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Is $68,000 the bare-bones family income?

Study says it takes quite a bit of money to reach economic stability, which includes not just 'decent' housing and a 'low-cost' food plan, but also saving for retirement and emergencies.

By doubleace Apr 5, 2011 11:58AM

This post comes from Lynn Mucken at MSN Money.


The good news just keeps rolling in: 216,000 jobs added nationwide in March, and unemployment down to 8.8% from 9.8% in November, the biggest four-month decline since 1964.


And on the personal front, you're working and your spouse is working -- both full time. Life is good.

Or is it? According to a study commissioned by the nonprofit Wider Opportunities for Women, a family with two full-time wage earners and two children needs nearly $68,000 a year to afford fundamentals like housing, utilities, food, health care, transportation, saving for retirement and child care. The average such family in America makes less than that. Post continues after video.

To develop its income assessment, the report's authors examined government and other data to determine the cost of "a decent standard of shelter" in metropolitan areas across the country.

They chose a "low-cost" food plan from the nutritional guidelines of the Department of Agriculture, and calculated the cost of driving a small sedan. For health care, they calculated expenses for workers both with and without employer-based benefits.

Joan A. Kuriansky, WOW executive director, said the income projections do not take into account frills like gifts or meals out. "It's a very bare-bones budget," she told The New York Times.

According to the report, a single worker living alone needs an income of $30,012 a year -- or just above $14 an hour -- to cover basic expenses and save for retirement and emergencies. That is close to three times the 2010 national poverty level of $10,830 for a single person, and nearly twice the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

A single worker with two young children needs an annual income of $57,756, or just over $27 an hour, to attain economic stability, and a family with two working parents and two young children needs to earn $67,920 a year, or about $16 an hour per worker.

According to the Census Bureau, the median -- half above and half below -- two-earner household made $83,405 in 2009, while the average such household brought in $67,348. In other words, if the WOW formula is correct, even households of average income are struggling to afford the basics.

And if you're poor, forget it. With the national poverty level of $22,050 for a family of four, 14.3% of Americans were living below the poverty line in 2009.

"It's an index that asks how can a family have a little grasp at the middle class," said Michael Sherraden, director of the Center for Social Development at Washington University in St. Louis.


"If we're interested in families being able to be stable and not have their lives disrupted and have a little protection and backup and be able to educate their children, then this is the way we have to think," said Sherraden, who consulted on the WOW project and helped develop projections for how much income families need to devote to savings.

The New York Times interviewed a Queens couple with three small sons. Tara, a medical biller who declined to give her last name, said she earns $15 an hour, while her husband, who works in building maintenance, makes $11.50 an hour.

"We tried to cut back on a lot of things," she said. But the couple has been unable to make ends meet on their wages, and visit a food bank every Saturday. With no money for savings, "I'm hoping that I will hit the lotto soon," Tara said.

Over at The Huffington Post, where you might expect readers to have a liberal slant, the reactions to the study were quite eclectic:

  • "America is no longer the land of the free and home of the brave. We are now the land of the serf and home of the CEO. The middle class will soon be gone and then we will truly be a Third World country by all standards," commented "ProgressiveOregonian."
  • "$68,000 for two-income household with kids? That's doable. Anyone can stumble on a job making $34k a year in this country," said "Bravofett."
  • "Sounds like it's well past time to finish school, get a little college, keep your 'thing' in your pants/legs closed and get on with it until you can actually afford to buy something. Wants and needs. Just because you want a big-screen TV does not mean that you need it. What you need is good nutritional food, a decent place to live that's economically affordable to heat/cool, economical transportation and clothes on your back. Everything else is a want," wrote "Formontoya."

More from MSN Money:

Apr 5, 2011 6:50PM
Wow 68k isn't really that much these days. here in Seattle my rent is $1300 a month. we pay for all utility's. . between my wife and i we make a little more then the 68k and we live payday to payday.  no car payments exc. its pretty rough but we make due. while some neighbors live better then we do on welfare. they get free daycare as to i pay 100% of mine. they get enough in food stamps to feed there family's while i pay 100% on mine. I still owe taxes at the end of the year because we don't get any tax discounts because we make to much. i think if your low income you have it made. but for the ones that work get screwed  for working. hard  
Apr 5, 2011 6:02PM

SERIOUSLY? "No money for savings" yet she plays the lotto???


Some poor people are poor because of unfortunate circumstances. Others are poor because they are idiots. That is all.

Apr 5, 2011 8:35PM

I guess I am just lucky.    I'm a 27 years old single father and because of my pride, I refuse to accept or apply for any kind of federal aid such as medicaid for my son, food stamps, and or low-income housing.   By all governmental standards, my son and I are poor, low-income, etc.; however, I refuse to live off of other people (taxpayers) when I know that I am able to get out and work.  In fact, all able body men and women should work.  In addition, I don't even receive child support for my son.  Throughout the last 8 years, I have been able to go to college and obtain B.S. in Mathematical Sciences and a M.S. in Biomedical Statistics and soon I will be graduating with a PhD in BioStatistics. Nerd 

And I have done all of this while being a full-time single father with no help, no federal assistance, no child support, full-time job, and full-time student.  It has been extremely tough and difficult but I have manage to get it done with very little to no complaining.


The point that I am making here is even though life maybe tough at times, we most as individuals want to improve ourselves and do better than our current status.  Women and men need to stop making excuses about why they can make a living.  As an aside, many college friends of mines that are women often call me stupid for refusing medicaid for my son, food stamps, and or low-income housing, but just as I have told them many times, I do not believe that I need the US taxpayers assistance with supporting my family.  


Apr 5, 2011 6:32PM
Much is going to depend upon where you live and your job income.  $68.000.00 would not cut it in NYC or LA or SF or Chicago.  Somewhere in Mississippi it would be fine.  Unfortunately,not many jobs pay that well in Mississippi and so people head to NYC or Chicago where they do.  When you work for a company that produces something you have a better chance of making a good living.  When you work at a service company, not much chance.  Most of the jobs being created now are service jobs so it will be tough for those people to make a living. Unless there is a reversal with more jobs being created for production, it will be even worse for those in the middle class to remain in the middle Class.
Apr 5, 2011 7:14PM

The first good job I had was in 1974. I was working construction for $2.75 an hour. I was lucky

enough to land a job with a pharmaceutical company with starting pay of $4.25 per hour. I thought I was rich. I stayed there for 32 years and retired. I can not imagine working a minimum wage job and managing to live. I am certainly glad that I am now in my sixties, and I do not envy anyone that is trying to make it today.

Apr 5, 2011 6:09PM
No, it costs a lot more now to raise kids.  The fully paid health insurance plan at work is a thing of the past. Daycare for 2 kids is going to be at least 8000 a year. There are no grandparents at home anymore to help out, they are all working. Gas to get to your job is more.  Employee sponsored retirement is gone, got to set aside in 401k and hope for the best.  I raised my kids on a lot less too, but I would hate to be doing it now.
Apr 5, 2011 6:37PM

I have lived and mostly raised a family at and below the federal poverty level.

I now live well and substantially above it...and above 68k.

I hope to god I never have to try and live at 'only' that level again.

I could, but...

Apr 5, 2011 6:31PM
A lot of what it cost depends on where you live.     
Apr 5, 2011 5:56PM
Obviously the standards of living are inflated.  I've never made over 40gs.  Raised four children.  Been through four houses.  Expectations are too high to be sustainable.  When it comes to NEED, the cost comes down.  It is WANTS that push up the limit.  Want to be rich, want to best others, want to have it all all the time.  It comes from the adulation of the rich and celebrated.  Whether you engage in that sort of thing or not.
Apr 5, 2011 7:09PM
the problem as I see it is that wages for working people have been flat for the last 20years. That's why so many people got in trouble with credit cards. If you wanted a small luxury like maybe a new TV the only way to get one was to use a credit card. The price of everything keeps going up and wages stay the same. On the other hand, the richest one percents income rose something like 300 percent over the last 20 years. Now were is the fairness in that?
Apr 5, 2011 5:58PM
Wait a second.  'Bare bones' includes lottery tickets?   How much is she spending on this, or was that an exaggeration?  Y'all know you won't win, right?
Apr 5, 2011 10:03PM

What is up with these articles on MSN!? If you're making 68k and not making ends meet, there's something wrong. Send your kids to in-state public universities, don't finance your car purchases, pack your lunches when you go to work, and for heaven's sake don't buy lottery tickets! Enough with the entitlement culture already!! ...Stupid articles...

Apr 5, 2011 8:53PM
I cut corners on everything we do, buy or need. My husband makes just under $60k a year and I am a stay at home Mom. ( I would be working except that where I live, if you are not bilingual it does not pay to work ) Fortunately we do have health care but we pay almost $500 a month for it and any co-pays and medicines in addition to that. I use Craig's List a lot to buy , sell and trade for things we want or need. We moved from MA to FL because of my husband's job and have gradually lost everything we have had. Our mortgage was $2300 a month before we left MA and now we pay $600 rent on a shabby old trailer  out in the middle of no where. We are ok with it and know that one day we will move on to greener much nicer pastures. I think a lot of people's issue today is very simple: we act impulsively and purchase things we THINK we need and end up doing ourselves a disservice in the long run. Our society is filled with people who want want want and dream about things without actually appreciating what they have. I know, I have been one of them. I wonder how many people out there have become humbled due to this lovely economy and are willing to lower their standards for the sake of living at peace with their present income.      I still wonder though, how come the people down the road can get $1000 a month in food stamps, smoke cigarettes, drink beer and are not held accountable for getting a job???? What's wrong with this picture?? 
Apr 5, 2011 8:52PM
Obviously someone rich came up with these crazy statistics b/c realistically my family has never brought in anywhere near those figures and we've never had to be on ANY government funding. There's a big difference between living comfortably and living above your means.
Apr 5, 2011 9:11PM
While a lot of it has to do with the cost of living in your particular area, even more is what you do with your money. My husband and I have learned to live on just his income so I can stay home with the kids. Therefore, we don't have child care to worry about, extra gas money to get me to work, work clothes, etc. We don't come near the $68,000/year mark. My husband pulled in around $37,000 last year and we not only have savings, but we each have a retirement account and all 3 kids have 529's. Plus, we have our own health insurance (covering dental and vision as well) and a decent amount of life insurance. We are not and have never been on government assistance (although it's been tempting a couple times). It is doable to live on less but it takes a lot of discipline. It is sacrificing now because it will pay off later.  
Apr 5, 2011 6:06PM
68K?  Sounds about right.  I don't know where kedbob7 lives but in the suburbs of Philadelphia your rent or mortgage payment is 1000-1500 for basic affordable housing.  Food, gas, utilities all add up.  If you have kids, more yet.  Send your kids to college?  That's not really considered a "want" these days; it's expected everyone is going to college.  And the 68k is now -- when I started working 25 years ago the 35k I made was good money.  It wouldn't be today.
Apr 6, 2011 9:23AM
It really really does depend on where you are living. The article mentioned that it assumed you were living in a metropolitan area and that makes a huge difference in your cost of living. My husband and I lived in DC for over 3 years, renting a teeny tiny apt for over 1300 a month. We were making what we considered good salaries but figured out that even with good jobs we could never afford to comfortably buy a house or have kids if we stayed there. We took pay cuts and moved back to NC where our mortgage is less than our old rent. I could never imagine living in DC having both of us make just over $30k a year and try to support 2 children..obviously people do it and many congrats to them but I think it would be very tough.
Apr 6, 2011 11:37AM

Interesting that just a few weeks ago, MSN posted another article about a study by the Financial Times ("Down and Out on $250,000 a year?") which purported to show that a family of four making $250,000/year couldn't even make ends meet in 7 out of the 8 cities investigated. Now this study "shows" that it takes $68,000/year for a family of four to get by. Quite a difference. Maybe what these studies show more than anything is that these studies are essentially worthless.

Apr 6, 2011 9:52AM
We are survivng on less than $25000. yr  (BARELY) I'd like to knowe what percentage of Americans earn $68000 or more?
Apr 6, 2011 10:03AM
I live in NE where my husband is a teacher and I am a social worker. We are a combined family of seven who don't receive child support and are living off of an income of 65,000. a year. it's not easy. Besides our divorces, we did everything right. We both have college degrees and work where we hope to make a difference. We pay almost 1,300. a month for health care (through the public schools) and struggle to make ends meet every week without public assistance. My husband coaches three sports and bartends on the week end to try and provide for our family. I ad match and keep tight control on our budget but we continue to struggle with high gas and grocery prices and medical care. These things seem like necessities to me. We don't own a flat screen TV or new anything. We are frugal and hard working and educated. We can't work any harder or smarter but continue to be thankful we aren't worse off as I work with the poorest of poor in our community. I believe a family who works hard and contributes to society should have the opportunity to earn a living wage.
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