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More Americans are feeling a six-figure salary can't afford them a middle-class lifestyle

Dan DeFrancesco   

More Americans are feeling a six-figure salary can't afford them a middle-class lifestyle
  • This post originally appeared in the Insider Today newsletter.

Welcome back! The stars will be out at the Met Gala in New York today. But something shines even brighter than the attendees: their incredibly expensive jewelry.

In today's big story, we're looking at people who feel like a middle-class salary doesn't equal a middle-class lifestyle.

What's on deck:

But first, six figures ain't what it used to be.


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The big story

Middle-class meltdown

"Lately, I'm getting the feeling that I came in at the end. The best is over."

It's been 25 years since Tony Soprano bemoaned his life in the opening scene of "The Sopranos." A quarter-century later, plenty of Americans feel the same about the middle class.

Business Insider's Jennifer Sor has a report on the people making over six figures who think the middle-class lifestyle they dreamed of isn't realistic for their salary. Take Vincent, a 29-year-old medical sales rep who makes $130,000 a year but feels big-ticket items like a home or a car are out of reach.

The middle class's obituary has been written before. In 2015, the Pew Research Center noted that middle-income households were losing ground.

Still, it's gotten even harder. Owning a home, a key piece of middle-class life, has become impossible for many. According to a recent report from Zillow, homebuyers need to earn 80% more than before the pandemic.

It's not just life-changing purchases, though. Stubborn inflation has made daily purchases — even something as simple as fast food — a burden. And good luck trying to climb the corporate ladder to get a better-paying job. They aren't hiring.

Let's address the elephant in the room: A six-figure salary is still a lot of money.

What might seem disappointing for some would be a godsend to those barely getting by.

Location plays a huge factor. The aforementioned Vincent lives in Santa Barbara, California, one of the more expensive cities in one of the most expensive states.

So why not live in a city with a more affordable cost of living?

Relocating is easier said than done. Cities with higher costs of living tend to have more job opportunities and better jobs. (Although, that's changing.) And even if you're lucky enough to nab a fully remote job — again, good luck — moving away from a big city could cost you in the long run.

Perception, though, is just as detrimental as reality for some. It's always been easy to believe the grass is greener on the other side, but now you can see it 20 times a day across social media.

Constantly seeing how well others appear to be doing can make it a lot easier to feel bad about your own status. It's why people love hanging out with friends who they think make less than them.


News brief

Your Monday headline catchup

A quick recap of the top news from over the weekend:


3 things in markets

  1. Investors' summer vacations may be canceled. Thanks to higher inflation and stock market volatility, Wall Street workers' dreams of a summer in the Hamptons may be put on ice.

  2. Nvidia is dominating earnings season — and it hasn't even reported yet. The chip-maker has been mentioned, both directly and indirectly, in several mega-cap tech companies' earnings calls this spring. Words like "AI Infrastructure" and "generative AI" point to more money heading to Nvidia for its popular H100 GPU chip.

  3. Warren Buffett raised the alarm on AI. During Berkshire Hathaway's annual shareholder meeting on Saturday, Buffett likened AI to the atom bomb, saying the world has let the "genie out of the bottle." He also made jokes about his age and expressed thoughts about how the company would move forward without him.


3 things in tech

  1. The Seed 100: The best early-stage investors of 2024. Behind most startup founders is an investor who saw their potential, nurtured their ambition, and backed their ideas. Now in its fourth year, our list celebrates these figures, from OpenAI's Sam Altman to Verge Genomics' Alice Zhang. Plus, we're also highlighting the top 40 women early-stage investors, including Serena Ventures' Serena Williams and Array Ventures' Shruti Gandhi.

  2. The EV market isn't in peril — it's just changing. The industry is going through its biggest change yet, but that doesn't mean it's all bad news. Despite what it may feel like, demand for EVs hasn't dried up entirely, and legacy car companies aren't going to give up on them yet.

  3. Jack Dorsey is no longer at Bluesky. Amid a posting frenzy on X — where Dorsey was spilling tea all over the platform — Dorsey announced that he left Bluesky, the Twitter offshoot he helped get off the ground


3 things in business

  1. WorkDay is the worst part of many workers' workdays. It's supposed to make everyone's lives easier, but job candidates, employees, and HR people say WorkDay does the opposite. Despite its near-universal hatred, more than half of the Fortune 500 companies continue to use it — and the reality is that its pros outweigh the cons.

  2. The days of McDonald's dollar menu are long gone. Fast-food prices have shot up since the start of the pandemic, and people are sick of it — they're placing smaller orders or opting to cook at home instead. Grocery inflation cooling off, soaring wages, and more are to blame for rising prices.

  3. We need to talk about whatever's happening with Starbucks' drinks. Iced Lavender Oatmilk Matcha, anyone? BI's Katie Notopoulos was left befuddled by the wacky, multi-ingredient sweet drinks now on offer at Starbucks, but she noted that the rise of complicated concoctions has coincided with the rise in popularity of the Starbucks app.


What's happening today

  • This year's Pulitzer Prize winners will be announced.

  • Tonight is the Met Gala.


The Insider Today team: Dan DeFrancesco, deputy editor and anchor, in New York. Jordan Parker Erb, editor, in New York. Hallam Bullock, editor, in London. George Glover, reporter, in London. Grace Lett, associate editor, in Chicago.


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