Add $180 to Your Wages

The report is in and the news is fantastic! According to the Census Bureau, in 2013, the inflation-adjusted median income in the U.S. soared from $51,759 to $51,959. Which brings up a question, how will YOU spend that whopping $180 raise?

Keep in mind that this windfall doesn’t show up in a lump sum, so don’t count on watching your bank account swell by almost two Franklins on a given day. Instead, the funds show up as part of your ongoing wage, so arguably in monthly installments.

At least this way, the flow of funds is more manageable. Instead of dealing with the headaches of newfound wealth all at one time, workers can take a more measured approach, working through the logistics of adding $15 to their budget each month.

So what to do with 15 bucks? Dinner and a movie? Hmm. That would be difficult, since the average meal out costs around $10 and the typical movie ticket is $8.38.

This might be workable if the meal came from fast food (average cost $6.50) but if a babysitter is to be considered…

Then it’s a no-go.

Maybe put a little more fuel in the tank? Well, energy costs fell over the last couple of months, but gas is still around $3.30 per gallon, so $15 would only buy about four and a half gallons. That seems underwhelming. Maybe a monthly gym membership to take off some of the pounds put on by eating cheap fast food? Well, no… since the average gym runs $39.35 per month. Besides, even with the windfall, the average worker can’t buy a pair of jeans ($41.27), so what’s the point of working out?

If going out is too expensive and working out is too costly, then clearly people will choose to stay home. That’s good, because it appears that the one item people can afford with their newfound wealth is alcohol — the average bottle of wine is $12, while a six pack will set a person back $8. Sign me up!

OK, this article has been nothing but sarcasm so far, meant to highlight the fact that an increase in annual income of $180 isn’t significant. But the real problems with income in America are no laughing matter.

Since 2007, median income has fallen every year until 2013, when the improvement was so slight that it was less than one-third of one percent. Even then, these numbers are adjusted for inflation as measured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

In their calculation of inflation, housing takes up more than 25%, so it acts as an anchor for all other categories. With food, education, and medical costs all rising substantially in the last six years, it’s probable that the typical, home-owning family has experienced a much higher rate of inflation than what the BLS publishes in the consumer price index.

And remember that the time frame of this conversation is 2007 through 2013… a six-year span. It’s not like incomes fell dramatically in one year and then remained low or crept up slowly. Per the Census Bureau’s numbers, median income adjusted for inflation fell every single year until 2013 when it moved up almost imperceptibly.

Stories abound about investors, corporate leaders, and bankers who’ve made fortunes since 2007. I’d imagine many of them are true, given that corporate profits and equity markets both shot higher over the last six years. But for the typical American, the guy in the exact middle, financial life remains very difficult — and half of all workers exist below him.

We’re not at the end of the economic winter season. We have years to go before the next generation — the millennials — pick up the baton and start spending with abandon.

Meanwhile, millions of Americans have to find a way to pay the daily bills, care for their children, and prepare for their retirement.

With incomes falling for five straight years and then a rebound of $180, this sounds like a situation that is setting many people up for failure.


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Rodney Johnson

Rodney’s investment focus tends to be geared towards trends that have great disruptive potential but are only beginning to catch on to main-stream adapters. Trends that are likely to experience tipping points in the next 5 years. His work with Harry Dent – studying how people spend their money as they go through predictable stages of life and how that spending drives our economy – helps he and his subscribers to invest successfully in any market.