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Gen Z Doesn’t Believe a $74K Salary Is Middle Class: Are They Right?

Natee Meepian / Getty Images/iStockphoto
Natee Meepian / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Being middle class in America is defined as making between $38,133 and $114,400 in 2023, according to Pew Research. Going by these metrics, $74,000 would definitely be considered middle class, but some members of Gen Z do not think that’s the case.

See: 7 Popular Clothing Brands the Middle Class Can’t Afford Anymore
Discover: 6 Unusual Ways To Make Extra Money (That Actually Work)

As reported by a recent Newsweek survey, only 41% of Gen Z respondents said they considered $74,000 middle class. What is making Gen Z respond this way? GOBankingRates reached out to financial experts to get a handle on why Gen Z views class the way they do and if there’s any validity behind their feelings.

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Geography

When thinking about class, where you are living in the country can make a huge difference.

“In areas with high cost of living, such as cities with large coastal areas, this salary can hardly cover basic needs, while in the Midwest or South, where living costs are lower, it is still possible to provide a living class,” said Yasin Arafat, founder and CEO at DOPPCALL.

For example, before taxes are taken out, a salary of $74,000 would get you about $6,100 dollars a month. In Hawaii, the median mortgage cost is $5,004, according to Forbes. You’d be spending most of your money on a home without any other expenses accounted for.

However, in Montana, the median mortgage price is $2,669, making that $6,100 go a lot farther.

Learn: Net Worth for Baby Boomers: How To Tell Whether You’re Poor, Middle Class, Upper Middle Class or Rich

Renting

Though buying a home and affording the mortgage presents its own challenges, renting isn’t always that much more affordable.

“The average rent cost in the U.S. is $1,957, and renters are typically required to earn triple the monthly rent,” Amanda Webster, the chief operating officer at Fund&Grow, said. “Consequently, typically, individuals need to earn more than $74,000 to meet the standard of allocating 30% of income toward housing and to be approved for renting, from which we can conclude that for most Americans, it is not feasible to live comfortably off $74,000.”

Again, this is highly dependent on where you decide to rent. In North Dakota, the average rent is $880, which is much more affordable.

Inflation

During 2023, inflation rose by a remarkable 3.4%. Those in Gen Z are between the ages of 12 and 27 — a large chunk of that group is just entering the workforce. Coming to terms with suddenly rising costs the first time they’re paying for expenses on their own can have a big effect on how they view what’s affordable.

“Inflation is at an all-time high, and houses are not affordable to the average American,” said Cierra Gross, the founder at Caged Bird HR. “So a Gen Z person making $74,000, who can barely afford housing, student loans and some resemblance of a life, would be right to say that $74,000 is on the edge of middle and lower class.”

Living Comfortably

“Gen Z has a different value system than generations prior,” Gross said. “They want to make enough money to live their life as opposed to just saving and working until they are 65 years old.”

That idea of “living their life” highlights a desire for comfort. Some experts say Gen Z isn’t the only generation struggling to live a comfortable life with a salary of $74,000.

“Right now, most Americans can’t live comfortably off $74,000 in the U.S.,” Webster said. “One factor showing that is the current trend favors renting a house over buying, which is unusual in U.S. history. Most Americans experience that even with a bachelor’s degree and a $74,000 salary, there’s little or no money left after covering basic expenses.”

Are They Right?

The truth seems to be that, in certain areas of the United States, yes — Gen Z is right in thinking that a $74,000 salary does not qualify as middle class. But, it’s not true across the country.

“For the most part, living in metropolitan areas will be the most expensive, but they are also typically where job applicants can earn a higher salary,” Webster said. “Some cities where Gen Z would most likely be able to live comfortably on $74,000 include St. Louis, Salt Lake City and Austin, [Texas].”

It’s also worth it to consider remote opportunities that allow your living expenses to be cheap while earning the typical salary of a more expensive place to live.

“Going remote can also help you save money on commuting costs, eating lunch out and office clothes you don’t want to wear after your nine-to-five is over,” Erika Kullberg, the founder of Erika.com, said. “Spend some time researching the cost of living in different cities to see which cities can offer the lifestyle you’re looking for at a price you can comfortably afford.”

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This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: Gen Z Doesn’t Believe a $74K Salary Is Middle Class: Are They Right?

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