A Scary New Report Reveals How Much Americans Need to Earn to Live “Comfortably”

published Jul 10, 2024
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Young family with baby going over finances at home.
Credit: Pekic / Getty Images

Whether you’re loading up on groceries, buying your go-to iced latte, or just paying rent, it can feel like affording the basics — let alone living “comfortably” enough to save and thrive — is harder than ever. Small wage gains can’t keep up with increases in inflation, housing prices, and the cost of living, and as a result, 29% of the U.S. population falls into the ALICE category — Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed — where they’re one financial emergency away from poverty. 

People don’t feel as financially secure about paying for their lifestyles, and now, a new study pinpoints exactly how much Americans think they need to earn to live “comfortably.” News flash: It’s tough out there.

According to the recent survey, conducted by BankRate, feelings of financial security are declining.  The survey respondents believe they need to earn over $186,000 a year to live comfortably in 2024 a salary which, according to Census Bureau data, is significantly higher than the $79,000 that the average full-time worker made in 2022. So, it’s unsurprising that those same folks surveyed said it was unlikely that they’d ever reach that salary. In fact, 30% said that they weren’t financially secure and didn’t think that they’d ever be — up from 26% of people the year prior.

The survey was made up of data from 2,407 U.S. adults from May 16-May 20. It also found that the amount that people felt they needed to feel “rich” — a term separate from “comfortable” — increased 8% from 2023. In 2024, the average American said they needed to earn $520,000 a year to be “financially free.”

Interestingly, Gen Zers and millennials had the highest average salary amount they needed to live comfortably ($200,000 and $199,999, respectively). Meanwhile, Gen Xers said they needed $183,000 to live comfortably, while baby boomers said $171,000. 

The rising cost of living in recent years might have something to do with these increasingly negative attitudes. When taking inflation into account, the $186,000 salary would have the same purchasing power as a salary of $129,211 in May 2010.

There were also some gender divides when it came to attitudes about money. Out of those surveyed in the BankRate study, 21% of women said they’d never achieve the salary they need to be comfortable, compared to 16% of men.

However, it’s not all bad. The study found Gen Zers were more likely to have a positive attitude overall about their ability to get to this number — 63% said they were optimistic about making a comfortable salary in the future, compared to 50% of millennials, 31% of Gen X, and 17% of baby boomers.