The American middle-class is struggling financially due to stagnating wages, rising inflation and the felt need for families to rely on two incomes to make ends meet, a new “Issues 2024” policy brief reports.

The conservative think tank American Compass, headed by Executive Director Oren Cass and established in 2020, has released the first in a new series of “Issues 2024” policy briefs that aim to “shape the debate around major issues in the 2024 election.”

The first brief, “Middle-Class Security,” highlights several key facts that demonstrate how the middle-class is struggling.

  • In 1985, the typical male worker could provide a family of four with healthcare, housing, transportation, food, and college savings on just 40 weeks of income. Today it requires 62 weeks.
  • 90% of Republican voters say middle-class life has gotten more expensive while wages lag behind. Just 10% say it’s easier than ever to attain security.
  • 59% of parents believe relying on two incomes to make ends meet is a big problem, wishing they had the option of a middle-class life on one income as in decades past.

American Compass’ report, “2023 Cost-of-Thriving Index” (COTI) measures the number of weeks a typical worker must work each year to earn enough income to cover the major costs for a family of four in the United States. The index takes into account food, housing, transportation, health care and higher education.

According to American Compass,

  • In 1985, COTI was 39.7. Costs totaled $17,586, while median weekly income for a man aged 25 or older working full-time was $443 ($23,036 per year).
  • In 2022, COTI was 62.1. Costs totaled $75,732, while median weekly income for a man aged 25 or older working full-time was $1,219 ($63,388 per year).

In other words, median wages have fallen far behind what middle-class Americans need to afford the basics of everyday life.

Photo Credit: American Compass

In an August 2023 survey, American Compass also found that most American workers do not have “secure jobs.”

“Only 40% of workers have ‘secure jobs,’ meaning jobs that pay at least $40,000 annually, include health insurance and paid time off, and offer predictable earnings and a regular or controllable schedule,” American Compass found.

Photo Credit: American Compass

When it comes to supporting families, money matters.

Scripture teaches that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils” (1 Timothy 6:10, ESV). But Scripture also teaches that “anyone [who] does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household … has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8, ESV).

Having an adequate income is necessary for workers to be able to support their families. When families struggle to make ends meet, conflict can ensue.

A 2018 survey found that money is the number one issue that couples fight about. “Results show that both high levels of debt and a lack of communication are major causes for the stress and anxiety surrounding household finances.”

The survey also revealed that “money fights are the second leading cause of divorce, behind infidelity” (emphasis added).

Geremy Keeton, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Senior Director of Counseling at Focus on the Family, told us about the harm that financial struggles can have on marriages.

“Tight finances and family stress go hand in hand,” Keeton said. “The bottom line is, it causes stress. Families, and in particular parents, will need better stress management tools and resiliency in this economy.”

If you’re struggling and need to speak with someone, Focus on the Family offers a free, one-time counseling consultation with a licensed or pastoral counselor. To request a counseling consultation, you can call 1-855-771-HELP (4357) or fill out our Counseling Consultation Request Form.

To check out Focus on the Family resources on the topic of Managing Money, click here.

Related articles and resources:

Counseling Consultation & Referrals

Focus on the Family: Managing Money

Empowering Women to Take Control of Their Finances

Getting a Reluctant Spouse Onboard with Budgeting

Working with Your Differences

Money Talk: The ‘You’ in ‘Unity’ is Silent

Teach Kids About Money

New Family Affordability Survey Finds ‘Catastrophic Erosion’ of Middle-Class Life in America

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