There are certain basic costs that every household runs up -- food costs, medical expenses, utility bills. And almost half of all Americans are in danger of not being able to afford these things.
A recent study from the nonprofit Wider Opportunties for Women finds that 45 percent of all Americans -- men, women and children -- live in households that lack economic security, defined as the ability to pay for basic needs like food, transportation and medical care, while setting aside a modest amount of money for emergency and retirement savings.
The WOW report is only the latest indication that for a vast number of people in the U.S., the poor health of the economy is not a distant or abstract concern, but a problem that affects day-to-day decisions about how money can be spent.
Thirty-nine percent of all adults in the country, and 55 percent of all children, live in households that lack economic security, the report finds.
The problem is worse for women than for men -- 74 percent of single mothers are economically insecure, compared with just 49 percent of single fathers -- and worse for people of color than for whites, with just 20 percent of white two-worker households below the economic security line, versus 29 percent for blacks and 43 percent for Hispanics.
These discrepancies across racial and gender lines are likely related to various wage gaps that put white people, especially white men, at an earnings advantage. In 2010, black men earned only 74.5 percent of a typical white man's wage, and women earned 78 cents for every dollar earned by men.
The unemployment crisis is also hitting men and women differently, with the vast majority of jobs created in the past two years going to male workers. In terms of race, the unemployment rate for blacks nationwide is twice that of whites, and the Hispanic rate is almost half again as high as that of whites.
Workers nationwide are also suffering from stagnant wages that, for fully half of the country's workforce, clock in at less than $27,000. People's ability to afford food was recently found to be near a three-year low, and their ability to cover the basic costs of living is currently worse than at any time since the start of 2008.
All of this is taking place against a backdrop of rising economic inequality, as the country's highest earners continue to draw bigger and bigger paychecks and wealth becomes ever more concentrated among the wealthy.