What Is the Average Income in the USA? (2009 Data)

Where Is the Information?

Hubber dingdong asked this interesting question and I went looking for the answer, wonderig about it and having not seen an actual figure stated anywhere recently, especially during the Recession of 2008 - 2010. Here's what I have found:

Public records available in America include US Census data in a table for 2009 entitled

Wage and Salary Workers -- People 15 Years Old and Over, by Total Wage and Salary Income in 2009, Work Experience in 2009, Race, Hispanic Origin, and Sex

This is Table PINC-10 (see link in 2nd section below) of the Current Population Survey or CPS of the US Census, Annual Social and Economic (ASEC) Supplement.

This particular table includes the information needed to determine the average wage for all of the people that were recorded in the 2009 data set. This information is further broken into Full-Time and Part-Time workers, and further by demographics. The link below offers you an opportunity to see all the breakdowns. For this Hub question, I am using the data for the Full-Time workers aged 15 and older that were employed for 50 to 52 weeks in 2009.

We can calculate the Average Wage for the workers in question for 2009, but the table already gives that number to us. The figure quoted below is the average among everyone counted in the 2009 data who were 1) 15 years old or older, and 2) working 50 to 52 weeks during the year at 3) Full-Time hours.

This Average Wage or salary in 2009 per person was

$54,761


Some readers may find this surprising. It seems correct mathematically from the figures gathered and calculated; but, who is making such large incomes to drive up the average? When we look at this figure, we can remember that in places like New York City and San Francisco or Los Angeles, California, the cost of living is higher than elsewhere and yearly salaries reflect this.

With the recession and business closures and layoffs, who is earning large incomes? Several of the analyst-chosen 100 Best Cities to Live in America (Money.com picks) and The Best Cities for Work/Business (Forbes.com ) demonstrate lesser harm done by the recession than in other cities. See the link below for high-wage careers advertised in this nation.

Table I. Information from Table PINC-10

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Click to Enlarge

Table I. Information Sources

PINC-10. Wage and Salary Workers -- People 15 Years Old and Over, by Total Wage and Salary Income in 2009, Work Experience in 2009, Race, Hispanic Origin, and Sex. Data about confidentiality protection, sampling error, nonsampling error, and definitions is found at www.census.gov/apsd/techdoc/cps/cpsmar10.pdf. Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, 2010 Annual Social and Economic Supplement.

You may review these charts and tables and find a source for other interesting Hubs for this topic. For instance, what is the average income for part-time workers? For Males? Females? Hispanics? Many possibilities exist. 

High Wages vs. Low Wages

Here are some potentially shocking data to consider.

We see in the tables and charts that in 2009, 230,000 people in America worked 50 to 52 weeks Full-Time and made less than $2,500 for the year. Many of them made far less. How did this happen? The maximum in this low-income range is an average of $208.25 per month. What type of job offers this sort of low income? For some, it may be collecting tin cans for recycling, which is a non-wage, non-salary type of work. Another guess is that some of these workers may be individuals required to participate in work programs mandatory for receiving cash payments or food stamps under public assistance laws; they may receive a small stipend. In any event, these are all less-than-minimum wage jobs.

The US Federal Poverty Level for individuals in 2009 was $10,803. a bit more in Alaska and Hawaii. We see that 1,425,000 Full-Time workers earned only $12,500 to $14,999 for the year, a maximum of $1249.92 gross monthly income (before taxes/deductions). Net income was likely under $1,000/month. Workers at the low end of the range made $1041.67 gross. The lowest income cohorts in the US contain a lot of people. 

A sizable proportion of Baby Boomers not old enough for Social Security Retirement were laid off in the recent recession, while others of them were househusbands/housewives with kids for 30 years and divorced at age 55+ They experienced difficulties inherent in a short work history, perhaps no college degree or high school education, and a reluctance of some employers to hire Seniors. Sure, they "should have been prepared", but they were not. A certain proportion of employers want workers ages 45+ to retire early; but many people must already work to age 70 to receive full Social Security benefits. What do we do for the intermediate 25 years? And, some seniors return to work in their late 60s and 70s at low wages. 

Regardless, the low end of US income levels is shocking whens een on paper. American journalist Barbara Ehrenreich lived on essentially minimum wage only for approximately 9 months or so, chronicling the impossibility of existence at the low end fo the US income range. Read her documentary book Nickel and Dimed . related to this, a student of mine postponed GED studies to work two full-time fast-food jobs that helped support his young brothers and sisters. Another student went from 60-year-old high school dropout to LPN and then RN -- very low income, lots of low-paid work on the way up.

US Income Data Close Up

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Click to Enlarge

Are We a Poor Nation or a Rich Nation?

The income level containing the largest number of workers is that of $100,000 per year and over, containing 9,533,000 Full-Time workers in 2009.

For 2010, the income level of "$250,000 and over" has been separated into a unique category and will be interesting in numbers of workers included after the end of 2010. How many will be in the top category?

The 2nd largest level of Full-Time earners is $30,000 - $32,499, with 6,575,000 workers. The 3rd largest level is $40,000 - $40,499, with almost 6 Mllion people.

Lower income levels also include sizable number of earners:

  • $15,000 - $17,499: 3,243,000
  • $17,500 - $19,999: 2,650,000
  • $20,000 to $22,499 : 5,100,000

It may seem incredible that so many American residents earn extremes in wages and salries. The Graph below (with matching table) illustrates this fact visually. Along the horizonal axis, 1 = lowest income level in the accompanying table, 18 = highest income level). Workers in other levels besides these 18 comprise fewer than 1 Million people in each level.

I look forward to reviewing the 2010 data.

2009 Income levels having at least 1 Million Full-Time Earners during 50 - 52 Weeks of Employment

The pay ranges contain the largest numbers of full-time  workers employed for 50 to 52 weeks during the year 2009. The Graph arranges them along the Horizontal Axis from lowest to highest income level. All other levels had fewer than 1 Million people
The pay ranges contain the largest numbers of full-time workers employed for 50 to 52 weeks during the year 2009. The Graph arranges them along the Horizontal Axis from lowest to highest income level. All other levels had fewer than 1 Million people

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Comments 29 comments

Hypnotherapy-Guru profile image

Hypnotherapy-Guru 6 years ago from Idaho

Interesting!


rebekahELLE profile image

rebekahELLE 6 years ago from Tampa Bay

it's amazing to see the disparity in income! I think we're only going to see a huge increase in the highest and lowest wage earners. It's certainly a time to be using our talents the best we can and being innovative.

excellent hub and very informative.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 6 years ago from North America Author

Thanks for the kind words! I was surprised at the numbers and really want to see what the 2010 figures will show. We hear a lot about a 2-class society, so maybe this is some of the proof of it (?). Thanks for posting, Hypnotherapy-Guru and rebekahElle.


SuziGravenstuk profile image

SuziGravenstuk 6 years ago from Long Beach MS, USA

Patty, Super post. As one of my psych professors said, "Each study raises more questions".

For example: If these figures were self reported; were they true and accurately reported? What were the unknown influences?

The deeply disturbing thing about Census figures and HUD calculations is that huge sums of money are often invested based on these figures such as these.

How long did it take you to do this post? I laugh when I see the "5 minute" Hub. Right now it is taking me a long time to do Hubs.

I wonder if the income reported was Pre or post tax? I also wonder how many of the low income were self employed, or independent contractors who made use of tax deductions. For example; one who drives and uses their own vehicle may appear to make good money, but after deducting mileage it can be a really scary figure.


Simone Smith profile image

Simone Smith 6 years ago from San Francisco

What fascinating information- thanks so much for doing that research and sharing it with us!!


Earth Angel profile image

Earth Angel 6 years ago

Blessings to you dearest Patty!

Your HUBS are always just the BEST! You tackle each subject with objectivity, enthusiasm, solid research, great references and independent thinking!! Thank you!!

I have been surprised lately to hear on NPR (National Public Radio) and PBS (Public Broadcast Service) how many references are being made to people making $100,000 a year being just above poverty??

Somehow there must have been a shift when I wasn't looking??

The American Dream has turned into a nightmare! Our priorities need to be redefined!! The material things we crave are causing so much unnecessary suffering!

Thanks again for such a GREAT Hub!! You are just the BEST!!

Blessings always, Earth Angel!!


GusTheRedneck profile image

GusTheRedneck 6 years ago from USA

Patty - A fine study with the results expressed clearly. Tagged it UP and USEFUL. Thanks

Gus :-)))


Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 6 years ago from London, UK

With all that credit crunch the difference between top and botton seemed to have twice as wide.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 6 years ago from North America Author

$100,000 is just above poverty level? The rest of the population must be destitute and, well, some are.

Thanks fotr all the brilliant posts here! - I hope some more people dig into the inforration and tell something we can use. It was really fascinating to look at this data.


Barbara Kay profile image

Barbara Kay 6 years ago from USA

It has been said that the middle class will eventually be nonexistent. Hearing these figures make you wonder.


Joni Douglas profile image

Joni Douglas 6 years ago

It is fascinating to look at all of this data. The numbers for 2010 will also be interesting to see. America prided herself on the Middle Class. It would be nice to keep it.


vocalcoach profile image

vocalcoach 6 years ago from Nashville Tn.

Absolutely a great hub! Hard to believe that $100,000 is just above poverty level. Thanks Patty for all your research and references. I am a huge fan!


dallas93444 profile image

dallas93444 6 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

Lots of information. Apparent changes are coming in terms of the demographics...


1337guy profile image

1337guy 6 years ago from Ohio USA

I'd love to see a by-state breakdown of the median incomes.


CarolineChicago profile image

CarolineChicago 6 years ago from Chicago, IL

Fantastic hub! So well researched. What would be really interesting would be to the median for the US--and for US households. I think it would be pretty scary and show substantial proof for loss of the middle class.

In answer to one or two comments, this type of data are usually from gross income, before FICA, health insurance and our futile stabs at retirement savings.


prasetio30 profile image

prasetio30 6 years ago from malang-indonesia

That's why many Indonesian people want to get job in USA, because of high salary. Thanks for share this information, very useful. A long time ago, this was my dream and work here. Thank you very much. ~prasetio


t-m-s profile image

t-m-s 6 years ago

God, you people are so lucky, here salaries are 10 times lower and some prices are actually HIGHER then yours. Meh... :(


kiwitom profile image

kiwitom 6 years ago from Perth, Australia

Interesting although the figures do raise a lot of questions that can only really be answered if there are a large number of people earning huge incomes..


rtg 6 years ago

i think for this reason most peoples are go USA for a good job


lender3212000 profile image

lender3212000 6 years ago from Beverly Hills, CA

Interesting data. I was surprised at the fairly large number of high income earners. Maybe all of the gloom and doom reported in the media about the economy is a bit overstated?


Jerry G2 profile image

Jerry G2 6 years ago from Cedar Rapids, IA

Hi Patty,

Great hub, though I would suggest that the numbers are even worse than you suggest. While it's hard to get exact numbers, I would argue that the census numbers seem questionable given that those numbers are way different compared to all the estimates of the last 5 years. I just don't see how the average salary jumped $20k in five years, other than maybe the fact that another 10 million unemployed changed how much the income being made is divided up (in other words, it skews the averages). Prior to these numbers, the average I found everywhere was in the 35k to 42k range for individuals, with over 75% of the entire population making less than 50k.

It's also interesting to consider just how much billionaires like Bill Gates skew the averages - while $20-$60 a person doesn't sound like much, add in a few dozen billionaires and the many multi-millionaires like sports athletes and it's easy to see how the true average income for individuals could be even much lower than it already is.

Very interesting topic, and I'm glad someone is taking a tackle at it.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 6 years ago from North America Author

Admittedly, I was shocked by what the tables say. for instasnce, on my last trip through Flint, Michigan in summer 2010, I had a very hard time finding a gas station that was still in business when I turned off I-75. The one I did find no longer accepted credit or debit cards and was a cash-only business. I think there are many depressed areas where people are starving, or turning to the underground economies in larger numbers - particularly car repair, house cleaning, hair and nails, etc.

Many of the "Best Cities" I review are parts of a larger metro complex centering on a big city, where the suburbs are growing and city boundaries finally touch. Population grows every year, so we in USA could become a land of huge mega-metros that take up 1/4 of a state (as Ohio Space Corridor plans to do), with landscaped greenspace in between - and people will have to move to them in order to find work. Just a hunch.

So yes, a lot of someones are making a lot of money and I am surprised to know this.


Sunnyglitter profile image

Sunnyglitter 6 years ago from Cyberspace

I definitely don't earn $54,761...maybe I should write more hubs. :)


2patricias profile image

2patricias 6 years ago from Sussex by the Sea

This is an interesting analysis that shows a big disparity in income in the USA. We both live and work in the UK. There is a small percentage (less than 5%) who earn very high salaries, which brings up the average here. However, statistics can be used in many ways, depending on what story you want to tell.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 6 years ago from North America Author

Agreed! I see news articles on the eweb about a high avg income in USA, and readers may think that everyone is wealthy, when millions are poor.


Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 6 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA

This confirms a lot of my suspicions. What I wonder Patty is how the numbers have changed over the years. I've heard some senators say that in the 1950's (Americas "Golden Years") managers only made 10-20% more than their workers. Whereas now managers demand 100-500% more than their workers.

Another great piece Miss Inglish.

Ben


lilmissbookworm profile image

lilmissbookworm 6 years ago

That is alot higher than where I am from I can tell you that. I suppose you do have to pay for your own health care on which I don't know how much you pay for that out of your salary I guess I am lucky I don't have to pay for that in the uk as I would be left with nothing lol :)


AllyWally profile image

AllyWally 6 years ago from Subang, Malaysia

Well, sometimes the government needs us to see well perceived presentation.


Support Med. profile image

Support Med. 5 years ago from Michigan

Well, it looks like someone is making good money. But, as you stated, most people are not making that kind of money. Most are making (for those who working) $10-$15,000 per year that I know of. Good for those who make more, evidently the average money makers are really not considered average. Voted and rated.

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