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How Much Does Your Family Need to Get By?

A new tool compares housing, food, child care, and other household costs in 618 American metros.

PROTravis Prebble / Flickr

If you have kids, you already know that the cute little humans come with a host of unavoidable costs—especially if you live in a big city. A new tool developed by the Economic Policy Institute adds up these expenses for metro areas across the U.S. and calculates how much a family (up to two adults and eight children) would need to get by in each place.

A quick dive into the data reveals that while housing costs definitely make up a huge chunk of expenses for a family of four, child care costs leave a comparable or even deeper dent in American wallets. In 500 out of the 618 areas analyzed, child care costs more than housing for such families, says Elise Gould, senior economist and director of health policy research at the institute.

Take Washington, D.C. For a family with two adults and two children, the tool computes average annual household expenses of $106,493. Here’s how that number breaks down:

D.C. is an expensive place and rents here are high, but the cost of child care for a family of four is almost double that of housing. While housing is about 17 percent of the total budget, child care takes up more than 29 percent (below):

The D.C. child care costs also place this estimate way above those in other expensive cities with comparable housing costs, such as New York (below, top) or San Francisco (below, bottom):

But for Americans without children, housing still remains the costliest item on their budget. Even in areas where rents are low or wages are high, a full-time minimum wage worker can’t earn nearly enough to take care of herself, Gould says.

You can test out the Family Budget Calculator tool here.

H/t: Washington City Paper

About the Author

  • Tanvi Misra
    Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering demographics, inequality, and urban culture. She previously contributed to NPR's Code Switch blog and BBC's online news magazine.