How Much You Need To Be ‘Middle Class’ in 6 US Cities
We tend to believe we know what “middle class” means. After all, it seems easy enough to define if we only consider income. But being a part of the middle class is more complicated than it may seem at first; location and debt are among the factors that also play a role.
For example, a person who makes $40,000 per year may be middle-class in a small, rural town. But that same income in a large coastal city would be well below the median income.
Thus, a better way to think about the middle class is to consider how much people need to get by given all of these intersecting factors. Pew Research defines being middle-class as making 75% and 200% of the median income.
This article will take a look at how much that amount is in some major U.S. cities. Median household income figures are from the most recently available U.S. census data.
Median household income: $112,449
In San Francisco, the median household income is $112,449. Thus, the middle-class income ranges from $84,336.75 to $224,898. For families, the median income is $131,595 and the median for married couples is $156,504. These numbers are higher than the middle-class income for most cities; in fact, the median income for San Fransisco is the highest in the nation among the top 25 most populated cities.
However, a GOBankingRates survey found that San Fransisco also has the highest growth in middle-class incomes in the country. Thus, you will have to maintain a high level of income growth to call yourself “middle-class” in San Fransisco.
Median household income: $102,486
The median household income in Seattle is $102,486. Thus, the middle-class income range is $76,864.50 to $204,972. For families, the median is $130,685 and for married couples, it is $151,887. While Seattle has the second-highest median income, it has the fourth-highest middle-class income growth.
We conducted a separate analysis on what it takes to be “rich” in different cities, which we defined as being in the top 20% and the top 5% of earners in your city. In Seattle, the average for those two rankings is $331,167 and $583,249, respectively. In other words, someone at the top end of the middle-class income range still makes over 50% less than the average for the top 20% of earners.
Median household income: $92,266
The nation’s capital has the fourth-highest median household income among major U.S. cities. The range of middle-class incomes is $69,199.50 to $184,532. The median for families is $113,561, and for married couples, it’s $180,227. Thus, in D.C., the median income for married couples is close to the top end of the middle-class income.
Want to be in the top 20% of earners in D.C.? You will have to nearly double your income compared to the middle class’s highest earners: the average income for the top 20% there is $350,856. To earn the distinction of top 5%, you’ll need an average of $633,882. In other words, the top 5% of earners make nearly seven times as much as the median income for the city.
Median household income: $79,018
Boston has the sixth-highest median income in the nation, though its median is noticeably less than that of D.C. The median income there puts its middle-class range at between $59,263.50 and $158,036. For married couples, the median income is $126,595 versus $82,363 for families.
Like other cities, in Boston, the top 20% of earners make an average that is roughly double the highest middle-class earners. The average for the top 20% here is $299,047. And in the top 5%, the average is $563,610, a number that is more than seven times the median income for the city.
Median household income: $75,646
Denver has seen expansive growth in recent years and it maintains a high level of income. The middle-class income range in Denver is $56,734.50 to $151,292. The median for families is $87,649 compared to $108,981 for married couples.
In Denver, the discrepancy between the average income for the top 20% and the highest middle-class earners is slightly lower than in other cities. The average for the top 20% is $260,157, or about 72% more than the highest end of the middle class. As we have seen, in most other large cities, the top 20% makes about twice as much. The top 5% in Denver makes $475,273, or about six times the median household income for the city.
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Median household income: $75,413
Austin is another city that has been exploding in population growth. Its median income is only slightly less than that of Denver, with a middle-class income range of $56,559.75 to $150,826. For families, the median is $92,585 compared to $112,944 for couples.
The top 20% of earners make an average of $267,777 in Austin; similar to Denver, that is 77.5% more than the highest end of the middle class. The top 5% of earners in Austin make an Average of $485,554, or just under 6.5 times the median for the city.
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