Voices of Wealth and Poverty: In the Middle

Courtney Kimsey and Jacqueline Byers, in their own words, talk about how their families manage on the median American income. 

Kai Ryssdal: We're launching a new long term project on the broadcast this week -- wealth and poverty in the United States. Our Wealth and Poverty desk is going to explore the growing economic disparity in this country. Its causes and its consequences, including the everyday impact. How we live our economic lives, depending on our place in that economy. We started yesterday with two people who're living just above the poverty line. Today, two others -- women whose household incomes are close to the median U.S. income of about $50,000 a year.

Jacqueline Byers: My name is Jacqueline Byers. I live in Kansas City, Mo.

Courtney Kimsey: My name is Courtney Kimsey. I live in Des Moines, Iowa. My husband is an engineer and I'm a freelance writer and editor.

Byers: I've worked for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City 12 years now.

Kimsey: It's a struggle sometimes to get by with what we have.

Byers: I make pretty good right now.

Kimsey: Our annual household income is around $48,000.

Byers: In between $40-45,000 a year, and I'd love to take more. But that's comfortable for me.

Kimsey: I love our neighborhood. It's very residential.

Byers: I'd describe it as a very quiet neighborhood.

Kimsey: We hear kids. We hear owls. We've seen foxes.

Byers: It feel safe when I pull in and out of the garage.

Kimsey: I feel really safe here and I love it. I love where we live. On paper we are definitely considered middle class, but we fit lower middle class.

Byers: I feel pretty much now I'm more in the middle class. Yes, I do have my emergency fund.

Kimsey: We basically live paycheck to paycheck. We have minimal savings.

Byers: And I have my 401(k) through the job.

Kimsey: So middle class is, we can go out to eat occasionally. But we can't buy a fancy new car. The things that I felt my parents could give me, I don't feel like I can give that to my children just yet.

Byers: My daughter, she's still in college. So just helping her finish out her last semester at college. She's got a lot of scholarships, so I don't have to pay the full amount.

Kimsey: When our second son was born, I left my job because of daycare issues and we had to cash out our retirement.

Byers: Travel. Travel and see the world. I want to be set financially so I can do just that. I've got my bills and my home and car lined up to where it's all taken care of and what's extra goes to the travel account. So that's my splurge money, that's my mad money.

Kimsey: When our youngest son can go to school then I'll go back to work full time. Having two salaries in our family will make an immense difference.

Byers: I think the wealth is very uneven.

Kimsey: There should be something done about this income gap.

Byers: I'm glad those who have it, have it. But...

Kimsey: There are so many people in this country who are struggling and there are few people who are not struggling. And...

Byers: It's stuck so high up at the top that I don't know how to get the money to flow where it should go.


Ryssdal: That was Jackie Byers from Kansas City, Mo., and Courtney Kimsey of Des Moines. We're gonna need your help to tell this story of Wealth and Poverty in America -- in words, sounds and pictures -- click here to find out how you can help.

Tomorrow on the broadcast, not the 1 percent, but maybe the top 25. Voices of the comparatively well off.

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