gains had largely been made by those at the higher end of the income scale.
Meanwhile, the number of homes owned by single Americans rose to the highest level in more than a century last year – indicating, as Cass suggested, that traditional views of household formation may be at risk.