Although many Americans live paycheck to paycheck, some posts inflate the statistic

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Faced with rising prices for groceries and other basic necessities due to rising inflation, Americans are paying close attention to their bank accounts.

And while some may not have much financial security, a social media post paints things as more dire than they are.

“The average income for most Americans is $3,200 per pay period, per paycheck. $3,200 per month,” one woman said in a TikTok video shared on Facebook on April 28. they are one paycheck away from poverty.” A text overlay on the video also claimed that “76% of Americans are one paycheck away from poverty.”

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat fake news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Learn more about our partnership with Facebook.)

Many Americans live paycheck to paycheck, which means that the money they earn each pay period is used for necessary expenses such as rent, groceries or health care. without additional savings. But the Facebook video inflates the most recent available data.

The video itself gives income figures well above the poverty line. The federal poverty level in 2022, which is used to determine eligibility for certain federal programs and benefits, is $13,590 for a single person or $27,750 for a family of four. A person earning $3,200 a month would have an annual income of $38,400 – well above the federal poverty level for a single person. That income would only be below the federal poverty level if it supported a household of seven. The median household income in the United States is $64,994 per year and the average income is $91,547 per year, according to 2020 census data. Based on these values, the claim that the Average American earning $3,200 per month is incorrect.

It appears that the video’s “paycheck to paycheck” allegation comes from a 2013 survey published by Bankrate.com, a personal finance website. That survey found that 76% of Americans were living paycheck to paycheck with little or no money saved for emergencies, according to CNN Money.

PolitiFact found more recent statistics that report a smaller number — but the meaning of “paycheck to paycheck” may also depend on the survey.

A January survey by MagnifyMoney, a personal finance website, found that 50% of Americans say they live paycheck to paycheck and run out of money after all their expenses paid. Another 15% of Americans say it varies.

An October 2020 survey by Highland Solutions, a digital product consultant, found that 63% of Americans said they have been living paycheck to paycheck since the pandemic began.

In December 2021, PYMNTS and LendingClub reported that 61% of US consumers lived paycheck to paycheck, which was a 7% increase since May 2021. In this report, those who lived paycheck payrolls were split into two categories: 39% said they were able to pay their bills easily, while 22% said they struggled to cover their monthly expenses.

Gary Burtless, an economist and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, warned that the phrase “living paycheck to paycheck” does not have a precise definition. For example, people may report that they live “paycheck to paycheck” even though they earn high salaries, depending on how responsibly they manage their finances and what they considered necessary expenses.

“I would be skeptical of statistics based on this concept unless there is a very clear definition with a clear link to hard facts about the relationship between a family’s monthly income sources and their income needs. basic consumption,” he said.

Burtless pointed to the December 2021 survey which found that 42% of people earning more than $100,000 a year said they live paycheck to paycheck. With that in mind, he said he’s “reasonably confident that a significant percentage of people ‘living paycheck to paycheck’ own the house they live in, have accumulated savings in a retire and live a fairly comfortable life compared to that of their grandparents’ generation.”

As for whether living paycheck to paycheck can be accurately summed up as “one paycheck away from poverty,” Burtless said, it’s complicated.

If, for example, a household is solely or largely dependent on the after-tax income of a breadwinner who quits or is terminated from their job for cause, that household may indeed be only a paycheck away. pays for poverty, he said.

In most states, a person who quits or is fired from a job for cause is not eligible for unemployment insurance benefits.

Burtless said that in this situation, many families may be eligible for other assistance such as “food stamps, Medicaid insurance, and perhaps a modest public cash assistance stipend, but a significant percentage will find that the combined income from these programs will leave the family with an income below the poverty line.”

People who lose their jobs in a typical layoff are often eligible for up to six months of unemployment insurance that can help lift a person out of poverty, Burtless said. And many households have an additional breadwinner who can lift a family out of poverty.

Our decision

A video shared on Facebook claimed that “76% of Americans (live) paycheck to paycheck, which means they are one paycheck away from poverty.”

Different surveys give different figures, but PolitiFact found no recent data indicating a figure as high as 76%. It’s possible the TikTok user pulled the statistic from a 2013 survey. More recent data shows that between 50% and 63% of Americans say they live “paycheck to paycheck”, but it There is no clear definition for this expression, which makes the concept difficult to quantify.

We rate this claim primarily false.

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