It was one of the most reported moments of the 2008 presidential campaign. John McCain was asked at what point does someone move from middle class to upper class. His response:
"If you're just talking about income, how about five million?"
But what dollar number would YOU say if you had to peg someone at middle class?
Are you making a middle class salary?
Actually, there is no accepted standard for what it means to be middle class in America. In fact, the Bureau of the Census has no definition for it, and the threshold varies city to city.
If middle class is considered someone who makes an average salary, then the U.S. Census Bureau calculated average household income at $50,233 in 2007, a nice bit of change at first glance. But although a single person making that in New York City may be able to afford the basics—housing, utilities and transportation—they may have to skimp on healthcare or, worse yet, groceries. By comparison, an annual salary of $20,272 will get you a house, health care and a refrigerator full of food in Houston, Texas.
The Big Apple Requires Big Bucks
“I may be middle class when it comes down to income,” says Lili Grossman, a career services coordinator living in New York City whose annual salary is around $50,000 per year. “But I don’t feel like I have a middle-class lifestyle.”
According to data provided by the Council for Community and Economic Research, you would need to make at least $123,322 in order to truly enjoy a middle-class lifestyle in New York.
Though many people enjoy living in dense, urban areas such as New York and Los Angeles, the sad truth is that the more desirable an area is to live in, the more you’ll have to shell out to live there.
“The price of real estate inflates everything,” says Sean McNamara, administrative director for the Council for Community and Economic Research. “Store owners have to pay higher prices for rent so they pass the expense onto the consumer, making goods more expensive in some urban areas than they would be in rural areas.”
A Great Middle Class Migration?
Now cities like New York are experiencing a population drain as more professionals pack up for cheaper areas throughout the country.
The number of residents leaving New York City for Philadelphia, Pa., doubled from 1,811 in 2000 to 3,635 in 2006. At the same time, more than 1,800 New Yorkers relocated to Charlotte, N.C., and roughly 2,000 left for Atlanta’s suburbs, where housing alone is as much as 81% less than Manhattan.
“When you compare the cost of housing, utilities, transportation and health care in New York City to what you would be able to find in cities such as Houston, you can see that your dollar is going to go further in Houston,” says Johnathan Bowles, director of The Center for An Urban Future in New York City.
The Cost of Being Middle Class by City
Moving is not something you do on a whim, but if you’re thinking of living your middle-class dream somewhere else (and saving a little money in the process), here is what it might cost you in these cities:
San Francisco, Calif.
Yearly salary needed to be middle class: $95,489
Los Angeles, Calif.
Yearly salary needed to be middle class: $80,583
Yearly salary needed to be middle class: $72,772
Yearly salary needed to be middle class: $69,196
Yearly salary needed to be middle class: $63,421
Yearly salary needed to be middle class: $53,630
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