Despite low rates of unemployment and reports of a booming economy, many American workers are struggling to make ends meet.

One in three Americans with a “moderate income” has reported experiencing financial distress in the last year, according to a study released Thursday by the Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C. think tank. Moderate income was defined as making between $40,840 and $81,680 annually for a family of three.

“Many people are living on the edge.”

—Steven Brown, a research associate at the Urban Institute

“People assume if you have a job that pays $50,000 per year or more you’ll be financially secure,” said Steven Brown, a research associate at the Urban Institute and author on the study. “But there are factors like student-loan debt, housing expenses, and medical expenses. And we’ve found having a job — even a good job — hasn’t kept pace with all those expenses.”

Financial insecurity in this case was measured by the ability to come up with a small amount of money to buffer unexpected costs as well as the use of emergency services for cash shortages like payday loans, auto-title loans, and selling items at a pawn shop.

In the past year, about 14% of adults were contacted by a debt collector, 13% missed a payment on a credit card or non-mortgage loan, and 22% were not confident they could come up with $400 for an unexpected expense, the study showed.

“Many people are living on the edge,” Brown said. “They are in positions where everything is going right as long as nothing goes wrong. But if a surprise hits like a car breaking down or health bills hitting, it can really throw them off.”

“People assume if you have a job that pays $50,000 per year or more you’ll be financially secure,” said Steven Brown, a research associate at the Urban Institute and author on the study. “But there are factors like student-loan debt, housing expenses, and medical expenses. And we’ve found having a job — even a good job — hasn’t kept pace with all those expenses.”

Financial insecurity in this case was measured by the ability to come up with a small amount of money to buffer unexpected costs as well as the use of emergency services for cash shortages like payday loans, auto-title loans, and selling items at a pawn shop.

In the past year, about 14% of adults were contacted by a debt collector, 13% missed a payment on a credit card or non-mortgage loan, and 22% were not confident they could come up with $400 for an unexpected expense, the study showed.

“Many people are living on the edge,” Brown said. “They are in positions where everything is going right as long as nothing goes wrong. But if a surprise hits like a car breaking down or health bills hitting, it can really throw them off.”

Similar studies have shown Americans lack emergency funds for unexpected costs. Only 40% of Americans say that they can pay an unexpected expense of $1,000 or more from savings, according to a January 2019 study from finance site Bankrate, and more than one-third would need to borrow the money in some way, including using a credit card, a personal loan or from friends and family.

These findings come while middle-class wages have remained stagnant for years even as America’s ultra-rich have seen their wealth increase. The richest 1% of adults in the U.S. controlled 40% of wealth in the country as of 2016 — a rate not seen since just before the Great Depression.

Meanwhile costs have gone up. It is now 30% more expensive to be middle class in the U.S. than it was 20 years ago, according to a book published last year, “Squeezed: Why Our Families Can’t Afford America,” by Alissa Quart found. Many Americans with once-steady middle-class jobs like teaching now have to take on side gigs like driving for Uber just to pay the bills.

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