A study by the Manhattan Institute explains why it is so hard for middle-class families to make ends meet. The author, Oren Cass, distilled his research down in a Twitter post. “In 1984, the typical male worker could cover a family of four’s major expenditures (housing, health care, transportation, education) on 30 weeks salary. By 2018 it took 53 weeks. Which is a problem, there being only 52 weeks in a year.”
Christopher Ingraham wrote about this in the Washington Post, saying “This chart is the best explanation of middle-class finances you will ever see.” The chart shows the annual expenses for a family of four and plots on top of that the median male income. The margin between income and expenses gets smaller each year until the annual household expenses exceed the median male income.
The chart in the report helps to explain why families feel the financial pinch. The cost of basic necessities has increased faster than male income. Until recently we have had a booming economy with a record-setting stock market. But many families are still struggling to bring in enough income to cover housing, health care, transportation, and education.
The research focuses on male earnings because historically men were responsible for providing for their families. In the past, they were often the sole breadwinners. Today they are still seen as the primary providers for their family. Oren Cass concludes that the typical male worker a generation ago, “could be confident in his ability to provide for his family not only the basics of food, clothing, and shelter but also the middle-class essentials of a comfortable house, a car, health care, and education. Now he cannot.”
That is why it has become more and more difficult for families to make ends meet.