Nearly Half Of Americans Can't Afford Housing, Food, And Other Basic Needs

by Cassandra Stone
Originally Published: 
Image via Getty/peterspiro

New study finds 40 percent of Americans can’t pay for their basic needs

A new study confirms that despite the U.S. economy currently being near full-employment, 40% of Americans can’t afford their basic needs. Many adults between 18 and 64 years of age are finding financial difficulties in affording their housing, utilities, food, healthcare and more.

The American dream of generations past is more of a fantasy for American families now.

The findings are the result of a study conducted by the Urban Institute, who surveyed more than 7,500 adults about what financial struggles they face related to their basic needs. If you ask any millennial out there, these results most likely aren’t surprising. But they were to the Urban Institute, who didn’t predict such high levels of financial hardship in middle-class families. Michael Karpman, a research associate with the institute’s Health Policy Center and co-author of the study, says this means middle-class income is “no guarantee” of protection from financial struggles.

“A lot of people are looking at the fact that wages aren’t keeping up with household costs as one reason families are having difficulty making ends meet,” Karpman tells CBS News. “Even for families with health insurance, they may be facing high deductibles that leave them facing high costs.”

I can personally vouch for all of the above. The combined income of my husband and I should, for all intents and purposes, be more than enough to cover our basic cost of living. And it does cover it. But that’s…it. Our own working-class parents were able to sustain families larger than ours on half of what we make — over 20 years ago. Because the economy was better, because our dads were cheap, etc. But now, between health insurance and utilities, he and I more or less just break even every month after setting a smidge aside for our savings account. We don’t live in a suburban McMansion, we don’t take expensive vacations, we don’t rack up credit card debt, and we buy our clothes, food, and amenities on sale. This is just how we — and everyone we know who doesn’t have consistent financial help — live. And apparently, 40% of Americans live just like we do. Middle class, my ass.

The study finds more than 40 percent of adults living slightly above or below the federal poverty level experience food insecurity. The study also finds that being employed doesn’t provide immunity to hardship — which, ask anyone currently making minimum wage and I’m sure they won’t bat an eye at these statistics. One in three families with at least one working adult said they had trouble meeting at least one basic need, such as paying for food or utilities.

Certain groups — like minorities, women, and those with chronic medical conditions — are more likely to experience material hardship than others. 56 percent of Americans with less than a high school diploma reported struggling to meet their basic needs, while only 24 percent of college graduates reported facing financial hardship. Unfortunately, our good ol’ American student loan system makes paying for that college degree an almost impossibility for a majority of the country, which just sets more and more people up for financial hardships as loan rates rise and the national student debt gets higher and higher.

Basically, this entire study comes as no surprise to nearly half the people in this country living this reality. But it definitely sheds light on the fact that while the Trump administration can boast all it wants to about a “booming economy,” there’s actually plenty of work to do.

“I hope that people will see,” Karmpan says, “that even though we’re in a relatively healthy economy, a lot of families are still having difficulty meeting their basic needs for food, housing and health care.”

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