Americans, on average, estimate that a family of four needs a minimum income of $85,000 annually to “get by” in their community, marking a considerable increase from a decade ago. The past decade has witnessed not only an increase in the average income required but also a notable shift in the upper range of income expectations.
During that time, the proportion of Americans who believe that a family needs more than $100,000 to get by has tripled to 30%, while 18% now estimate it to be between $75,000 and $99,999, and 31% think it is $50,000 to $74,999. Half as many Americans now as in 2013 believe a family of four can get by on less than $50,000 annually. This includes 3% who estimate a figure lower than $30,000, and 11% who cite a figure between $30,000 and $49,999.
The latest average of $85,000, from an April 3-25 Gallup poll, is notably higher than the federal poverty line for a family of four, which is currently $30,000.
In 2013, the average estimate was $58,000, and the federal poverty line for a family of four was $23,550. Accounting for inflation and the subsequent change in purchasing power, Americans’ 2013 estimate translates to $75,668 in 2023 dollars. Their 2023 estimate therefore reflects an increase of about $9,000 in perceived family needs beyond what inflation alone would account for.
Higher-Income Respondents Believe Families Need More
Americans’ perceptions of the minimum income a family of four needs are influenced by their own financial circumstances. Specifically, those with an annual household income of $100,000 or more project $100,000, on average, as necessary for a family to get by. Middle-income respondents, those with between $40,000 and $99,999 in annual income, estimate a family needs about $80,000. Meanwhile, those earning less than $40,000 believe an income of about $66,000 suffices.
Eastern, Suburban Residents Give Higher Estimates
Geographical location also influences Americans’ perceptions of the income needed for a family of four to get by. Notably, residents in the Eastern U.S. estimate, on average, that families need an income of about $98,000, which is significantly more than the estimates from other regions. Residents in the Midwest have the lowest estimate, saying families need an average income of $76,000. These regional differences likely reflect variations in cost of living, housing prices and wage levels.
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Similarly, Americans’ views on the minimum income for a family of four are influenced by their urbanicity. Those residing in cities (about $87,000) and suburban areas ($91,000) project a higher required income for a family of four than those living in towns or rural areas ($78,000).
These findings are similar to those from 2013, when Eastern and suburban residents’ estimates of what a family of four needs to get by were substantially higher than those given by people in other regions or urbanicities.
The rise in perceived necessary income to support a family of four highlights the economic pressure facing American households as high inflation stretches into a second year.
There is a diversity of socioeconomic realities across various population segments and geographic locations. Notably, individuals residing in urban and suburban areas, as well as those with higher incomes, tend to estimate a higher necessary income for a family of four. These patterns might reflect their cost-of-living circumstances as well as differences in perceptions of need and evolving lifestyle aspirations.
The increasing estimate of required income may also be linked to the rise in two-income families. Americans’ average estimate for getting by sits at $85,000, an amount more likely to be reached only in families with dual incomes, further emphasizing the changing economic dynamics of American households.
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