Even employees who earn a hefty salary are struggling to get to that next paycheck. Photo: Shutterstock

The unemployment rate may be down, but that doesn’t mean workers’ financial situations are up. In fact, more than three-quarters of U.S. workers are hanging on by living paycheck to paycheck — certainly not something one might expect with an unemployment rate of 4.3 percent. 

A new CareerBuilder study finds that even some of those who earn a hefty salary are struggling to get to that next paycheck, while many others are fighting a load of debt or struggling to hold down multiple jobs to get through. 

In fact, 78 percent of U.S. workers live paycheck to paycheck to make ends meet, and 25 percent haven’t been able to get through every month in the last year. Another scary statistic: 20 percent of workers have missed making payments on some of their smaller bills. 

The situation is worse for women than men, with 81 percent of women living paycheck to paycheck compared with 75 percent of men. And the number of those struggling is up from last year, when 75 percent overall said they were always waiting for that next paycheck. Thirty-eight percent of employees said they sometimes live paycheck-to-paycheck, 17 percent said they usually do, and 23 percent said they always do. 

More than a quarter of workers don’t set aside any savings each month, and nearly three quarters say they’re in debt. More than half think they’ll always be in debt, and more than half of those working for minimum wage say they need more than just one job to make ends meet. 

Even workers making a comparatively large salary have no guarantee that they’re any better off; 9 percent of workers making more than $100,000 say they’re usually or always living paycheck to paycheck and 59 percent in that income bracket say they’re in debt. Twenty-eight percent of workers making $50,000–$99,999 usually or always live paycheck to paycheck, with 70 percent saying they’re in debt, and 51 percent of those making less than $50,000 usually or always live paycheck to paycheck to make ends meet, with 73 percent in debt. 

It’s a gloomy picture indeed, with nearly 3 in 4 workers saying they’re in debt today and 56 percent saying they think they will always be in debt. Less than half — just 46 percent — even say their debt is manageable. And retirement savings is taking a beating as well, with 18 percent of all workers saying they’ve reduced their 401(k) contribution and/or personal savings in the last year, 38 percent not participating in a 401(k), IRA or comparable retirement plan, and 26 percent not having set aside any savings each month in the last year. 

However, despite debt, an inability to save and the prospect of even retirement getting short shrift, there are things respondents say they absolutely would not give up, regardless of the state of their finances. While some are obviously essential, others could probably be cut back or cut out. The list includes: Internet connection (54 percent say that this is not negotiable); mobile device, such as a smartphone, tablet, etc. (53 percent); driving (48 percent); pets (37 percent); cable (21 percent); going out to eat (19 percent); traveling (17 percent); education (13 percent); buying gifts for people (13 percent); and, finally, alcohol( 11 percent).