Skip to content
Subscriber Only
Opinion
Noah Smith

$500,000 a Year Yet Struggling? Let's Do a Double Take

No matter how you cut it, a family that takes home a half-million a year is doing great.

The dreariness of it all.

The dreariness of it all.

Photographer: Spencer Platt/Getty Images North America

Every so often you come across an article about someone who makes a lot of money, but who claims to be just scraping by. Among the more famous of these was a Wall Street Journal infographic from 2013 depicting the travails of single mothers making $260,000 a year and married couples making $650,000. Another was a 2017 graph on Reddit showing how a young Seattle resident spends a $100,000 annual income. Just this month, CNBC ran a story entitled “Here’s a budget breakdown of a couple that makes $500,000 a year and still feels average.” The story was based on a report by the website Financial Samurai, about a 30-something couple with two children living in New York City.

Each of these reports produces an outcry on social media, as people rush to denounce the hubris of high earners who claim to feel stretched. That’s only to be expected, given that median personal income in the U.S. is just a little more than $30,000, even including government benefits: