Inflation is outpacing wage growth, forcing more Americans to live paycheck-to-paycheck


Inflation is catching up with everyone, and even a stable well-paying job isn’t enough for people to stop living paycheck-to-paycheck.

The U.S. hit an annual inflation rate of 8.2% this month, while wages have only grown by 5% over the same period, and it’s putting a strain on the finances of many Americans.

Wages are going up, but not as fast as things like food, fuel, and housing. Nearly two thirds of employed Americans—65%—are now living paycheck-to-paycheck, according to a new report by e-commerce and online payments company PYMNTS and financial service provider LendingClub. That means that most employed Americans are only earning enough money to pay for their monthly bills, with little to nothing left over—and the number is 5% higher than it was a year ago.

Salary raises or switching jobs for better pay have not been enough to keep up with inflation for most Americans, and even high earners are living paycheck-to-paycheck. Nearly half of Americans who earn more than $100,000 a year are just getting by, according to the report, which surveyed nearly 4,000 people for two weeks in September.

Only one in 10 people say their salary increases have matched inflation’s rampant pace this year, with the vast majority of Americans fearing their paycheck-to-paycheck habits is going from a temporary aberration to a fact of life.

“With inflationary pressures not expected to subside anytime soon, living paycheck to paycheck has become the norm, even among those fully employed and outside the lowest income bracket,” the report’s authors wrote.

Inflation racing past wages

Many Americans have benefited from wage hikes this year. 

Nearly one quarter of private sector businesses in the U.S. have raised wages or paid out higher bonuses because of the pandemic, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced earlier this year. And many workers just decided to look for a higher salary with a different employer, often with great results, in a phenomenon that became known as “The Great Resignation.”

A third of American workers changed employers during the pandemic, and many did so for higher salaries. More than half of U.S. workers who switched jobs between April 2021 and March 2022 saw their wages go up by at least 9.7% relative to a year before, according to Pew.

But while many Americans got a raise this year, average hourly earnings have only gone up 5%, and inflation has been high enough to erase a huge chunk of those wage gains. As many as 55% of Americans who got a raise or switched to a higher-paying job say that their new wages still have not been able to keep up with inflation, according to a September survey by Bankrate.

“Despite the stronger wage growth due to the tightness of the labor market, a majority of workers are finding their wages falling even further behind inflation,” economists with the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas wrote in an article this month.

And despite efforts by the Federal Reserve to bring inflation down this year, high-profile economists including Johns Hopkins’ Steve Hanke and former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers have warned that high inflation will likely linger for two years or longer.

Despite more Americans living paycheck-to-paycheck now than a year ago, most are still able to handle their expenses without too much difficulty. Around 43% of all American consumers aren’t saving, but they also aren’t having major challenges making payments right now.

But even workers who are still able to pay their bills are nervous about the future, with 61% of paycheck-to-paycheck livers without difficulties saying they are very or extremely concerned about near-future economic conditions.

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