4 Things the Middle Class Can No Longer Afford

4 Things the Middle Class Can No Longer Afford

In today’s economic climate, the middle class is facing an increasingly challenging landscape regarding affordability. Gone are the days when certain luxuries and even some basic amenities were within easy reach of the average middle-income earner.

The financial dynamics have shifted significantly from once easily attainable dreams. This article delves into four key areas where the middle class feels the financial squeeze the most, shedding light on how and why these once-standard benchmarks of success have slipped out of reach.

4 Things the Middle Class Can’t Afford Anymore

The middle class is finding it increasingly challenging to afford certain high-cost items due to wages not keeping up with inflation over the past four years:

  1. Huge Houses: Real estate costs due to price appreciation and interest rate financing costs have risen faster than average income growth. This makes it harder for the middle class to purchase large homes, especially in areas with high demand for housing.
  2. Brand New Luxury Cars: Luxury cars have become more expensive, partly due to technological advancements and increased production costs. Also, the middle class prioritizes other financial goals or necessities over luxury vehicles.
  3. Out-of-State or Ivy League Colleges: Higher education costs have skyrocketed, outpacing inflation and wage growth. Ivy League or out-of-state tuition can be prohibitively expensive without substantial scholarships or financial aid.
  4. Fine Dining: As the cost of living increases, discretionary spending like fine dining takes a hit. Many in the middle class are more budget-conscious, choosing more affordable dining experiences as they don’t have room in their budgets for expensive dining.

The growing disparity between income growth and the rising costs of houses, certain luxury items, and experiences has made these things less accessible for the middle class.

Keep reading for a deeper look into why things have gotten too expensive for middle-class wages to keep up with.

The Decline in Middle-Class Homeownership: The Unaffordability of Big Houses

Owning a spacious, comfortable house has long been a cornerstone of the American Dream, especially for the middle class. However, this dream is becoming increasingly unattainable. One of the primary factors is the surge in real estate prices, particularly in areas with high housing demand.

Prices have climbed steeply, outpacing the income growth of the average middle-class family. Adding to this challenge are the rising interest rates, making mortgages less affordable than they once were. Combined with relatively stagnant wage growth, these factors create a scenario where owning a large home is no longer a feasible goal for many.

Economic factors such as recent white-collar layoffs have further exacerbated this issue, leaving the dream of a nice, roomy house to live in just that – a dream for many middle-class families. Many small houses have become out of reach for the middle class in most US and Canadian cities in the past four years.

Luxury Vehicles Out of Reach: The Middle Class and High-End Car Market

The allure of brand-new luxury cars has always held a certain appeal, symbolizing status and success. However, this is another area where the middle class is increasingly priced out. Several factors contribute to this trend.

Firstly, the cost of producing these vehicles has risen, mainly due to technological advancements and increasing production costs. As a result, the price tags on these luxury vehicles have soared.

There has also been a noticeable shift in the financial priorities of the middle class. Families are now more likely to prioritize other financial goals over the luxury of a high-end car. Alternative transportation trends, such as car sharing or increased reliance on public transit, also play a role.

When we compare this to past decades, it’s clear that the accessibility of luxury vehicles to the average middle-class individual has significantly diminished. Even most domestic new cars and new trucks have price tags too high for the middle class to afford.

The Rising Cost of Education: Why Ivy League and Out-of-State Colleges are Becoming Inaccessible

Higher education, particularly from prestigious institutions like Ivy League or out-of-state colleges, is perceived as a gateway to better career opportunities and a marker of prestige. However, the cost of such education has skyrocketed, increasingly moving out of reach for the middle class.

In the United States, public 4-year undergraduate degrees have an average out-of-state tuition of $26,382 vs. $9,212 per year for the same degree in-state. The cost for out-of-state tuition can be more than double or triple what in-state students pay. [1]

Tuition fees have risen sharply over the years, far outpacing inflation and average wage growth. Affording such an education is a significant challenge without substantial scholarships or financial aid, which are not always easy to secure.

Additionally, there has been a growing awareness and acceptance of alternatives to traditional college paths, such as community colleges, online education, and vocational training. These alternatives often offer more affordable education options.

The escalating cost of conventional higher education is thus not only a financial burden but also a factor in reshaping educational norms. Many in the middle class are questioning whether a college education is even worth the cost due to a declining return on investment in tuition and fewer white-collar job opportunities due to technology.

Changing Dining Choices: Fine Dining Falls Off the Middle-Class Menu

Fine dining, once a treat or a symbol of a special occasion for many in the middle class, is also becoming less frequent. This shift is mainly attributable to the rising cost of living, which squeezes the discretionary income for such luxuries.

Dining habits are changing, with a noticeable trend towards more affordable eating experiences. This trend is not just about saving money but also reflects a broader cultural shift in dining preferences and priorities.

Additionally, the restaurant industry is feeling the impact of these changing consumer behaviors, with fine dining establishments facing new challenges in attracting middle-class clientele. This evolution in dining choices hints at broader shifts in lifestyle and priorities among the middle class.

Key Takeaways

  • Evolving Homeownership Dreams: Escalating property prices and increased mortgage rates have placed many desirable homes beyond the reach of many middle-income families.
  • Shift in Vehicle Aspirations: The escalating costs and changing priorities have steered the middle class away from new, high-end automobiles.
  • Educational Cost Hurdles: The soaring expenses of prestigious universities and out-of-state institutions are increasingly unattainable for middle-income earners.
  • Dining Preferences Transformation: Rising living expenses have necessitated a shift towards more economical culinary experiences, moving away from upscale restaurants.


There has been a significant shift in the economic landscape for the middle class, highlighting a need for recalibration in both aspirations and practicalities. The journey towards homeownership, the allure of luxury automobiles, the quest for esteemed educational opportunities, and the enjoyment of gourmet dining experiences have all transformed.

This evolution is a reflection of changing economic circumstances and a signal of shifting societal values and priorities. As the middle class navigates these changing trends, adapting, seeking alternative paths, and redefining what is truly valuable becomes imperative.

These four areas – housing, luxury vehicles, education, and dining – reflect broader economic trends and shifts in societal values. The growing disparity between income growth and the rising costs of certain items and experiences has rendered them less accessible for the middle class.

This change signals a need for adaptation, both in individual lifestyles and broader economic and policy approaches, to address the evolving needs and capabilities of the middle class.

Ultimately, understanding and adapting to these shifts are crucial for maintaining a sustainable and fulfilling lifestyle within the boundaries of middle-class affordability.