STRUGGLING TO SURVIVE: Economic Challenges Facing the Middle Class

Ky. (WBKO) -- Being financially secure through even times of crisis may seem like a far-away ideal for some.

During the partial government shutdown in January, calls from federal workers rose as many missed two paychecks.

Many panicked as mortgage payments and bills needed to be paid off, while organizations and businesses offered to help how they could.

So when Washington came to a deal and most of the payments were finally sent out, it may seem like those worries could be put at rest.

But in reality, experts say, the middle class, as a whole, is living paycheck to paycheck.

According to Pew Research, in Kentucky, a family of four is considered middle class if their gross income ranges from roughly $46,000 to $137,000. About 52% of America falls into this middle-income bracket.

Experts say incomes have never been higher for the middle class, but that that's not the full story.

"There is a specific part where we're falling behind, and it is wealth for the middle class," said WKU Economics Professor Dr. Brian Strow.

No matter what income bracket you fall into, last year CNN Money reported that four out of ten Americans wouldn't be able to cover an unexpected $400 expense.

"Unexpected events are going to come up in life unexpectedly, it turns out you can't plan for these," said Strow. "And the only way to be able to safely navigate through this is to save up during good times."

Having an emergency fund is an increasingly declining habit.

"Until we learn to spend within our means, we won't have anything to create a savings account with," Jeanne Fisher said, a certified financial planner for ARGI Financial Group.

"They're spending every nickle that comes in -- and in many cases, even more than that nickle: adding on credit card debt; having to pay down student loan debt; making it even harder to set up housing downpayments," Strow said. "And so this is the big thing going on. U.S. median incomes are up for the middle class, but savings rates are not."

Experts say it's a far cry from the economic pressures from decades ago during the Great Depression.

"They went through such an intense economic crisis that a whole entire generation responded, and they responded in a way where they became incredibly frugal," Fisher said.

"It's not going to go well for middle-class households, who on a day-to-day basis don't find a way to prioritize spending and prioritize at least 10 percent of their income into savings," said Strow.

They say a change in the way people budget needs to happen for many Americans.

"There does need to be a cultural reset on expectations -- what should we expect a middle-class person to afford," said Strow.

The explanations sound simple enough, but in action, it can be a challenge or even a struggle.

That's why we're looking at what it takes for some people in our area to make it through, along with examining ways on how to increase your own financial independence.

Over the next four weeks, 13 News will be looking at different programs and services offered in South Central Kentucky available to help.

Our Struggling to Survive series continues Monday, Feb. 18, as we look into affordable housing for both low and middle-income earners on 13 News at 6.



 
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