The United States' lowest earners spent more than double their incomes last year, according to data released Tuesday by the Labor Department.

The bottom fifth of the U.S. income distribution -- 24.4 million households -- on average earned $10,074 in after-tax annual income and spent $22,001 last year, according to the Labor Department.

This percentage of households includes many retirees, who are presumably living off savings.

Many of these households may be spending more than they earn through some combination of loans from family and friends, credit cards, savings, and payday loans. The government helps a bit with an income tax credit: The average bottom-fifth household's after-tax income is $269 higher than its before-tax income. The income accounted for includes welfare and Social Security benefits.

Many are also taking on debt. In 2010, roughly one-quarter of the poorest fifth of households held a high debt burden, or had debt service payments exceeding 40 percent of their income, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

These households mainly are spending on necessities such as food, shelter, utilities, clothing and transportation. The average bottom-fifth household spent 87 percent of its after-tax income on housing alone last year.

It's not just the poorest of the low-income households that have trouble living off their incomes; on average, households making less than $40,000 spent more than they earned last year. Middle-class workers also are struggling to make ends meet, and according to a recent survey by the American Payroll Association, more than two-thirds of Americans now are living paycheck to paycheck.

The incomes of many Americans have failed to grow even as prices rise. The bottom 90 percent of American households gained just 9 percent of total income growth between 1979 and 2007, according to the Economic Policy Institute. The poorest tenth of American wage earners are making less now than their counterparts did in 1979.

(Hat tip: CNNMoney's Annalyn Censky.)

Update: This article has been revised to include more up-to-date information regarding household debt.

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  • Workers are not reaping the gains of their extra productivity.

    Worker productivity grew 11 times more quickly than worker pay between 1979 and 2011: While <a href="http://stateofworkingamerica.org/fact-sheets/key-findings/" target="_blank">worker productivity rose 69 percent</a>, median hourly compensation rose just 6.5 percent, according to the Economic Policy Institute. [Chart credit: <a href="http://stateofworkingamerica.org/chart/swa-wages-figure-4u-change-total-economy/" target="_hplink">Economic Policy Institute</a>]

  • CEO pay has skyrocketed.

    Maybe it's time to consider your CEO's massive pay package as a cut out of your own paycheck. <a href="http://stateofworkingamerica.org/wages/" target="_hplink">CEO pay is more than 200 times</a> that of a typical worker, up from 30 times that of a typical worker in the late 1970s, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

  • There aren't enough jobs.

    At its current rate of job creation, the U.S. will not return to its pre-recession unemployment rate of around 5 percent before 2020, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

  • Job growth was slow even before the recession.

    From the Economic Policy Institute: "The business cycle from 2000-2007 is the weakest full business cycle on record for job creation, due to the fact that demand was insufficient to drive overall GDP gains that were robust enough to generate strong job growth." It appears that the middle class squeeze has hurt job creation and economic growth.

  • We are poorer than we could be.

    Households in the middle fifth of income distribution would have been making $18,897 more per year as of 2007 if their incomes had grown as quickly as overall average incomes between 1979 and 2007, according to the Economic Policy Institute. (The sizable income growth for top earners since 1979 skewed the overall average.)

  • The rich have captured most income growth.

    The top one percent captured 60 percent of total income growth between 1979 and 2007, while the bottom 90 percent was left with just 9 percent of the total, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Moreover, the top one percent's incomes rose 241 percent, in contrast to 11 percent growth for the bottom fifth and 19 percent growth for the middle fifth. [Chart credit: <a href="http://stateofworkingamerica.org/chart/swa-income-figure-2a-real-median-family/" target="_hplink">Economic Policy Institute</a>]

  • Wages have grown more quickly for the rich.

    Wages for the top one percent spiked 131 percent between 1979 and 2010, while wages for the bottom 90 percent of workers rose just 15 percent over that same period, according to the Economic Policy Institute. [Chart credit: <a href="http://stateofworkingamerica.org/chart/swa-wages-figure-4h-change-real-annual-wages/" target="_hplink">Economic Policy Institute</a>]

  • The poorest Americans are earning less than in 1979.

    Americans in the bottom tenth of the wage distribution earned less last year than the lowest earners did in 1979, accounting for inflation, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Meanwhile, the real wages of the median worker rose only 6 percent between 1979 and 2011.

  • The American Dream is eroding.

    "Families headed by early baby boomers (born between 1945-1954) are the last generation (on average) to achieve higher living standards than the one that preceded them," the Economic Policy Institute says. Among families with incomes below $28,000 in 1994, less than 1 percent made it to the top fifth of incomes 10 years later, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

  • This has been a lost decade.

    On average, hourly pay has not grown at all since 2002 for workers with a college degree or with only a high school degree, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Wages have not grown for college graduates in nearly every occupation, and college graduates in the 70th income percentile or lower have had stagnant or falling wages since 2000. [Chart credit: <a href="http://stateofworkingamerica.org/chart/swa-wages-figure-4a-change-total-economy/" target="_hplink">Economic Policy Institute</a>]