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62% of American workers don’t earn enough for a middle-class lifestyle

Examining the biggest 204 metropolitan areas across the US, the study weighed wages against the cost of living

A study by left-leaning think tank, Third Way, has found that more than six out of ten American jobs do not pay enough to support a middle class lifestyle. This is despite unemployment in the United States reaching a 50-year low in 2018, of just 3.7 per cent.

Examining the biggest 204 metropolitan areas across the United States, the study weighed wages against the cost of living. It found that 62 per cent of jobs can’t support a household with two earners and children adequately enough to be labelled ‘middle class’ by an ‘Opportunity Index’ published by Third Way.

Researchers thought about what a middle-class life means in lifestyle terms – such as being able to afford meals out, holidays, savings and health insurance. All these details went towards a definition of a middle-class job with pay that matches what Americans want, adjusted according to local factors.

The rankings reveal some stark contrasts. In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, a factory machinist earns around $45,470 annually, enough to surpass the local $40,046 threshold where the middle-class lifestyle begins. In San Francisco the same machinist earns more – around $57,220 – but falls far short of the local $82,142 middle-class threshold.

According to the Daily Mail, Kristen Alessi, a corporate travel agent who lives in Quincy, Massachusetts, is not surprised at how many fail to make the middle-class grade. She and her husband pay $1,350 for modest accommodation. They make over $60,000 together but with utilities bills thrown in, the couple find it hard to make ends meet. Alessi is not the only one. Many local jobs nationwide fail to offer adequate pay to offset basic living expenses and rising housing costs.

The study focuses on the jobs in each metropolitan region and the opportunities available to have a decent life. When weighing these up, the study discovered that Durham, North Carolina, as well as Trenton, New Jersey, rank highly among the 204 metro areas when it comes to availability of middle-class (or above) jobs.

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, as well as Honolulu, are close to the bottom, however. But with the lowest ‘Opportunity Index’ score in the USA, Fayetteville, North Carolina, came last, with just 35 per cent of jobs paying salaries of $40,846 or more (the local middle-class threshold). By contrast Rochester, Minnesota, offers the greatest chance for upward mobility nationally, with 45 per cent of jobs deemed to be middle class or superior.

Some regions – such as Myrtle Beach – fail because there is a dearth of well-paid jobs. Meanwhile, among the biggest cities, New York City (168th), Los Angeles (172nd) and San Francisco (174th) were low in the rankings, despite healthy economies, due to a raised cost of living.

In a USA Today article, Esther Akutekha, a public relations specialist living in Brooklyn, New York, explains that she finds it hard to get by. She earns more than $50,000 a year, but because of her high rent, she can’t save, never takes holidays, and eats out only once a month. She is frustrated and unsure if she can afford to have children. As we have seen, she shares the struggles of many Americans chasing an upwardly mobile lifestyle.

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