The Comfort Gap: The More Money You Make, The More You Think You Need

COUNTRY Survey: Most Americans Think They're Part of the Shrinking Middle Class

Apr 15, 2014, 06:00 ET from COUNTRY Financial

BLOOMINGTON, Ill., April 15, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- When it comes to finances, comfortable, well-off and secure are not all created equal, according to the latest COUNTRY Financial Security Index®.

Not only do a majority of Americans (59 percent) say it's not possible or are unsure if it's possible for someone to achieve financial security with a middle-class income, they also expressed concerns about what can be called a "comfort gap." In short, for many Americans "comfortable" and "well-off" are not one in the same. Nearly half (48 percent) of Americans say $50,000 to $100,000 is enough to live comfortably in the current economic environment. However, just 34 percent consider someone earning a $50,000 to $100,000 income as "financially well-off." 

This gap is even more pronounced among higher income groups. As incomes rise, so too do Americans' view of how much you need to be "well-off." While all income groups are more likely to say $50,000 to $100,000 is enough for an individual to live comfortably, the more they make, the more likely Americans are to say a higher income is what is necessary to be financially well-off.


$50,000 to $100,000 annual income is enough for an individual to live comfortably in the current economic environment

What annual income is considered financially well-off?

Under $50,000


74% say $50,000 or more



64% say $100,000 or more



45% say $150,000 or more

More than $200,000


42% say more than $200,000

"Financial stability is different for everyone, whether you want to call it comfortable, well-off or secure," says Joe Buhrmann, manager of Financial Security support at COUNTRY Financial. "As what we traditionally see as the middle class gets smaller, perhaps Americans should aim to find themselves in the 'comfort class,' where they feel they can meet all their current financial obligations and still save for the future."

America's Middle Class: The Incredibly Shrinking Everyone?
If you feel like you're part of the middle class and you're struggling, you're not alone. A majority of Americans (55 percent) consider themselves middle class (versus wealthy, upper-middle class or low-income), regardless of their actual personal income in most cases. This belief is most evident among people in income brackets under $50,000, $50,000 to $100,000 and $100,000 to $200,000. And while most Americans feel like they're in the middle class, they also believe this group is shrinking, with 55 percent saying the middle class is smaller than it was 10 years ago. Of those who say it's smaller, 64 percent feel it is because the low-income population has grown and one in four (26 percent) say it's because there are more of those considered wealthy.

"Where you are now in terms of your income bracket doesn't matter as much as where you want to be when it comes to your own financial security," continues Buhrmann. "Americans don't need to be defined by a label. It's about controlling what you can.  It's not a sprint – it's a marathon. It's more about closing the comfort gap and taking positive steps to improve your financial security today."

Occupy Main Street
Just 3 percent of Americans consider themselves wealthy. This group is, however, more likely to say a lower income is all that's necessary to be comfortable, financially well-off and financially secure.

  • A majority (52 percent) of those who consider themselves wealthy say $25,000 to $50,000 is enough annual income for an individual to live comfortably.
  • Forty-one percent say $25,000 to $50,000 is enough annual income for an individual to be considered well-off.
  • Six in ten (59 percent) say it is possible to achieve financial security with a middle-class income.

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The COUNTRY Financial Security Index®
Since 2007, the COUNTRY Financial Security Index has measured Americans' sentiments of their personal financial security. The COUNTRY Index also delves deeper into individual personal finance topics to better inform Americans about the issues impacting their finances. Survey data, videos and analysis are available at and on Twitter at @FinanceSecure.

The COUNTRY Index was created by COUNTRY Financial and is compiled by Rasmussen Reports, LLC, an independent research firm, based on a national telephone and online survey of at least 3,000 Americans. 

The margin of sampling error for a survey based on this many interviews is approximately +/- 2 percentage points with a 95 percent level of confidence. All income groups have a 95 percent level of confidence and the following margins error:

  • Under $50,000: +/-3 percentage points
  • $50,000 - $100,000: +/-4 percentage points
  • $100,000 - $200,000: +/-5 percentage points
  • More than 200,000: +/-12 percentage points

COUNTRY Financial ( serves about one million households and businesses throughout the United States. It offers a full range of financial products and services from auto, home and life insurance to retirement planning services, investment management and annuities.