Some American workers may finally see an increase in their salary, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal as several companies — including Chipotle Mexican Grill and Darden Restaurants — report upward pressure on wages. What’s more, household net worth rose to $80.6 trillion in the fourth quarter of 2013, up from $70.83 trillion for the same period in 2013, an increase of nearly $10 trillion over the last four quarters, thanks to rising values of homes and U.S. stocks, according to the latest U.S. Federal Reserve data.
“There’s no reason that the gains in household wealth won’t continue,” says Mark J. Perry, a professor of finance and business economics at the University of Michigan-Flint. But many people could be forgiven for not feeling the benefit quite yet. As the Journal points out, employee pay as a share of national income has fallen to its lowest levels since 1951. Here are five reasons Americans still feel poor:
Childcare Costs Surge
It costs a ton of money to go to work these days — if you need to pay someone to look after your children. Childcare payments for families with employed mothers rose 50% from 2002 to 2011 and 250% over the last three decades, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The average cost of child care increased 2.6% in 2012 at day-care centers and 4.8% for home-based care, according to a nationwide study released this month by Child Care Aware of America, which works with state and local agencies. Family income after taxes and other deductions, meanwhile, rose by just 0.6%, and the overall cost of living grew by 1.6% over the same period.
Many young Americans are stuck between a landlord and a mortgage broker: They can’t afford to save for the down payment for a home, partly because a large portion of their income is being eaten up by rent. Indeed, around half of U.S. renters spent more than 30% of their gross income on rent (the traditional measure of affordability) in 2010, up a record 12 percentage points from the 38% of households grappling with such high rent-to-income ratio a decade prior. Homeowners fare better as they must prove that they earn enough before getting a mortgage. As a general rule, your monthly mortgage payment should not exceed 28% of your gross monthly income, according to financial website Bankrate.com.
The price of college is skyrocketing — the average cost of tuition and fees at public four-year colleges jumped 27% from the 2008 to the 2013 school years, according to the College Board — and with it, the amount of debt students face. According to a February report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, student loan debt increased $114 billion in 2013 alone to $1.08 trillion. Now, fully 71% of college seniors who graduated in 2012 had debt, compared with 68% in 2008, and the average debt load was $29,400, up roughly 6% a year since 2008, according to the Institute for College Access & Success.
What’s more, these debt burdens are so high that many students can’t pay: 11.5% of student loan balances are more than 90 days delinquent (this is the highest rate of delinquency among credit cards, mortgages, auto loans and home-equity loans), according to Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
There’s a reason your savings doesn’t seem to be growing all that much: interest rates. There’s been a dip from top-tier interest rates on savings to around 1% today — from 5.3% in October 2007, according to Bankrate.com. For those on a fixed income, including many retirees who rely on CDs and other fixed-income investments, this isn't good news, as it dramatically cuts into their buying power. And even for younger Americans, these kinds of rates may not outpace inflation.
Not only are savings rates paltry, but Americans aren’t saving at as much as they were even three years ago. In 2010, 73% of Americans were saving at least some money, but a survey released in February 2014 by America Saves reported that now just 68% of Americans are saving. Failing to save can lead to you becoming poorer because without a cushion, unexpected expenses (like say a hospital bill or needing a new roof) can mean that you need to take on credit card debt or a loan to make ends meet.
You’re not crazy: Your salary really does buy less of many things these days. A study by the Economic Policy Institute published last year found that the median worker saw wage growth of just 5% between 1979 and 2012, despite productivity growth of 74.5%. “The vast majority of U.S. workers—including white-collar and blue-collar workers and those with and without a college degree—have endured more than a decade of wage stagnation,” the authors concluded. The Census Bureau found similar wage stagnation with the real median income of $51,017 being virtually unchanged from the late 70s and early 80s.
Meanwhile, prices on some key items have jumped. Fuel prices, for example, have risen to more than $4 a gallon, up from around $2.50 in 2007, and food prices, thanks in part to the drought in California, have climbed steadily just this year alone.
This article originally appeared on MarketWatch.com and is reprinted by permission from Marketwatch.com, ©2014 Dow Jones & Co. Inc. All rights reserved.