Dec 20, 2022 - Economy

Inflation changed the meaning of a $100K salary

Illustration of a dollar sign covered in cracks with pieces of tape over the cracks.

Illustration: Megan Robinson/Axios

Earning six figures — or buying a $1 million house — isn't quite the same in a high-inflation era.

Why it matters: Fast-rising prices have turned a lot of adults into versions of their grandparents, bowled over by the high cost of [waves hands] everything.

  • We're all becoming that old person who says stuff like, "back in my day, a candy bar only cost a nickel."

What's happening: The average lowest wage that American workers with a college degree expect for a salary is $92,000, per a New York Fed survey, released Monday. That's the highest level since they started tracking the number in 2014 when it was $70,000.

  • For those with less than a college degree, it's $60,000. (That's equivalent to $30 an hour — or twice the $15 hourly minimum wage that's been on activists' agendas for more than a decade.)
Lowest annual salary that employed Americans say they would accept for a new job
Data: SCE Labor Market Survey; Chart: Erin Davis/Axios Visuals
  • Meanwhile, the Federal Housing Administration recently announced it would back mortgages of as high as $1 million in high-cost areas. Critics called this "a McMansion" subsidy  but it's more a reflection of soaring home prices, particularly in these expensive areas.

Zoom out: We form a lot of our feelings toward spending and our understanding of what things cost when we're just starting out in adulthood, says Scott Rick, a professor at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business who studies financial decision-making.

  • That sense "persists even when circumstances change."

The bottom line: Our minds are still catching up with the CPI.

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