At least along some measures, the economy is back to its pre-recesssion state. According to a new survey by CareerBuilder, 42 percent of workers report that they usually or always live paycheck to paycheck, falling 1 percent from last year in a return to 2007 levels.
The picture is less pretty for women, however. Forty-six percent of female workers are living paycheck to paycheck compared to 38 percent of male workers, the survey says, and almost a quarter of female respondents said that they had missed a bill payment in the last year, compared to 17 percent for men. The persistent wage gap no doubt plays a role in this. Women still make 19 percent less than men for the same job, and according to a 2010 report by the Center for American Progress, an unmarried woman earns just 56 cents to a married man's dollar.
Despite these differences, the overall numbers are encouraging. Fewer individuals this year are living hand to mouth. But this doesn't mean there's necessarily more money in American workers' wallets. It could mean that they're just better about not spending it.
"The majority of U.S. workers (72 percent) reported that they are more fiscally responsible since the recession and have made a variety of changes to their living and spending habits," said Rosemary Haefner, vice president of Human Resources at CareerBuilder.
Nevertheless, 14 percent of workers earning six figures claimed that they're living paycheck to paycheck right now. This is down from 17 percent in 2010, but it's still a surprisingly high number, considering that those individuals are earning at least double the average American household income.
|Yes, all the time||1 (33.3%)|
|Yes, sometimes||1 (33.3%)|
|No, never||1 (33.3%)|
According to CareerBuilder's findings, a sizable slice of the country was in a very precarious financial situation even before the recession.
One reason for this is that workers have promoted certain non-traditional costs to the level of necessity. The survey found that over half of workers considered the Internet an essential expenditure, no matter how dire their finances were. Forty-six percent couldn't live without driving, 42 percent would never part with their cellphones, and over a quarter with pinched pockets would still cling to their cable TV.
Of course, for many, the Internet, driving and cellphones are essential to doing their jobs and living their lives. These expenses come on top of other rising costs of living, like energy and education. With a rise in the usual expenses and a slate of new ones, living in the United States has become a lot more expensive.
A March study by Wider Opportunities for Women found that the minimum income required for a single worker's economic security, and not just survival, was just over $14 an hour, or nearly twice the federal minimum wage. Throw two kids in the mix, and over $27 an hour is required to save up for retirement and emergencies. These costs are compounded by a stagnation in middle class wages.
With more costs and less money, it's not so surprising that 42 percent of U.S. workers are barely making ends meet. At least this number is on the decline, thanks partly to more steady income flows, but maybe due to the better budgeting of recession-worn Americans.