It's that kind of finger-wagging criticism that's rubbed so many hardworking people wrong — the idea that they wouldn't be in this position if only they'd watched less TV, traded in their cars, or tried cooking more meals at home.
In case you're in need of a reminder of the bigger picture, personal finance expert Helaine Olen nails the issue right on its ugly head in her book "Pound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry." She writes:
"The problem was fixed costs, the things that are difficult to 'cut back' on. Housing, health care, and education cost the average family 75% of their discretionary income in the 2000s. The comparable figure in 1973: 50%.
And even as the cost of buying a house plunged in many areas of the country in the latter half of the 2000s (causing, needless to say, its own set of problems) the price of other necessary expenditures kept rising. The cost of medical services continued to increase at numbers far exceeding the rate of inflation with the price of health insurance doubling in the period between 2001 and 2011, even as that insurance required steeper co-pays and deductibles from families."
Couple that with the 40% surge in the cost of raising a child over the last decade and soaring college tuition costs, and you've got a recipe for financial disaster any average consumer would have trouble thwarting.
Now, for the final blow:
"At the same time, household income was falling. According to the Federal Reserve's Survey of Consumer Finances, the median income for families in the 35 to 44 age bracket fell by 14% between 2001 and 2010, from $63,000 to $53,900. This was not a problem of relative youth. Median income for Americans ages 45 to 54 fell from $66,800 to $61,000 in 2010."