State of the Middle Class

Household Finances

The middle class is hurting. Badly.

In the past 50 years, expenses have risen, housing costs have increased, college tuition rates have shot up, and health care costs have skyrocketed. But middle-class incomes haven’t kept pace at all.

For middle-class people, the American dream of owning a home, sending kids to college, and providing basic health care for the family is no longer within reach – even after adjusting for inflation.
People without a college degree used to be able to find positions with good wages in manufacturing. Those jobs have disappeared.

Now people with this level of education must turn to the low-paying services sectors, where the best they can do is earn wages that are near or below poverty level. Read on to understand the fallout.

Change in Household Income & Major Expenses, 1970 - 2022 (Inflation-Adjusted 2022 USD)

Household Income BracketsHousehold Expenses
YearTop 5%Next 15%Middle 60%Bottom 20%Average Household Health CareAverage Tuition and FeesMedian Housing Value
% Change99%51%20%7%303%211%158%

Average U.S. Income by Education Attainment (Inflation-Adjusted 2022 USD)

YearLess Than High SchoolHigh School Degree OnlyBachelor's Degree Only

U.S. Average Compensations by Industry - 2024

IndustryAverage Annual PayEstimated Annual Fringe BenefitsTotal Annual Compensation
Transport Manufacturers$73,972.08$21,206.64$95,178.72
Chemical Manufacturing$65,171.60$20,954.18$86,125.78
Primary Metal Manufacturers$63,592.26$21,560.08$85,152.34
Machinery Manufacturing$60,944.21$20,398.77$81,342.98
Gas Station Employees$33,508.02$4,249.39$37,757.41
Food & Drink Cashiers$25,723.57$3,723.15$29,446.72
Food Services$22,340.45$1,837.37$24,177.82

Average Annual Wage Increases from 2010 to 2021

CountryAvg % Change

BLS Estimated Fringe Benefits ($ per Hour Worked)

Industry Total Hourly Benefits 
Manufacturing Industry 14.76
Construction Industry 13.84
Leisure and Hospitality 3.61
Accommodation and Food Services 3.21
Obtained from the Employer Cost for Employee Compensation report. Included in the cost for benefits are insurance, retirement and savings, paid leave, supplemental pay, and other legally required benefits (social security, disability insurance, Medicare, etc.)

Unemployment Rate over time in U.S.

MonthUnemployment Rate (%)
November 20223.6
December 20223.5
January 20233.4
February 20233.6
March 20233.5
April 20233.4
May 20233.7
June 20233.6
July 20233.5
August 20233.8
September 20233.8

Average Federal Debt per Person in the US Population (Inflation-Adjusted 2024 USD)

Year Federal Debt Per Capita
1952 $17,730
1960 $15,950
1980 $13,680
2000 $34,110
2020 $84,918
March 2024$103,388
- The Average Federal Debt per Person takes the total federal debt in a year as reported by the U.S. Treasury Department & is adjusted to 2023 U.S. dollars using the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistic’s CPI index . To convert to per capita, the inflation-adjusted debt is divided by the population estimate for each year provided by the Federal Reserve.
Average Annual Wage Increases

Since 1985, China has seen significantly larger increases in their average wages earned throughout the country. This figure takes the percentage change in annual average wage growth from 2010 to 2021 and averages them, giving us an idea of how rapidly Chinese wages have grown compared to the U.S.