The Majority Of Full-Time Workers Are Living Paycheck To Paycheck

by Wendy Wisner
Originally Published: 
Damir Khabirov / Shutterstock

If your are struggling to make ends meet, it turns out you are in good company. According to a recent survey from CareerBuilder, a whopping 78% of workers live paycheck to paycheck. The survey, conducted online from May to June of 2017, included 2,369 full-time American workers in the private sector, and showed a 3% increase since last year in terms of workers who say they are just squeaking by each month.

That’s a whole lot of hardworking people struggling to hopefully make ends (barely) meet each month.

And it only gets worse once you delve into the data. 71% of workers say they are in debt, which is an increase from a similar poll last year, when only 68% of workers reported being in debt. Of those workers, 46% say their debt is manageable, but 56% consider themselves to be flat out drowning in debt.

As depressing as these statistics are, I have to say that I was personally relieved to read them. My family is in that 78%, and while I am grateful that we do have enough to scrape by, it is a painful struggle each month to make sure all our needs are met within the tight confines of our budget. We recently got out of a bit of credit card debt, but there is no way that we can put any of our earnings in savings now, and we are constantly on the edge of being thrown back into that debt.

One unexpected thing, from a car repair to a medical bill, would break us. Force us to use the credit card, or hold off on another bill that needs to be paid.

It’s a vicious, stressful cycle.

Our financial situation definitely keeps me up at night. As a family of four, with two working, college-educated adults who live as frugally as possible, I honestly don’t understand how we got here, and how it will ever be possible for us to do something as simple as save for a real family vacation, or start a college savings account for our boys. I don’t even let myself daydream anymore about purchasing our own home.

This is my reality, and clearly the reality of so many of us. If anything, reading a study like this definitely makes someone like me feel less alone.

Interestingly, this issue of workers not earning enough to keep up with their lives is a problem across the board, whether you are working class or more middle class. 71% of minimum wage earners could not make ends meet on their salaries, according to the CareerBuilder survey, and more than half of them had to work more than one job just to get by.

Of course, making a higher income is definitely not something to complain about, but even higher wage earners are encountering some major issues. 1 in 10 workers who make more than $100,000 per year say that they live paycheck to paycheck, and 59% of them report that they are in debt.

Even workers with more middle-of-the-road type salaries are suffering, with 38% of workers earning in the $50,000-99,000 range reported that they live paycheck to paycheck, and 70% saying they have fallen into debt.

And let’s be very clear here: this doesn’t have to do with living lavish lifestyles or blowing our money on extravagances. Yes, in some rare, extreme instances that may be the case, but let’s not let that paint a false narrative in our minds of the bigger picture. Because most of us are simply trying to feed our family, afford childcare (which is sometimes as high as our rent), and pay for housing (which is also through the freaking roof expensive these days).

The majority of Americans are working hard and living as practically as possible. The problem isn’t us: it’s a deeper, systemic problem. As CNBC points out: “While household income has grown over the past decade, it has failed to keep up with the increased cost-of-living over the same period.”

Yup. That hits the nail on the head right there. Incomes have not kept up with the cost of living. Period.

The thing is, the more stressed we are about working and money, the less able we are to perform well at our jobs. It’s so easy for morale to slip when you feel like you aren’t being fairly compensated for your hard work, or that your wages are not going to be enough to pay your electric bill or your baby’s daycare fees.

What’s the answer here? I don’t know exactly. Trying your best to feel grateful for what you do have is definitely helpful, because when you really think about it, most of us Americans live very rich lives, compared to the rest of the world. But still, gratitude can’t pay our bills, and people shouldn’t be struggling to the extent that we are.

And it’s just not feasible for most of us to pare our lives down any more than we already have, and the notion that it’s that simple is also dismissive and offensive.

So if you’re pissed about how difficult it is for average Americans to make a living, please know that you have every right to be angry and frustrated. Something has got to give. If possible, turn your rage into action. Ask for a raise. Contact your state reps and shout about the inequities that working people face in terms of wages and opportunities.

But most importantly, know that you are not the only one struggling, and that working, raising a family, and managing a household is just damn hard.

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