Meet America's new hardworking class

A study focusing on mothers shows how lower-middle-income families are adapting to a harsh reality of living paycheck to paycheck.

By Bruce Kennedy May 15, 2013 1:45PM

Office worker (© Digital Vision/Getty Images/Getty Images)Several grinding years of recession have scoured many of America's middle class into what one marketing and communications group is classifying as the new hardworking class.

Research from Cramer-Krasselt says this group, with annual incomes of between $30,000 and $50,000, earns too much for government assistance but doesn't want that assistance either.

The study focused on working mothers, who are having to evolve financially and socially as the economy continues through hard times. About three-quarters of the women surveyed were college graduates or had some college education, and a similar number were married. About 60% were either fully employed or had part-time work, while 32% were working as stay-at-home moms.

And while many of these women had worked across a wide spectrum of fields, all felt the recession's effects, with 35% losing jobs and another 35% saying their pay got cut. Nearly one in five went from full-time to part-time work, and one-third reported they started working multiple jobs.

Needless to say, financial security is a huge issue for this group. "Life is paycheck to paycheck," one mother said. "We are stressed constantly because things are getting more and more expensive while my paycheck remains the same."

In fact, 83% of those surveyed say a $1,000 expense would be a major financial hardship, and nearly 40% say they'd have no way to pay for such an economic setback.

That's why these mothers have come up with what Cramer-Krasselt calls living with LESS:

  • Live. "Her community is a survival network," the study states. "She relies on it for swapping deals, sharing items, childcare support and feeding her family -- and they rely on her." One such strategy: 72% of respondents share coupons with friends and family members.
  • Eat. 88% said they purchase food that can be "stretched" across meals, with such low-cost and filling staples as pasta, rice and ground beef. And 87% say they make an effort to plan meals around what's already in the pantry. But more than half said they'll splurge on certain brand-name foods, rather than a cheaper generic, to preserve some sense of normalcy. "The car may be in the shop, my bills may be late," one respondent said, "but I can still have my Heinz (HNZ) ketchup."
  • Spend. 91% say they'll "hibernate" -- stay home and make do with what funds they have -- until their next payday. "When I am able to cook, I try and do a lot of freezing," one mom said. "That way when my hours are cut and I don't have money for groceries, we still have food to eat."
  • Shop. 60% said they'll skip certain aisles to avoid impulse buys. And 42% prioritize items and place back the ones that make them go over budget.

Cramer-Krasselt cites U.S. Census Bureau data showing that about half the country has an annual household income of $50,000 or less, a segment of Americans that is growing nearly three times as fast as other income groups.

"We were compelled to investigate this critical segment of women, not only because they are growing in number but because we believe they are a leading indicator for brands of where the broader population is heading," Joan Colletta-Sapp, Cramer-Krasselt's senior vice-president of brand planning, said in a press statement.

"As we got to know them, we were struck by how remarkably resourceful and resilient they are, living a constant balancing act of calculated trade-offs," she added. "Or, as we came to call it, earning a master's degree in 'making it work.' They're proud and independent -- not looking for a handout -- but we feel there is great opportunity for marketers to appreciate (the women's) situation and identify ways to help give (them) a 'hand up.'"

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May 16, 2013 10:37AM
Finally someone notices us.  "Make too much to get a handout and wouldn't want it anyway."  Shouldn't all people prioritize?  I'm tired of the constant struggle, but know that what we have, we worked for.  Wish I could say as much for the people in front of me at the grocery store with a basket twice as full as mine that pay with their food stamps, then drive away in their car that costs twice as much as mine.  Sure doesn't add up.
May 15, 2013 8:28PM
problem with welfare is you have people who scam the system for instance a guy can have four kids be married but his wife uses her maiden name is unemployed says she has four kids collects welfare and the state provides her and the kids a nice $1800 an month house section 8 of course with food stamps but problem is if she finds work they make her pay few hundred dollars for the rent so they can simply quit there job so they don't charge them rent. Plus her Husband under another Alias name lives with her and is making $90K a year and drives 3 new cars. I think they should make them work for there welfare go clean the streets or public bathrooms or something Just saying in the end its the hard working middle classes footing the bill for all these losers get them off government substance give them a hand up not a hand out. most use welfare to subsidize their bad habits smoking and drugs and fast food Do we really need more over weight welfare cheaters mooching off us tax payers.  I know the liberals cry we taking food from starving children but the real facts are the opposite When faced with reality they usually get off the couch the couch and find work and be independent working class contributing to society rather than becoming a blood sucking leech on society Some may truly need it but most I see are just takers not givers.  
May 15, 2013 7:02PM
"But more than half said they'll splurge on certain brand-name foods, rather than a cheaper generic, to preserve some sense of normalcy."

I'll do that for Bush's Baked Beans, real Cheerios, and a few other things where my taste buds say the generic isn't good enough, but most of my purchases are store-brand and even discount-store brand (69 cents/can for condensed vegetable soup at Aldi, etc.) and have done that for years.  That's one reason I paid cash for a new car this year.

I'm amazed at the number of people who think the generics are "welfare food" and con themselves out of saving money.
May 15, 2013 8:59PM
I make $11.00 an hour and my work place put in a new policy last year that no one can work over 26 hours a week. How in the hell are you gonna raise a family on that. My husband is back in college so I sacrifice without him working because no one wants to hire him and deal with his schedule. To be honest , I don't think anyone is ever going to make what they used to make and unions won't be coming back either. Not when all the companies have china, india and other foreign places they can pay people almost nothing to make there products. Get used to it America ,we are now an import country.
May 15, 2013 3:31PM
cut the taxes, get rid of the red tape and years of permits for new businesses and things will improve. me and a few of my friends have considered opening up our own small business but its beyond risky, government is working against startups and entrepreneurs.
Banks get money @.75% and the people who actually work/produce have to pay much more
May 15, 2013 5:59PM
Story of my life right here. Masters in making it work indeed.
May 16, 2013 2:41PM
This sounds so familiar.  When I was a single mom raising my 3 children long ago in the 50s and 60s I was working one full time job and a part time job., I never took any assistance but I do remember how hard it was and still would do it over again if I had to.  You gain so much by working your way thru life and my children are very strong and great individuals.  Thumbs up to all of you out there keep up the good work.
May 15, 2013 5:07PM
Corporate America at it again.......
May 15, 2013 5:39PM
Duhhh, welcome to the Middle Class, we are all scraping to get bye.  This Obummer Administration has done everything possible to undermine my paycheck and livelihood.
May 16, 2013 1:36PM
A few of the tricks I use: Mixing cooked brown rice into my dog's food to stretch it when it starts running low. Rice is a common ingredient in dog food anyway, and if we ran out of dog food when I was younger,  I remember my parents would feed them rice and chicken.

Grow my own herbs: Saves me a lot of money on buying fresh herbs in the produce department whenever I need them for a certain recipe.

Buy in bulk: BJs and CostCo are great for things like toilet paper, paper towels, jars of tomato sauce, pasta, rice, and canned goods.

May 16, 2013 2:07PM
So Cramer-Krasselt wants marketers to come up with things to sell to hard working, struggling women that will make them appreciate being sold something.  Oh, yes.  A great opportunity for marketers.
May 15, 2013 7:04PM
Cut taxes-really.  What  economic force creates jobs, more net worth for the top seven percent, or demand for goods and services by the ninety three percent of the population?  Now if can just figure out how to get, allow, the ninety percent enough money to spend for more than bare necessities.  Wow, maybe a lesson in economic history of the USA would shed some enlightenment--you think?
May 16, 2013 2:48PM
As long as Americans continue to blindly purchase foreign goods and services our quality of life will continue to go south.   Buying products at "lower" prices doesn't always mean it is better in the long run.  We must shift our thinking in this country to the long term gains.   I am willing to pay the extra dollar if it means an American works, pays taxes, stays off the public assistance.  Buying that BMW today, doesn't help your economic stability tomorrow.
May 16, 2013 2:05PM
Try taking up some slack by working at home on the Internet.  A recent Woman's World magazine had a page or two of trustworthy work-at-home  websites that anyone could look into. My daughter found one from older issues I'd saved for her that pays her $15 an hour evaluating ads on Google - minimum of 10 hours, maximum of 30. Be sure you have good references to apply for these type of jobs.  They should not require any upfront money, but some do require testing for proficiency.
May 16, 2013 4:00PM
Let us look at a little history.

Back in the 80's we had trickle-down economics. Give big tax cuts to corporations and the wealthy and this will create investments and jobs and the money will work its way down to the rest. In the early 90's some problems started showing up and taxes were raised and the economy still expanded. The tax cuts of the early 00's were cut again on the same principle as the 80's. What have we seen. The wealthier have got more wealthy. The middle class is working harder for less. Many lower class workers are forced to use whatever help they can get from the government and these people are working not lazy bums as many think. Unemployment is high even though taxes were as low as they ever were. Even now taxes are lower than they were in the 90's.

My grandson was hired by a small company in the South a couple of years ago after he had been out of work for half a year. When he was filling out all the paper work the first day they gave him a paper that told him how to apply for food stamps. His low wages made him eligible for them. Who here is using the system.

It seems me that fixing the economy is much more complicated than just lowering taxes. Maybe, greed has something to do with it.
May 16, 2013 1:56PM

They still are getting welfare with zero income tax. All the kids I doubt they pay anything at all.


May 16, 2013 3:10PM

Hmmm..., Interesting observations. The largest expense people are paying for is interest, borrowed from not so eager money holders. Stop buying on credit and pay cash for what you can afford. If you cannot pay cash or trade/barter for it, you do not need it.

It took me a few years to figure this out and in doing so permitted me to retire at 57 years old. My personal income dropped, as did my tax base IRS billed me. By doing this, I no longer pay as much as before, thereby paying less for welfare freeloaders.


I learned to live on what I have coming in and save at least a third of that.

I got tired of carrying entitled people, particularly welfare cheats.

Lessons that parents need to instill in their children.

Yes, I do volunteer work also. As in unpaid.

May 16, 2013 3:20PM

Single working Dad has been living this way all my life, since poverty as a child. Now my son has his own life, money,decent job and knows how to survive in tough times. BTW these are not 'tough times'. This is sweatless to those of us who've actually been in real poverty as children and adolescents.

This is just a glitch, a trifling challenge. But to those spoiled brats who expect too much it seems like a big deal.

May 16, 2013 5:46PM
In America there is NO such thing as a class system. You either have what you need or you don't.  Those that have, have very much more than they need and as far as they are concerned the rest of us are spongers. Wake up America. Why do you think gas is at an all-time high. Now watch those airfares hit record highs .
May 16, 2013 3:11PM
Ask your doctor if working is right for you.
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