Half of American Workers Made Less Than $35,000 in 2019, Report Shows

Fifty percent of the U.S. workforce earned less than $35,000 in 2019, according to the Social Security Administration's (SSA) annual wage statistics. The administration's latest report offered a breakdown of American earners' net wages throughout last year. It placed the estimated median wage at $34,248, meaning half of all workers' net compensation—the sum of their earnings after deductions—was less than or equal to that number. About 86 million people make up 50 percent of U.S. workers.

The SSA's annual wage report showed roughly 10.3 million workers' net compensation was between $30,000 and $35,000 in 2019. Individuals who fell within that compensation bracket earned $32,452 on average, according to SSA statistics.

Slightly more 10.6 million people earned between $25,000 and $30,000 in net compensation last year, and roughly the same number of workers earned between $20,000 and $25,000, as well as $15,000 and $20,000, respectively. Individuals whose annual net compensation fell below $5,000 accounted for the largest fraction of workers reflected in last year's wage distribution. The SSA placed 20.1 million people in that category.

The volume of workers included in each wage interval declines more noticeably after earnings brackets surpass $35,000. Roughly 90 percent of the workforce earned $110,000 or less in net compensation last year, and statistics showed about 1 million people, or fewer, fell within net compensation intervals greater than $120,000.

Previous years' wage statistics show the median net compensation recorded in 2019 was higher than any other dating back to 1991, when the SSA's index placed the median at about $15,000. Guidelines updated by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) set $12,700 as the federal poverty line for a single-person household in 2020, with $4,480 added to the total for each additional household member. The HHS guidelines are lower than individual poverty thresholds established in Alaska and Hawaii.

Although factors to determine what constitutes the American middle class are ambiguous, some suggest middle-income earnings fall between 67 percent ad 200 percent of the median. Using this criteria, those whose net compensation was between $22,946 and $68,496 in 2019 would fall within the middle income range.

Wage statistics for 2020 may depart significantly from past years' annual reports. Millions of U.S. workers have filed unemployment claims since the onset of the new coronavirus pandemic, and while the unemployment incidence decreased after peaking in late spring, recent figures released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated the national unemployment rate was almost 8 percent in September. The latest figure decreased about 0.5 percent since the previous month, but still amounted to more than 12.5 million people.

Newsweek reached out to the Social Security Administration for comment but did not receive a reply in time for publication.

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A sign posted outside an apartment building in Brooklyn, New York, reads "#Cancel Rent" on August 20. A report from the Social Security Administration found that in 2019 the estimated median wage in the U.S. was $34,248. Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images