Middle-class families are in almost every U.S. state. Median incomes have dropped nationwide since 1999, in some places by nearly 9 percent. Still, according to a GOBankingRates study that identified "the best and worst states for the middle class," it's easier to get by in certain states than it is in others.
To be considered middle class, you have to earn an annual household income of "two-thirds to double the national median, after incomes have been adjusted for household size," according to Pew Research Center data. The most recent national household median income estimate was $59,039, the United States Census Bureau reports.
Based on GOBankingRates' study, which considers changes in income versus the costs of big-ticket items like housing and college tuition, here are the five best states in the US for the middle class:
Median middle-class income: $77,156
Median household income change of middle class: 1.7 percent
In-state tuition and fees: $8,450
Median home list price: $229,500
Median middle-class income: $75,953
Median household income change of middle class: -3.8 percent
In-state tuition and fees: $8,760
Median home list price: $181,900
Median middle-class income: $70,124
Median household income change of middle class: -6.7 percent
In-state tuition and fees: $6,360
Median home list price: $290,000
Median middle-class income: $75,811
Median household income change of middle class: -0.6 percent
In-state tuition and fees: $5,220
Median home list price: $249,900
Median middle-class income: $71,391
Median household income change of middle class: -6.5 percent
In-state tuition and fees: $7,990
Median home list price: $180,000
GOBankingRates analyzed income trends, including the change in median household incomes of middle-class families from 1999 to 2014 and the change in the proportion of households earning a middle-class income, to determine where middle-class incomes stretch the furthest.
The researchers also analyzed housing trends, including median home price, monthly mortgage payments and homeownership rates, gathered from real-estate site Zillow, and higher education trends such as college graduation rate, tuition and fees and the five-year change in tuition.
"Although the middle class is shrinking," GOBankingRates reports, in some places "middle-income families continue to thrive."
In South Dakota and Vermont, middle-class incomes have increased by 1.7 percent and 0.2 percent, respectively. And in South Dakota, Mississippi, Oklahoma and West Virginia, the share of middle-income households has increased overall.
The findings highlight that where you live matters: Median income and cost of living vary state to state. But despite where you're located, living within your means and employing some common-sense budgeting techniques can help you save in the long run.
Here are a few ways to get started.
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Video by Zack Guzman