How Much You Need To Be ‘Middle Class’ in 6 US Cities

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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.

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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.

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San Francisco

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.

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Seattle

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.

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Washington, D.C.

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.

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Boston

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.

Denver

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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Austin

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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About the Author

Bob Haegele is a personal finance writer who specializes in topics such as investing, banking, credit cards, and real estate. His work has been featured on The Ladders, The Good Men Project, and Small Biz Daily. He also co-runs Modest Money and is a dog sitter and walker.

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