Public: Family of Four Needs to Earn Average of $52,000 to Get By

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Estimates of minimum income vary by region, household income level

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- A recent Gallup Poll asked Americans to estimate the minimum amount of yearly income a family of four would need "to get along in your local community." On average, the public says a family of four needs to earn at least $52,087 per year. The median, or middle value, is slightly lower at $45,000. The distribution of responses from the Feb. 1-4, 2007, poll is shown below:

What is the smallest amount of yearly income a family of four would need to get along in your local community? [OPEN-ENDED]

%

Less than $30,000

13

$30,000 to less than $45,000

32

$45,000 to less than $60,000

20

$60,000 to less than $75,000

14

$75,000 or more

14

 

No opinion

7

Mean

$52,087

Median

$45,000

The minimum income estimates vary depending on where people live. For example, those living in the East believe much more is needed to get by in their local community than those in other parts of the country. Western residents give the next highest estimates.

Estimates of Minimum Income Needed For Family of Four
by Region

Region of country

Mean

Median

East

$61,348

$50,000

Midwest

$46,394

$40,000

South

$48,702

$40,000

Suburban residents believe it would cost a family of four more to get by where they live than urban or rural residents. The difference is roughly $10,000 between suburban and urban residents, and $16,000 between suburban and rural residents.

Estimates of Minimum Income Needed For Family of Four
by Place of Residence

Place of residence

Mean

Median

Urban

$48,439

$40,000

Suburban

$58,069

$50,000

Rural

$42,478

$40,000

Those living in upper-income households estimate a family of four would need an average of almost $60,000 to get along in their local community, while those in middle- and lower-income households believe the family could get by with less than $50,000 per year.

Estimates of Minimum Income Needed For Family of Four
by Household Income Level

Annual household income

Mean

Median

Less than $30,000

$46,907

$40,000

$30,000 to less than $74,999

$48,225

$40,000

$75,000 or more

$59,979

$50,000

There are no differences by marital status or by whether the respondent has young children or not.

Historical Comparisons

Gallup has asked similar questions in the past, although historically it asked about the weekly rather than yearly income a family of four needed. The following table shows some of those estimates and how they would project to a yearly figure:

Estimates of Minimum Income Needed For Family of Four
Past Gallup Polls

Date

Weekly (Median)

Yearly projection (Median)

March 1987

$350

$18,200

December 1967

$102

$5,304

August 1947

$40

$2,080

Given inflation, those figures are not directly comparable to today's dollars. However, they can be made comparable by making an adjustment for inflation. The following shows how the median estimates from 20, 40, and 60 years ago compare to the current estimate in 2006 dollars.

Estimates of Minimum Income Needed For Family of Four
Past Gallup Polls

Date

Nominal dollars
(Median)

Inflation-adjusted dollars
(Median)

February 2007

$45,000

$45,000

March 1987

$18,200

$32,299

December 1967

$5,304

$32,015

August 1947

$2,080

$18,804

Even holding inflation constant, Americans believe a family needs much more to get by now than in the past. The median estimate of $45,000 from this year's poll is nearly $13,000 higher than the median estimate from 20 years ago. Interestingly, there was no change in the amount of money a family needed between 1967 and 1987 once inflation is taken into account, but there was a similar increase to the latest one between 1947 and 1967.

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,004 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Feb. 1-4, 2007. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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