Economy

Buzz: How much it takes to get by in America

May 24, 2013 at 11:01 AM ET

This week we wrote about a new Gallup survey finding that, on average, Americans think a family of four needs to bring in a minimum of $58,000 a year to get by in their community.

Many of our readers seemed to find that to be about right. About half of the more than 32,000 readers who took our survey said they thought you need between $50,000 and $75,000 a year to get by in their community.

But the story sparked a strong debate over what you really need to live on.

For many, "getting by" meant more than just having the bare necessities.

“If ‘get by’ means not starve or freeze, it could be lower. But to own a home or retire eventually, a little more is needed,” said one reader who chose between $50,000 and $75,000 a year.

Still, others said that they would need between $50,000 and $75,000 to cover even what most would consider basics, such as housing, transportation and medical costs.

And many said that while they could meet basic needs on less money, lower wages wouldn’t allow them to provide the extras for their children that they think are key to getting a leg up in life.

“This would provide food and transportation. Enrichment, technology and educational additions would be off the table. Class gap widens,” said one reader who choose between $30,000 and $50,000.

Others argued that the definition of what people “need” to get by has changed dramatically in recent years.

“People have an entirely different idea of ‘need’ than in the Fabulous 50's ...we didn't ‘need’ a TV but we got one when times were good,” said one reader who chose $30,000 or less.

Some readers weren’t just speaking theoretically – they said they had learned to make it work by cutting out extras.

“My family of 3 is getting by on $20,000 a year. We don't pay for commercial TV, we eat at home, and we have learned to live with less,” one reader wrote.

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