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Then vs. now

“In 1950, the median household income was $3,300. The cost of a new home back then was $7,354. The cost of a new car was $1,500,” he outlined.

He then points out that purchasing a new house and a new car during that era would require approximately two and a half times one's annual income.

The contrast with today's figures is stark.

“If you flash forward to 2024… the median household income in 2024 in the United States is $74,000. If you buy a brand new car and a brand new home, you're looking at an average cost in the United States of $434,000,” Claflin notes.

By his calculations, the current expenditure on a new house and car is equivalent to 5.8 times the median annual household income. He emphasized that this median figure doesn't apply uniformly across the country, noting that in some housing markets, even a starter house is beyond reach at the $434,000 price point.

And Claflin clearly struck a nerve online with his video, as it has amassed over 1.2 million views and 111,000 likes since it was posted in mid-January.

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Middle class vs. ‘doing well’

Claflin’s video illuminates how inflation has escalated the true cost of living over the decades. What particularly struck him was the disparity between what constituted middle-class status in the past compared to today.

“Your middle class in 1950, if you're making $3,300, the purchasing power of that money allowed you to buy a home and a car and having those expenses represent 2.5 times your annual income,” he said.

So, what income today would equate to the purchasing power of the 1950’s middle class? Substantially more.

“In order for a house and a car in the United States to represent 2.5 times your annual income to maintain that middle class purchasing power in the United States, what do you got to make? $173,000 a year — to be what is traditionally middle class,” he explained.

Earning $173,000 annually can be a real challenge. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, households earning $153,001 or above already fall within the highest income quintile — the top 20% of earners in the country.

Yet, Claflin posits that earning $173,000 a year doesn't equate to "doing well” because “that’s just middle class.” To truly stay in step with rising price levels and maintain a comfortable lifestyle, he proposes that a significantly higher income is necessary.

“Doing well in 2024 is like half a million to a million dollars a year and that's a lot of money,” he concluded.

Indeed, such income levels are substantial, and even ascending to the top 5% income bracket in the country doesn’t ensure this financial status. Census Bureau data suggests that the top 5% of households in the income distribution in America have incomes of $295,001 or more.

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About the Author

Jing Pan

Jing Pan

Investment Reporter

Jing is an investment reporter for MoneyWise. He is an avid advocate of investing for passive income. Despite the ups and downs he’s been through with the markets, Jing believes that you can generate a steadily increasing income stream by investing in high quality companies.

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