Summary of Where Does All the Money Go

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The United States faces challenges as the cost of basics like food, rent, medicine and transportation increase. The Hamilton Project analyzes 30 years of census data since 1984 and shows that growing housing and health care costs present an obstacle to economic security, particularly for low-income families. getAbstract recommends this insightful report to US economy watchers and those interested in the social impact of current economic trends.

In this summary, you will learn

  • Why it matters that spending on basic needs varies among low-, middle- and upper-income US households;

  • How social safety nets haven’t kept up with the changing economy; and

  • What policy makers can do to ensure a basic level of security for low-income households.


About the Authors

Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, Ryan Nunn, Lauren Bauer and Megan Mumford are the director, policy director, visiting fellow and senior research assistant, respectively, at The Hamilton Project.



Analysis of US census data from 1984–2014 shows that low- and middle-income households now spend a higher proportion of their income on subsistence items like housing, health care, transportation and food than they did 30 years ago. For many low-income families, an unexpected increase in the cost of any of their basic needs can result in real hardship, such as having to “choose between buying food and paying for medicine.”

Adjusted for inflation, middle-income households...

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