15 Cities Where the Middle-Class Can’t Afford to Live Anymore

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As prices skyrocket globally, the middle class is gradually slipping into the lower class, making the dream of living in famous cities increasingly out of reach.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

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Dubai is a city of splendor that attracts tourists and expats alike, but its living costs can be daunting. While it offers a range of lifestyle choices, expenses from accommodation to dining and leisure need careful financial planning. 

The city has seen a sharp rise in rent, partly due to an influx of Russian expatriates. Coupled with global inflationary pressures, these factors have catapulted Dubai from the 23rd to the 12th spot in just a few years, making it increasingly expensive for both residents and visitors.

San Francisco, United States


San Francisco’s allure is undeniable, but so is its costliness. Housing in this iconic city is a staggering 190% more expensive than the U.S. average, with even small homes fetching astronomical prices. 

Utility costs also surpass the norm by 35%. Its proximity to Silicon Valley and stringent urban development policies, aimed at preserving its unique charm, have only fueled the fire, making San Francisco a city where the middle class struggles to find affordable living spaces amidst booming prosperity.

Seoul, South Korea


Seoul’s vibrant culture and economic prosperity come with a high price tag. As one of the most expensive cities in South Korea, living expenses in Seoul—particularly housing—are formidable. Students and young professionals often bear significant financial burdens, with monthly costs for basic needs like housing, food, and transport running high. 

Moving up in the global rankings of costly cities, Seoul’s real estate market demands hefty security deposits, placing it ninth this year, reflecting its challenging affordability for the middle class.

Sydney, Australia

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Sydney, a city of dreams for many aspiring to live in Australia, presents a harsh reality with its high costs. Consumer prices are 6.00% higher than the national average, with groceries exceeding this by 2.20%. 

Finder’s latest data indicates that living in Sydney is 22% more expensive than in Melbourne. Housing supply issues exacerbate these costs, contributing significantly to Sydney’s status as a costly city for the middle class and making it more of a far-fetched dream than a viable option.

New York, United States

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While New York dazzles with its skyline, the reality for many is a persistent struggle with high costs. Manhattan remains a symbol of extravagance where even well-paid professionals find it tough to balance their budgets—amidst record-breaking rent hikes and a widening wealth gap, over 1.5 million New Yorkers live in poverty. 

Challenged daily by expenses that far outpace their incomes, the city’s living costs have surged to top the 2023 ECA International’s rankings, driven by relentless inflation and costly housing.

Hong Kong, China


Hong Kong’s real estate prices are notoriously steep, making it a challenging place for the middle class to thrive. The local currency’s strength further elevates the living costs. 

With the city grappling with limited land—proposals like constructing an artificial island have surfaced as potential relief measures. Despite dropping from first to second place in the most expensive city rankings since 2022, Hong Kong remains out of reach for many.

Zurich, Switzerland


Zurich stands as a beacon of high living standards, yet its expenses render it increasingly inaccessible to the middle class. High salaries and substantial consumer purchasing power contribute to its lofty status, but these factors also elevate the cost of living. 

With dense population and limited land, real estate prices soar. Furthermore, the influence of major financial institutions and multinational corporations, including Google, exacerbates the cost pressures, pushing Zurich to rank sixth in 2023 for the world’s most expensive cities, up from seventh in 2022.

Copenhagen, Denmark


Copenhagen, often celebrated for its quality of life, also ranks as one of the more unattainable cities due to its high costs. Prices in Copenhagen typically surpass those in much of Western Europe, including places like Portugal. 

The Danish capital finds itself at the 17th position on the ‘2020 Top 100 Most Expensive Cities in the World’ index. This position reflects the substantial financial burden residents face, particularly affecting the middle class who struggle with the high costs associated with living in this vibrant yet expensive city.


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Singapore’s geographical constraints significantly drive up living expenses, making it a difficult city for average earners. The city ranks as the world’s second-most expensive, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2021 report. 

Climbing from thirteenth to fifth in the ECA International list within a year, Singapore underscores its reputation as a costly hub with limited affordable living options for the middle class.

Honolulu, United States


The dream of island living in Honolulu quickly fades when faced with its costly reality. Essential goods and services bear the brunt of high shipping fees, while scarce development land spikes housing prices. 

For the middle class, the city’s allure is overshadowed by the struggle to manage basic living expenses, making Honolulu a challenging place to sustain a comfortable life.

Bern, Switzerland


Bern, the Swiss capital, is becoming increasingly out of reach for its middle class. The cost of living across various essentials—housing, dining, shopping, and services—continues to rise, pushing Bern from 16th place in 2019 to 11th in 2023 on the list of the world’s most expensive cities. 

This steep climb in living costs highlights the city’s escalating economic demands, which now overshadow the day-to-day affordability for average residents.

Los Angeles, United States


Los Angeles is a city where dreams meet high expenses. Home to Hollywood glam and sun-soaked beaches, LA is equally infamous for its steep living costs. 

The housing market, fiercely competitive, sees ever-climbing prices that, coupled with notorious traffic jams, compound daily living decisions—pushing middle-class families to their financial limits in pursuit of the Southern California lifestyle.

Tokyo, Japan

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Tokyo’s landscape is marked by some of the world’s most expensive land, particularly in central areas, which underpins its daunting cost of living. Renowned for its high expenses, both tourists and residents (especially those from the middle class) find Tokyo challenging financially. 

Ranked fourth in Mercer’s Cost of Living Survey this year, Tokyo’s reputation as an expensive city is well-justified, making it a tough environment for those without substantial financial resources.

Seattle, United States


Seattle, a city transformed by the tech boom, mirrors the San Francisco dilemma but stands out with its own unique challenges. The surge of high-income tech workers has driven housing costs to new heights, sidelining the middle class who find themselves priced out of both the housing market and a quality of life once accessible to many. 

In Seattle, the vibrant urban experience is increasingly a luxury few can afford.

Osaka, Japan

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Osata offers a slightly more accessible cost of living compared to Tokyo, yet it remains a challenging city for the middle class. While Tokyo is among the top five most expensive cities globally due to high rents, transport, and living costs, Osaka also presents significant financial burdens. 

The city’s demands make it difficult for middle-income earners to comfortably afford the basics, reflecting the broader economic pressures that pervade even the relatively cheaper areas of Japan.

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Kate Smith, a self-proclaimed word nerd who relishes the power of language to inform, entertain, and inspire. Kate's passion for sharing knowledge and sparking meaningful conversations fuels her every word.