Making $150K is considered 'lower middle class' in these high-cost US cities

An annual six-figure salary stretches financially thin in CA, VA, WA, AZ, GOBankingRates reports

The power of a six-figure (or more) salary is seemingly fading depending on where you live, bumping some U.S. earners into a "lower middle class" status.

"In America’s most expensive cities, the bar has definitely been raised to be considered ‘middle class,’" GOBankingRates lead content data researcher Andrew Murray told Fox News Digital. "To escape the lower middle class, you’ll need to earn as much as $150,000, which is substantially higher than what it used to be."

In some high-cost cities, a $150,000 annual salary is stretched financially thin and qualifies as a "lower middle class" income, according to a recent analysis from GOBankingRates.

Northern California and Virginia top the list, where the maximum lower middle class income range goes from $128,964 to $152,652, among the top five most expensive cities.


The cities that ranked with the highest incomes considered "lower middle class" include, in descending order: Arlington, Virginia; San Francisco; San Jose, California; Irvine, California; Seattle; Gilbert, Arizona; Plano, Texas; Scottsdale, Arizona; Washington, D.C.; and Chandler, Arizona.

US dollar in front of flag background

According to GOBankingRates, an annual $150,000 salary is considered lower middle class in cities like Arlington, Virginia; San Francisco; San Jose, California; Irvine, California; and Seattle. (Getty Images)

"You’ll need to make more than six figures, and as much as $150,000, just to get out of the lower middle class in the top 15 ranked cities. Due to these high income requirements, many Americans might be more comfortable choosing to live in more affordable cities, especially those that make average earnings of around $75,000," Murray explained.

GOBankingRates noted in the analysis that the top 25 cities also have exuberant housing, childcare and transportation costs when compared to national averages. According to the data analyst, housing and real estate costs can have the biggest impact on affordability and your wealth class.

"Eight of the top 25 cities are in Virginia, Washington and Arizona. While Virginia and Washington state generally have a higher cost of living, the cities that made our list all had exceptionally high median household incomes," Murray noted.

"Most notably, Arlington, Virginia, which is located just outside of Washington, D.C., has the highest median household income studywide, at nearly $140,000," he added. "Meanwhile, Seattle and Gilbert both have a median household income above $115,000. It's worth noting that all three Arizona cities that ranked in the top 25 are in the Phoenix metro area."

California dominated the list with seven out of 25 of the top spots due to its housing implications.

"It’s no secret that California housing costs are among the highest in the nation. Californians can expect to pay an average of nearly $30,000 per year on housing costs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics," Murray pointed out.

"This means that anyone who wants to live comfortably in California will need to be a high income earner, which is reflected in our findings. San Francisco, San Jose and Irvine — the three California cities that ranked highest in our study – each have a median household income of more than $120,000," he continued. "This is nearly $50,000 higher than the national median income."

U.S. Census data reported that the median household income was just under $75,000 in 2022, and Murray expanded on how this research adds to the argument that being "rich" can be relative to where you live.

"Our findings show that the income considered lower middle class in San Francisco ($152,652) is nearly quadruple the income considered lower middle class in Cleveland ($41,412)," he said. "In another recent analysis, GOBankingRates found that the income needed to be ‘rich’ (top 5%) in Massachusetts is more than $200,000 higher than what it is in Mississippi."


In terms of the most significant takeaway from the study, Murray emphasized that income expectations are increasing drastically in these high-cost cities.

"A six-figure income is no longer enough to make it out of the lower middle class in 15 cities. In three cities, a $150,000 income isn’t even enough," he said. "It’s important that prospective homebuyers consider these types of income differences when deciding where to move."