Inflation is wreaking havoc on the American middle class and 8 out of 10 say they are spending their savings just to get by

February 4, 2023, 12:00 PM UTC
Two people looking over bills
Because of inflation, middle-class Americans are increasingly just getting by.
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Surging prices over the past year have hit many people in their pocketbooks. Average wages have risen somewhat, but not enough to keep up with inflation, which peaked in June at a 40-year high of 9.1%.

One group of Americans has particularly suffered: middle-income families, who have had to stop saving as much or tap into their past savings to get by, financial services company Primerica found in a survey. An overwhelming 82% of middle-income households have cut down on the amount of money they’re savings or reached into existing savings to make up for the shortfall in their incomes in the last three months of 2022 due to the higher cost of living.

“High inflation stings for everyone, but it’s especially painful for middle-income American families,” said Amy Crews Cutts, economic adviser at Primerica and one of the authors of the research report, said in a statement Friday.

“With prices increasing at the fastest rate in a generation, the middle market is now spending their savings to make ends meet. Even so, most middle-income households are optimistic about their future and show remarkable resilience in the face of economic headwinds,” she added. 

For the survey, people in households earning $30,000 to $100,000 annually were polled about their financial situation. It also looked at monthly prices for food, gas, and utilities within the consumer price index (CPI), a commonly used economic indicator for recession at the individual level.

Primerica’s analysis found that CPI for food, gas, and utilities had risen 10.7% compared to 7.1% for the broader CPI category that also includes nonessential purchases like cars and computers.

To cope with inflated prices, respondents said, they would either reduce or stop spending entirely in the next few months. In the fourth quarter, 39% of the middle-income households said they had begun taking such steps in preparation for the next year. 

The report notes that inflation pushed wages up, helping middle-income earners offset some of the inflation’s impact. In the first quarter of 2022, compensation rose 1.4% from the earlier quarter, which marked the highest jump since 2001. But even though households benefited from the increase in income, it wasn’t enough to offset higher prices. 

Households had the tendency to spend more than they estimated to save, the survey found. While only 15% of the households said they would spend more in the fourth quarter, more than double that number—33%—ended up spending more. 

But middle-income families are trying to adjust to the rise in costs. Nearly three-quarters of households surveyed said they were curbing nonessential spending, while another 47% said they were putting off car or house maintenance expenses.

“Families are well aware of the potential economic risks in the year ahead and are proactively taking steps to reduce the impact on their financial future,” said Peter W. Schneider, Primerica’s president.

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