What Does It Really Mean To "Just Get By"?

By Tim Parker | May 24, 2012 AAA
What Does It Really Mean To

Think back to when you were a pre-teen. Even with all of that youthful energy we wish we had as adults, the bus stop felt like it was miles down the road. What did your parents tell you? "I had to walk to school, in the snow, in the rain and then walk back."
What is the grown-up version of that story? How many Americans believe they're just getting by when, in fact, they're doing a lot better? Most people think they're underpaid and overworked, but what is the true picture of somebody who is just getting by?

The World
2011 was the year that "the 99%" became a part of American culture. Much like "cellphone" and "Facebook," everybody knows that "the 99%" is anybody who isn't rich. In fact, to become a part of the elite 1% in the United States, bankrate.com says, you have to earn more than $344,000, but how does that compare to the rest of the world?

The average annual income worldwide is about $7,000 according to theglobalist.com statistics; taking that into account, Branko Milanovic author of "The Haves and Have Nots" reports the poorest 5% of Americans are wealthier than 70% of the rest of the world. In India, 63% of households have a phone, only one-third have piped and treated water, two-thirds have electricity, and two-fifths of Indian children are plagued with medical problems stemming from malnutrition. Central Statistics Office reports that the average income in India has just risen to $1,000 per year in 2010-2011.

The WorldWatch Institute reports that 2.8 billion people on the planet attempt to survive on $2 per day and more than 1 billion people lack appropriate access to suitable drinking water.

The United States
The average annual income in the United States is currently $26,300, according to Reuters, that's more than 2,500% higher than the average Indian income. CTIA announced 91% of Americans now have a cellphone paying an average monthly rate slightly below $50. New York Times reported that 15.1% of Americans currently live below the poverty level in 2010, which sits at $22,314.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American household has two cars, spends about $16,000 on housing, $6,400 on food, $2,700 on entertainment, $1,700 on clothes, and $7,600 on expenses related to transportation. Although some statistics show that 1.6 million people are homeless, those people are defined as using transitional housing or shelters. The number of people who lack any type shelter consistently is exceedingly low in the United States.

The Other Side
Although Americans appear to living better than most of the world, economists say that the numbers are misleading. Americans make more because the cost of living is higher. Rent prices are more than 300% higher in the United States as compared to India, a loaf of bread is 475% more expensive, and a one-way bus ticket is 570% higher in the United States. Although this accounts for some of the income gap between the two countries, it doesn't account for all of it.

Experts agree that "just getting by" is not easily defined because of the complex series of economic and cultural variables present around the world, but in the United States the standard of living has decreased over the past half-decade, which is due largely to higher unemployment, falling home values and food inflation as well as other basic goods and services. Generation Y may have the ominous distinction of living worse than the generation prior making their idea of "just getting by" much different from their parents.

The Bottom Line
If you're struggling financially, knowing that many citizens in India have it worse than you is of very little comfort, but experts caution consumers having financial trouble to first prioritize their spending and step out of what would be considered their comfort zone. What may be a need in our minds may actually be a want and those wants may be silently forcing you in to a lifestyle of "just getting by."

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