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Even single people making $100K feel like they're scraping by

CNBC logo CNBC 12/6/2017 Emmie Martin

It's harder than ever to make it in America.

Even as the national median income rises, the middle class is shrinking. Seventy percent of Americans consider themselves middle class, according to Northwestern Mutual's 2017 Planning & Progress Study, but only 50 percent of the population technically are, a 2015 report from Pew Research Center shows.

Wages have been largely flat while costs for big-ticket items like housing, education and health care have gone up. As a result, those making even a six-figure income can feel like they're struggling to get by.

That's not just true for families or residents of cities like New York and San Francisco, where a high cost of living inhibits financial stability. Other factors place pressure on young Americans' budgets too, including escalating student debt and looming tax overhauls, which could mean significant losses for those in the lowest income brackets.

Taylor Haby, a 26-year-old Seattle resident who sells scientific equipment and earns around $100,000 a year, feels the weight of overwhelming student loans.

"That fear was so real for me. There's this mounting pile of debt and not knowing if I was ever going to pay it off," he told NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro during a recent interview.

Related video: Earning this amount makes you upper class

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Haby grew up in a rural Texas town that feels worlds apart from Seattle, where he pays $1,650 in rent plus $250 for parking per month for his one-bedroom apartment. Because he travels nearly half of the year for work, Haby didn't want to throw away money on an apartment that wouldn't get much use, so he visited more than 40 buildings to scope out the best deal.

Despite his steep rent, Haby's lucky: So far, he's been able to pay off $15,000 of his $35,000 in student loan debt.

However, Haby's six-figure salary doesn't stretch as far as he'd hoped. He's able to pay all of his bills and tackle his loans, but he still finds himself stressed over not being able to work toward larger financial goals.

"For me, it's not being able to save at the rate I'm wanting to save it," he tells NPR. "It still feels like that account balance never grows and it feels like it hasn't really grown since I moved to Seattle."

The stakes are even higher for couples and families, who have to contend with the additional steep costs of child care and higher education. Theresa Sahhar and her husband earn a combined $100,000 in Olathe, Kansas. Although Sahhar describes the cost of living there as "pretty reasonable," she tells Garcia-Navarro during another segment that the couple is "struggling to make enough money to do all the things that we normally do."

"I don't expect to ever retire," she says. "I expect to work until I'm dead."

Related: Here's a budget breakdown of a couple that makes $200,000 a year and yet is scraping by

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