You’ve probably heard that the middle class is shrinking, but it’s shrinking much faster in some states than in others. You need at least six figures to qualify as a middle-class American in a third of the country.
To find out what it takes to be considered middle class in the states where that designation is the least affordable, GOBankingRates used Census Bureau data to find the median income in each state. Then, the team calculated 75% and 200% of the median to establish an income range with a high end and a low end.
To identify the annual income needed to join the middle class, GOBankingRates factored in each state’s typical mortgage payment, car payment, student loan debt and minimum monthly credit card payment.
- Annual income needed to be “middle class”: $106,989
Arizona is one of the few states with a sub-$50,000 low-end yearly median income — $49,971, to be exact. On the high end, it’s $133,256. Arizona is one of just three states on the list with monthly student loan payments below $200. But housing is where the state really shines: The monthly mortgage of $2,457 is the lowest on this list.
- Annual income needed to be “middle class”: $107,375
Virginia’s $61,460 low-end median income is on the richer side of the list, as is its $163,894 high-end median income. Drivers there have a lot to smile about — the state’s $408 monthly car payment is the lowest in the entire ranking. The drawback is credit cards. With a minimum payment of $70, only New Jerseyans pay more.
- Annual income needed to be “middle class”: $107,666
The Garden State’s $71 monthly minimum credit card payment is tops in the nation, but that’s not the only reason that New Jersey is home to one of the country’s least achievable middle classes. Its expensive $226 monthly student loan payment is second only to Massachusetts. Only three states have a high-end median income above $170,000; one of them is New Jersey, at $170,478. Its low-end median income is $63,929.
- Annual income needed to be “middle class”: $108,409
Just three states have monthly car payments above $500; among them is Nevada, at $531. On the bright side is housing: At $2,469 per month, Nevada is one of just three states with mortgage payments below $2,470. At $45,717 and $ 121,912, Nevada’s low-end and high-end median incomes are lower than every state except Montana.
- Annual income needed to be “middle class”: $110,850
The Empire State’s $51,228 and $136,608 low-end and high-end median incomes are on the lower end of the ranking. At $2,563, monthly mortgages are on the right side of the list, but car, credit card and student loan payments are expensive.
- Annual income needed to be “middle class”: $112,051
At $414, Oregon boasts the lowest monthly car payment of any state except Virginia. Credit card payments are low, too. The state’s median income range is $57,416 to $153,108, and most of the rest of the numbers are in the middle.
- Annual income needed to be “middle class”: $112,112
At $70,788 to $188,768, Maryland has the highest median income range of any state on the list, by a significant margin. Its $2,616 monthly mortgage is in the middle of the pack and everything else is near the mid to higher end of the ranking.
- Annual income needed to be “middle class”: $115,661
Hawaii is in the center of the list, so it’s not shocking that most of the Aloha State’s metrics land roughly in the middle. One outlier is its sub-$200 student loan payment — only two other states are below $200. Its median income ranges from $60,547 to $161,458.
- Annual income needed to be “middle class”: $115,943
Idaho’s $49,874 low-end median income is one of a handful that falls below $50,000. Its $132,998 high-end median is the No. 3 lowest on the list. The state boasts the least expensive minimum monthly credit card payment — just $52 — and its $177 student loan payment is also the cheapest on the list.
- Annual income needed to be “middle class”: $116,102
At $66,176 to $176,470, New Hampshire has the second-highest median income spectrum on the list, behind only Maryland. The Granite State falls in the middle in most other categories.
- Annual income needed to be “middle class”: $118,126
Montana has the lowest median income spectrum of any state profiled here, ranging from $42,332 on the low end to $112,884 on the high end. The credit card minimum payment is low, as is the monthly student loan payment.
- Annual income needed to be “middle class”: $121,967
One of only five states with a median income requirement above $120,000, Rhode Island is neither exceptionally high nor low in the rest of the categories. The one exception is housing. At $2,923 per month, a mortgage there is more expensive than in all but four other states.
- Annual income needed to be “middle class”: $134,238
At $3,252, Colorado is one of just four states with a monthly mortgage above $3,000. Its $503 monthly car payment is one of only three above $500. Everything else is unremarkable, including the $61,958 to $165,222 median income range.
- Annual income needed to be “middle class”: $156,105
Crossing the $150,000 mark is Washington, where the monthly mortgage payment of $3,928 is the No. 3 highest in the ranking. Car loans and student loan payments are on the pricey side in Washington, and the median income ranges from $60,812 to $162,166.
- Annual income needed to be “middle class”: $163,183
At just over $229 a month, Massachusetts has the most expensive monthly student loan payment on the list. Its $4,138 monthly mortgage payment is the priciest in America except for California. The median income range is on the high side, too — $65,044 to $173,450.
- Annual income needed to be “middle class”: $174,894
You would need to pull in just shy of $175,000 to join the least attainable middle class in America. California has the highest car payment in the country — $545 — and the highest mortgage payment — $4,418.
Methodology: For this study, GOBankingRates applied (1) the OECD’s definition of “middle class” as making 75% to 200% of a geographical area’s median income. GOBankingRates then determined the middle-class income range for each state by (2) analyzing median wage data sourced from the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey and multiplying the incomes by 0.75 for the lowest threshold and by 2 for the upper threshold. GOBankingRates found (3) average monthly mortgage payments by applying typical home prices by state, sourced from Zillow’s Home Value Index to a 30-year fixed mortgage at a 5.25% interest rate (not accounting for individual variables such as down payment, taxes, PMI and insurance). GOBankingRates further utilized data from (4) LendEDU, which analyzed aggregated anonymized data from 150,000 Truebill users, to determine average student loan payments; (5) U.S. News & World Report’s breakdown of car ownership by geography to determine monthly car payments; and (6) Experian’s 12th Annual State of Credit Report of total average credit card debt by state, multiplied by 1% (the minimum monthly payment required by most major credit cards) to determine monthly credit card payments. GOBankingRates then found the annual income for each state to be considered middle class by calculating debt payments as a maximum 36% of income, the upper threshold recommended by financial advisors. Data is accurate as of July 15, 2022.
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