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If you're an "average" American, you earn close to $40,000 a year -- pretty good money compared with the rest of the world.

But recent data from a number of sources conclude that the average U.S. income, while solid among its peers around the world, still leaves many grappling to make ends meet. Additionally, the 2011 U.N. Human Development Report finds the gap between the rich and poor in the U.S. continuing to widen.

First, what seems to be good news: For 2010, the average U.S. income was $39,959, according to the Social Security Administration. However, the median income -- meaning half of Americans made more, half made less -- was substantially lower, at $26,364.

The U.N. analysis uses yet another measurement. That report puts the United States' gross national income per capita at $43,017, relatively high compared with its industrialized counterparts. The top 10 per capita countries are:

  • Qatar, $107,721
  • Lichtenstein, $83,717
  • United Arab Emirates, $59,993
  • Singapore, $52,569
  • Luxembourg, $50,557
  • Kuwait, $47,926
  • Norway, $47,557
  • Brunei, $45,753
  • United States, $43,017
  • The Netherlands, $36,402

Overall, the U.S. placed fourth in the U.N. study's Human Development Index, which measures three basic factors of human well-being: a long and healthy life, education and standard of living. Norway, Australia and the Netherlands occupy the top three spots.

The comprehensive U.N. study examines a number of factors, including income, environment and gender equality, with a focus on identifying programs and strategies that are effective in promoting well-being and prosperity.

What 'average' will buy

Unfortunately, in the U.S., an average $40,000 income often means living paycheck to paycheck and, perhaps more significant, living beyond your means. To that end, the Federal Reserve reported a nearly 10% jump in overall consumer debt in November 2011, to $2.48 trillion -- the biggest one-month percentage increase in overall debt in more than 10 years.

"The average American struggles," says Ronald Hill, a professor at Villanova University who has studied poverty worldwide. "They have an old car they're struggling to keep on the road, they may be late with rent payments, and they can't afford to send their kids to college. At $40,000 a year, they probably haven't been on a vacation in five years. They feel great restrictions."

Moreover, the U.N. study also says the growth in financial inequality in the United States easily outpaces its peers. Moving down the list, it's not until you get to Chile (No. 44 in the overall study) that there's a faster-growing gap between the wealthy and the poor.

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According to the Internal Revenue Service, the average U.S. income, when adjusted for inflation, declined 1% between 1988 and 2008, while Americans making $380,000 or more saw their incomes grow 33%.

"What's striking about the United States is that, comparable to other countries of comparable income, the inequality in the United States is much wider than any other country," says William Orme, a spokesman for the U.N. report. "That's not only the result of increasing concentration of wealth at the top but the stagnation of income for the bottom 75% over the last 10 years. The U.S. is certainly not unique in having little real significant income growth, but the disparity is more acute."