The Rising Finance Phenomenon Quietly Taking the Industry by Storm

An introduction to the underpaid and overlooked.

The Rising Finance Phenomenon Quietly Taking the Industry by Storm

In my first year as a married man, I earned just shy of $13,500.

For most of my life, personal finance advice felt like something to aspire to – but in reality, impractical.

I simply didn’t earn enough money.

Foundational goals such as building a 6-month emergency fund or saving 20% for a down deposit felt as achievable as getting drafted for the NFL while shopping at Target.

Like many people on the lower end of the economic spectrum, I also felt shame for my position.

The American Dream of being able to accomplish anything you want quickly turns into the American Guilt when you don't.

My experience is not unique. Personal finance felt like something I wasn’t worthy of, and this feeling is becoming more common.

A series of macroeconomic trends and social pressures are pushing millions of people to rally around a new term that will not only change the landscape of personal finance but transform a web of related industries as a result.

What happens when the singular goal of financial advice becomes survival?

That is what I want to dive into with you as we parse out the opportunities of poverty finance.


Personal finance is changing because our economy is changing. However, creators and companies in this niche have yet to catch on because their target audiences have always been middle- and upper-class earners.

Therefore, the opportunity to serve the lowest earners with content unique to their situation and desires will grow substantially in the years to come.

What the numbers say about our poverty hypothesis

Point #1: Search data confirms an increased interest in defining what is “poor”

I stumbled upon my first hint of a trend while building a content strategy for a career development site. While diving into the keyword and Google Trend data, I found something interesting.

The above chart shows that the number of people searching for "define poor" is currently at an all-time high.

Single data points like this can often be blown out of proportion. With more people coming online every day and platforms like TikTok causing swells in search traffic almost overnight, it's not uncommon to see all-time highs for keywords on a regular basis.

The key is to see if surrounding trends, topics, and keywords are also experiencing the same rise in interest. Of all the charts I looked through, I found the following most compelling.

This chart tracks how many searchers ask, "What is the federal poverty level?" In 2012, near the end of the Great Recession, you can see a brief spike followed by a leveling out for the next decade.

But for the last 2+ years, there's been a steady, sustained increase that is not only on par with the 2012 spike but on track to surpass it.

So, the natural follow-up question is, why? Why are people increasingly interested in understanding what level of income constitutes poverty?

Point #2: Demographic data shows a rise in low-income earners

My answer to the “why” question is simple: more people feel poor.

A recent (2022) study by Pew Research dove into the numbers behind the shrinking middle class and revealed some fascinating compliments to our Google Trends data.

First, the middle class is 11% smaller than 50 years ago. But, of course, those people didn't disappear. They were redistributed: 7% into the upper class and 4% into the lower.

Wait a minute. Shouldn't my whole argument be about the rich since they seem to be growing the fastest of any group?

Not exactly.

The data collected is in the form of household income. And whereas married couples and multi-earner households have done well…

Almost every group of people/households with only a single income has done worse.

Furthermore, poverty (just like wealth) is relative. This is an idea I'll come back to throughout this report because it's a core part of how creators can reach this target population. Being poor and feeling poor are not the same thing. And small changes to a small amount of income can be drastically worse than big changes to big income.

In the above chart, we can see that the average low-income earner lost 2% of their earning power over the last 50 years. When you’re already going into debt to buy groceries, even a fraction of a percentage can be felt, especially when inflation stretches that gap even further.

But the middle class losing 20% is the real reason I think the search data is what it is. Regardless of how poor the “average” person may truly be, the fact is they feel much more financially constrained than ever before.

And these feelings are heavily skewed towards the younger populations (e.g., people are making less money for longer periods of time, which has a compounding effect on their financial health).

Point #3: Social data highlights the demand for solutions

Almost everything we’ve talked about so far can be summarized by the following chart: the growth of the subreddit r/povertyfinance.

Founded in 2018 as a resource for frugality, the group saw a major shift in both the topics addressed and the growth rate near the middle of 2020 (peak pandemic). Since then, the group's content has centered around "struggle" and continued to add approximately 500,000 new members per year.

We will spend much more time dissecting this subreddit, but let's quickly summarize what we've found so far.

  1. People want to know if they are poor because they increasingly feel financially stretched.
  2. People, especially younger ones, are earning less money than they’d expect for long periods of their working life.
  3. These groups are increasingly searching for help, advice, and community online.

How this subreddit tells us what to look for

Whispers of hope; shouts for change. That's what you'll find in one of the fastest-growing communities on Reddit.

As we move towards a clearer idea of what to build, publish, and create for this space, we first need to understand the audience a bit better.

We know they feel an external, economic press. But what kinds of conversations does that actually lead to? What concerns are top of mind? Which pains are they trying to solve first? And what topics are strictly off-limits?

To answer these questions, let's pull some critical insights from the subreddit.

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