13 Things the Middle Class Can’t Afford Anymore

13 Things the Middle Class Can’t Afford Anymore

The middle class, once the backbone of the American economy, faces unprecedented challenges in maintaining what was once considered an achievable lifestyle. Rising costs, stagnating wages, and a changing economic landscape have made it increasingly difficult for middle-class families to afford many things that were once considered staples of a comfortable life.

In this article, we’ll explore 13 things that the middle class can no longer afford and the impact this has on their lives.

What Are the Middle Class Struggling to Afford?

It has been much more difficult for the middle class to afford these thirteen things since 2020:

  1. Homeownership
  2. College Education Without Debt
  3. Comprehensive Health Insurance
  4. Retirement Savings
  5. Leisure Travel
  6. New Vehicles
  7. Private School Education
  8. Investment Properties
  9. Long-Term Care Insurance
  10. Disposable Income for Luxuries
  11. Extravagant Weddings
  12. Staying at Home While Sick Without Pay
  13. Emergency Savings

Keep reading for a deeper look into why these thirteen things have become unaffordable for the middle class.

The American Dream of Homeownership Slips Away

For many middle-class Americans, the dream of owning a home has become increasingly out of reach. The cost of homes has risen significantly faster than income growth, making it difficult for families to save for a down payment and qualify for a mortgage.

High down payment requirements and strict lending standards have further compounded the problem. As a result, many middle-class families are forced to rent or remain in homes that no longer meet their needs, with little hope of achieving the stability and wealth-building opportunities that homeownership once provided.

According to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, the median home sales price for Q1 2024 was $420,800.

Current Mortage Interest rates:

30-year fixed: 7.589%: Monthly Payment based on the median home price: $2,968.
15-year fixed: 6.825%: Monthly Payment based on the median home price: $3,741.
10 / 6 ARM: 7.982%: Monthly Payment based on the median home price: $3,082.

College Education: A Path to Debt Rather Than Opportunity

A college education has long been seen as a pathway to a better life but has become a path to debt for many middle-class families. The tuition, fees, and living expenses have skyrocketed, leaving students with little choice but to take on significant student loan debt.

This burden follows them long after graduation, limiting their ability to save for the future, buy a home, or start a family. The long-term financial impact of student debt has far-reaching consequences, not just for individuals but for the economy as a whole.

The average costs of attending private and public colleges in the United States for the 2023-2024 academic year are as follows:

Public Colleges

  • In-State Tuition and Fees: $11,260 per year.
  • Out-of-State Tuition and Fees: $29,150 per year.

Private Colleges

  • Tuition and Fees: $41,540 per year.

These prices make it very difficult for the middle class to pay for their children’s college education, and if college students take out loans, they can be left in heavy debt.

The High Cost of Staying Healthy

Healthcare costs have become a significant financial burden for middle-class families. Rising premiums, deductibles, and out-of-pocket expenses have made it difficult for many to afford necessary medical care.

Even those with insurance often struggle to pay medical bills, leading to financial instability and, in some cases, bankruptcy. The consequences of forgoing necessary medical care due to cost can be severe, leading to worsening health conditions and even higher costs.

The average cost of medical insurance in the US varies significantly between employees with employer-sponsored plans and self-employed individuals.

Employer-Sponsored Health Insurance

For employees with employer-sponsored health insurance:

  • Single Coverage: The average annual premium in 2023 was $8,431, with employees typically contributing $1,401 (17%) of this amount.
  • Family Coverage: The average annual premium was $23,968, with employees contributing $6,575 (29%) of this amount.

Self-Employed Health Insurance

For self-employed individuals, the costs can be higher and vary based on the type of plan:

  • Silver ACA Plan: The average monthly premium for a 30-year-old is $453, which amounts to $5,436 annually. For a 60-year-old, the average monthly premium is $1,079, totaling $12,948 annually.
  • Marketplace Plans: The average annual premium for a benchmark plan 2024 is $5,724.

Additional Costs

Both employees and self-employed individuals must also consider other costs, such as deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance:

  • Deductibles: For employer-sponsored plans, the average deductible is $1,992 for single coverage and $3,811 for family coverage.
  • Out-of-Pocket Maximums: For employer-sponsored plans, the out-of-pocket maximum is $9,450 for individual plans and $18,900 for family plans. [1] [2] [3] 

These figures highlight the significant financial burden of health insurance in the US, with costs continuing to rise due to factors like inflation, new medical technologies, and increased utilization of healthcare services.

Retirement: A Luxury for Many in the Middle Class

Saving for retirement has become increasingly challenging for middle-class Americans. With so many other financial obligations, such as mortgages, student loans, and healthcare costs, many families find it difficult to prioritize retirement savings.

The shift from employer-sponsored pension plans to individual retirement accounts has placed the burden of saving squarely on workers’ shoulders. As a result, many middle-class Americans face the prospect of a retirement crisis, with insufficient savings to maintain their standard of living in their golden years.

A Primerica survey found that nearly half (46%) of middle-income families either cut back on retirement plan contributions or paused them indefinitely. Stubbornly high inflation is cited as a primary culprit.

Vacations Become a Distant Memory

Leisure travel, once a staple of middle-class life, has become increasingly unaffordable. The costs of flights, accommodations, and activities have risen steadily, while disposable income has remained relatively flat.

For many families, vacations have become a luxury they can no longer afford, leading to a loss of valuable time for rest, relaxation, and family bonding. The impact of this loss goes beyond just financial considerations, affecting mental health and overall well-being.

A recent Bankrate survey shows only 53% of Americans are planning a 2024 summer vacation. However, most travelers will go into debt to pay for the trips.

The survey also reports that the remaining 47% of Americans plan to skip their summer vacation altogether, with the majority citing affordability as the main issue.

New Cars: An Increasingly Unattainable Goal

The cost of new vehicles has risen dramatically in recent years, making it difficult for middle-class families to afford them. Longer loan terms and higher monthly payments have become the norm, leaving many buyers with a heavy financial burden.

High car payments can crowd out other financial priorities, such as retirement savings or a child’s education. As a result, many middle-class families are forced to hold onto their vehicles longer or opt for used cars, which can come with costs and challenges.

According to the most recent data from Cox Automotive, the average transaction price for new cars is $47,433.

According to Experian, the average monthly payment for a new vehicle in the US was $735 in the first quarter of 2024.

Private School Education Out of Reach for Most

For many middle-class families, private school education has become a luxury they can no longer afford. The escalating tuition costs have put private schools out of reach for most, leaving them with little choice but to rely on public schools.

While some public school districts can provide a solid education, students’ lack of access to the resources and opportunities offered by private schools can have long-term consequences. This divide in educational opportunities can perpetuate income inequality and limit prospects for middle-class children.

In 2024, the national average private school tuition is $12,777 yearly. [4]

Investment Properties: A Fading Aspiration

Owning investment properties was once a common wealth-building strategy for the middle class. However, high property prices and tighter credit conditions have made it increasingly difficult for middle-class families to purchase second homes or rental properties.

The inability to build wealth through real estate investments can have long-term consequences for wealth building and extra income. As a result, the middle class may have fewer options for creating passive income streams and securing their financial future.

Long-Term Care: A Looming Financial Crisis

As long-term care insurance costs continue to rise, many middle-class families cannot afford this vital protection. The high cost of premiums can strain already tight budgets, forcing families to choose between protecting their future care arrangements and meeting their current financial obligations.

Without long-term care insurance, families are left vulnerable to the potentially devastating costs of extended care needs, such as nursing home stays or in-home assistance. This lack of protection can lead to a financial crisis, with families forced to spend down their assets or rely on government assistance programs.

The cost of long-term care insurance in 2024 varies based on several factors, including age, gender, health status, and the level of coverage desired. Here are some key points and costs to consider:

Average Annual Cost For $165,000 LTC Insurance Policy:

  1. Single 55-Year-Old Male:
    • Without inflation growth: $900 annually
    • With 1% inflation growth provision: $1,295 annually
    • With a 5% inflation growth provision: $3,500 annually
  2. Single 55-Year-Old Female:
      • Without inflation growth: $1,500 annually
      • With a 1% inflation growth provision: $2,100 annually
      • With a 5% inflation growth provision: $6,200 annually
  3. Married Couple, Both Age 55:
    • Without inflation growth: $2,080 annually
    • With a 1% inflation growth provision: $3,000 annually
    • With a 5% inflation growth provision: $8,575 annually

Factors Influencing Costs

  • Age: Premiums increase with age.
  • Health: Pre-existing conditions can lead to higher premiums or denial of coverage.
  • Gender: Women generally pay higher premiums due to longer life expectancy and a higher likelihood of requiring long-term care.
  • Coverage Amount: Higher coverage limits and additional riders, such as inflation protection, increase costs.

Specific Examples

  • Gender cost variances: A 65-year-old male pays an average of $1,700 annually, while a 65-year-old female pays $2,700 annually.
  • A couple aged 55 purchasing long-term care protection valued at $800,000 for their needs at age 85 can expect to pay around $5,000 annually. This cost can vary from $2,080 to $8,600 depending on the inclusion of inflation growth factors.
  • A single 55-year-old male purchasing a life plus LTC policy providing around $520,000 of potential long-term care benefits at age 90 could expect to pay $5,022 in annual premiums.

Multiple factors, including age, health, gender, and the specific benefits and riders chosen, will influence long-term care insurance costs 2024. Purchasing a policy earlier in life is advisable to secure lower premiums and ensure coverage when needed. [5] [6]

Luxuries Fall by the Wayside as Disposable Income Shrinks

Rising living costs have led to a shrinking disposable income for many middle-class families. As a result, luxuries that were once considered attainable, such as high-end electronics, designer clothing, or regular dining out, have become increasingly out of reach.

The impact of this loss goes beyond just material possessions, affecting the overall quality of life and the ability to enjoy the fruits of one’s labor. For many middle-class families, the focus has shifted from enjoying life’s little luxuries to simply making ends meet.

Weddings Come With a Hefty Price Tag

The cost of weddings has risen dramatically in recent years, putting a significant financial strain on middle-class families. From the engagement ring to the reception, wedding expenses can quickly increase.

For many couples, the cost of a wedding can lead to starting married life with significant debt, adding to the financial burdens they already face. The pressure to have a picture-perfect wedding can lead to financial stress and strain family relationships.

survey of 7,000 couples getting married in 2024 by wedding registry platform Zola indicates that more couples are budgeting between $30,000 and $50,000 for weddings. This is slightly higher compared with last year. 

The Unaffordable Cost of Being Sick

For many middle-class workers, taking unpaid sick leave is not an option. With limited financial resources, missing even a few days of work can significantly impact their ability to pay bills and make ends meet.

As a result, many workers feel pressured to go to work even when they are ill, risking their health and potentially spreading illness to others. The lack of paid sick leave is a significant financial burden for middle-class families, highlighting the need for more paid sick time at jobs.

Emergency Savings: A Challenge for the Middle Class

Building an emergency savings fund is crucial to financial stability, but it has become an increasingly difficult goal for many middle-class families. With limited disposable income and competing financial priorities, saving for unexpected expenses can be challenging.

The lack of emergency savings leaves families vulnerable to economic shocks, such as job loss, medical emergencies, or major home repairs. These events can quickly spiral into a debt and financial instability cycle without a safety net.

As of 2024, many Americans still struggle to build sufficient emergency savings. Only 44% of US adults could cover an emergency expense of $1,000 or more from their savings, and a significant portion of the population has little to no emergency savings. [7]


The middle class’s challenges are complex and multifaceted, and there are no easy solutions. However, by acknowledging these challenges and working towards policy solutions that address the root causes of financial strain, we can begin to rebuild a strong and thriving middle class. Car manufacturers can go back to building more affordable cars.

This may involve increasing access to affordable housing by lowering the costs to build. The federal government can stop giving unlimited loans for college, driving up the costs unchecked. The government can deregulate healthcare to lower prices.

Businesses can promote employee pay policies that support living wages and better benefits to motivate their workforce. Only by addressing these systemic issues can the middle class again afford the staples of a comfortable life and achieve the financial stability essential for a healthy economy and society.