10 States Where Americans Are Probably Living Paycheck to Paycheck

woman taking money out of her wallet

Money in a wallet | iStock.com/dolgachov

Millions of Americans are finding their paychecks don’t stretch as far as they once did. Slightly over half of people surveyed are bringing in just enough money to cover their expenses or are spending more than they earn every month, according to a Pew Charitable Trusts survey of 7,000 households. Unsurprisingly, the majority of people also don’t have a few hundred dollars on hand to cover a major — or even minor — financial emergency, such as a car repair, broken washing machine, or hospital bill, Bankrate found.

“It’s not a matter of if, but when an unexpected expense will pop up,” analyst Jill Cornfield said in the Bankrate report. “Our survey shows that just under half of adults surveyed said they or a family member had a major expense in the past 12 months. If you have a car, a house or apartment, a pet, or a kid — if you’re a member of the human race — something that costs money is bound to go wrong.”

It’s not just lower-income people who are living on the financial edge. Although poorer households were more likely to say they weren’t financially secure, a significant minority of households earning $75,000 or more per year also said their money situation was unstable, Pew found. Forty-one percent of those households reported a financial shock, such as a pay cut, divorce, illness, or major car or home repair, had made it difficult to make ends meet in the past year.

In some states, those financial struggles are worse than others. Financial website GoBankingRates recently ranked the states where people were most and least likely to be living paycheck to paycheck. To do so, it calculated how much of the average person’s paycheck would be left after paying for housing, food, transportation, utilities, and healthcare.

Paychecks went furthest in central and southern states Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. In contrast, people living on the East and West coasts had the least wiggle room in their budgets. These are the 10 states where people were most likely to be living paycheck to paycheck.

10. Oregon


Portland, Oregon | iStock.com

The cost of living in Oregon isn’t sky high, but neither are salaries. With the average household earning about $54,000 a year, many are financially stretched. Housing will take a third of your pay, on average. After other expenses are deducted, your $2,083 check shrinks to $531.

9. New Jersey

new jersey transit train

A New Jersey Transit train | Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The average New Jersey resident takes home $2,778 every pay period, more than in most parts of the country. But with half of residents’ income going to housing and transportation, there’s not a lot of money for extras. After covering a mortgage, gas, food, and other essentials, the typical person is left with 22.56% of his or her paycheck, or $626.53.

8. Vermont

Vermont scenic view

Vermont | Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images

Household incomes in Vermont tend to be lower than in other New England states, but residents still have to pay more than most Americans for housing, food, utilities, and other essentials. The average resident has about $464 left over from every $2,192 paycheck after covering necessities.

7. Connecticut

snowy day in connecticut

A snowy day in Connecticut | Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

You’ll spend more on groceries in Connecticut than in any other part of the United States, about $334 per paycheck, according to GoBankingRates. Health costs and housing are also high. With essentials eating up about 80% of their paychecks, it’s not a shock that a separate GoBankingRates analysis found 30% of people in Connecticut have no money in savings.

6. Maryland

Maryland state capitol

Maryland Capitol | Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

At $75,847, Maryland has the highest average household income in the U.S., but that doesn’t mean residents are living large. High housing costs eat up a big chunk of many people’s incomes. The average Maryland home is worth $268,300, according to Zillow, compared to $193,800 nationwide. After paying rent or a mortgage and other expenses, the typical person is left with $475 for retirement, travel, and other items.

5. Alaska


Denali National Park, Alaska | Lance King/Getty Images

Alaska’s remote location makes it an expensive place to live. Although the average household brings in $73,335 every year, 70% of it goes to food, housing, and transportation. Health care and utilities eat up another sizeable chunk, leaving 15.61% — or $440.51 per paycheck — for everything else. How much everyday items cost in Alaska is likely to surprise outsiders. The state has the fourth-highest gas prices in the country, according to Gas Buddy. If you live in a rural part of the state, you might end up paying as much $337 every week for groceries, more than double the national average, a report from the Alaska Department of Labor found.

4. Massachusetts

Map of Massachusetts

Map of Massachusetts | iStock.com

After paying for housing, food, and other expenses, the average Massachusetts resident has about 13% of his or her paycheck left over. Although high housing costs are the biggest issue in this New England state, expenses, including transportation, healthcare, and groceries, cost more than the U.S. average, according to Sperling’s Best Places.

3. New York

Taxi and a Limousine driving along the Brooklyn bridge

New York City skyline | iStock.com/LSP1982

Housing eats up almost half of the average person’s $2,340 paycheck in the Empire State. After paying rent or a mortgage, along with other basic expenses, you’d be left with just $300 for savings and discretionary spending. Faced with those numbers, it’s not surprising GoBankingRates found that 67% of New Yorkers had less than $1,000 set aside, and 29% had absolutely nothing in their savings accounts.

2. California

california road sign

A California highway sign | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

California’s car culture does a number of residents’ wallets. Transportation eats up 17% of the average person’s paycheck, according to GoBankingRates. Housing costs are another big expense. The three most expensive cities to buy a home in the U.S. are all in California (San Francisco, San Diego, and Los Angeles). The Golden State is also one of the least affordable for renters. You’d need to earn nearly $29 an hour to afford the typical two-bedroom apartment in California, according to the National Low-Income Housing Coalition.

1. Hawaii

driving along the Road to Hana in Maui, Hawaii

Maui, Hawaii | iStock.com

It’s a good thing beaches in Hawaii are free to visit because after covering basic expenses, you might not have a lot of money left over to do anything else. The state was the only one on GoBankingRates’ list where the cost of living exceeded the average person’s paycheck. The average household earns close to $75,000 per year, or $2,826 every pay period. That’s not enough to keep them from being $367 in the hole at the end of every month.

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