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Here’s How Much You Need to Earn to Survive as a Family of Four in America

The prevalence of high living costs often forces families to prioritize survival over aspirations.
Cover Image Source: A family of four enjoying their time | Unsplash | Photo by Jonathan Borba
Cover Image Source: A family of four enjoying their time | Unsplash | Photo by Jonathan Borba

Surviving as a family of four in many U.S. cities presents formidable challenges within the country's economic terrain. Residents grapple with the high cost of living across various facets, including rent, housing, healthcare, lifestyle, and groceries, all of which impose considerable financial burdens. This struggle makes it arduous for individuals to sustain their families and ensure quality education for their children. Even with both parents contributing to the workforce, the combined income often falls short due to substantial expenses, leaving little room for savings.

Food and apartments are a luxury for some in US cities. Image Source: Unsplash|Photo by Jimmy Dean
Image Source: Unsplash | Photo by Jimmy Dean

Moreover, stagnant wages exacerbate financial pressures on families, perpetuating a cycle of economic strain. Despite full-time employment, many families struggle to meet basic needs such as food, medical care, lifestyle essentials, and rent.

The perception of "being comfortable" can vary widely among individuals, shaped by their familial and financial circumstances. At its core, living comfortably entails having sufficient funds to cover daily and unforeseen expenses while also maintaining a savings reserve.

"The US has had a cost-of-living crisis brewing for some time and a severe housing shortage in high-growth areas, but COVID-19 only exacerbated this issue," said Vince Cordova, Partner in Mercer’s Mobility Practice. "Inflation and cost of living impact everyone, and it’s imperative to keep in mind that those who make the least are impacted the most."


A comprehensive study conducted by SmartAsset highlights the income requirements for a family of four to live comfortably in 20 major U.S. cities. The findings underscore the significant disparities in living expenses across different metropolitan areas, influencing the perceived notion of comfort.

San Francisco emerges as the most expensive city, necessitating a staggering annual income of $339,123 for a family of four to attain comfort. Following closely, San Jose and Boston require $334,547 and $319,738 respectively, reflecting the exorbitant cost of living prevalent in these urban centers.

New York City and Oakland also rank high on the list, with income thresholds of $318,406 and $316,243 respectively.


The cities in California particularly stand out for their steep housing rates and rents, often doubling the national average. The state is further known for having the fourth highest cost of living nationwide, as per the Council for Community & Economic Research 2023 report.

On average, a family of four across all 99 cities requires approximately $226,886 annually to live comfortably. Despite Houston's lower ranking with an income threshold of $175,219, the city remains relatively costly compared to the national average family income of $92,750.

Housing costs constitute a significant portion of family expenses in these cities, leaving limited room for discretionary spending and savings.

Pexels | Photo by Pixabay
Image Source: Pexels | Photo by Pixabay

"The cost-of-living crisis disproportionately impacts those at the bottom of the pyramid. There is so much talk about tightening rates, and about stimulus spending, I think the only way to break the long-term trend of rising inequality is productivity," said Unilever CEO Alan Jope.

The prevalence of high living costs often forces families to prioritize survival over aspirations. Many find themselves struggling to cover essential expenses and utilities, leading to sacrifices such as delaying homeownership, vehicle purchases, or discretionary spending on luxuries.

In such circumstances, the pursuit of comfort becomes secondary to the imperative of meeting basic needs and ensuring financial stability.