New research is highlighting just how challenging it is to break out of the middle class in Phoenix – or even the lower middle class in Phoenix metro.

In a new study, GOBankingRates analyzed U.S. Census Bureau data to calculate what income qualifies as ‘lower middle class’ in the 100 largest U.S. cities. 

LEARN MORE: Gilbert, Chandler among cities with biggest gender pay gaps in U.S. 

To do so, we reviewed median household incomes for each city and then calculated the lower middle class income range based on PEW Research Center’s definition of middle class incomes (two-thirds to double the median income of an area).

Our findings show Phoenix ranked among the 20 cities where you need to earn the most to break out of the lower middle class.

In today’s economy, making six figures is still considered doing quite well.

However, new research from GOBankingRates shows that in some major U.S. cities, an annual income of $150,000 is only enough to qualify as “lower middle class.” This is especially pronounced in two Northern California cities and Arlington, Virginia. 

In these high-cost cities, the exorbitant price of basics like housing, childcare and transportation means that middle-class families find themselves stretched thin financially even on relatively high household incomes. It raises questions about what it means to be “rich” versus “middle class” in different parts of the country. Here’s a closer look at cities where making $100,000 to $150,000 a year isn’t enough to break you out of the lower middle class.

Here’s a closer look at Arizona cities that rank high in the study:


Lower-middle-class income range: $76,786 to $127,977

The Phoenix suburb of Gilbert offers small-town charm and big city access at a price — housing is 76% costlier than the national norm. Still, its family friendly vibe, growing employment options in healthcare, retail, manufacturing and more make budgeting the higher costs worthwhile for many relocating here. Amenities like charming downtown shops and trails at San Tan Mountain Regional Park add appeal.


Lower-middle-class income range: $69,465 to $115,774

Scottsdale’s reputation as a ritzy oasis for celebrities and travelers is validated by data revealing housing costs 42% above the national average. Famous for world-class resorts, spas and golf courses amidst stunning desert scenery, the city caters to those able to splurge on its luxe living in pursuit of sunny indulgence and a vibrant social scene.

Chandler, Arizona

Lower-middle-class income range: $66,249 to $110,416

In the Phoenix metro area, Chandler’s 66% costlier housing is offset by its emphasis on technology and manufacturing. The city’s pro-business policies, infrastructure and skilled workforce attract innovators willing to embrace higher living costs.