MIT/Amy Glasmeier

There’s no county in America where a minimum wage earner can support a family.

The minimum wage peaked in 1968 at $8.54 per hour, after adjusting for inflation. The current $7.25 is far too low for the 3 million hourly workers who earn at or below that threshold, and certainly not at par with the wage hikes instituted by other countries with similar economic trajectories.

Here’s The Economist on America’s embarrassingly low minimum wage:

Given the pattern across the rest of the OECD, a group of mostly rich countries, one would expect America, where GDP per person is $53,000, to pay a minimum wage around $12 an hour. That would mean a raise of about 65% for Americans earning the minimum pay rate.

But while several states have higher local minimums (and some cities plan to raise them further), the U.S. as a whole is not where it needs to be. To visualize the problem, MIT has released a new tool called the Living Wage Calculator, which maps the difference between minimum wage and basic costs of living in cities and counties across America. The map shows that for most minimum wage earners, supporting their families is an enormous struggle.

To work the tool, you can choose three types of households: a parent with a spouse and two children, a single parent with one child, or a single adult. Once selected, the tool maps the difference between living wage (the cost of living required to get by) and minimum wage for this household. The darker red the county or city, the greater the difference.

Here’s the county map for households with one parent supporting a non-working spouse and two-children:

The entire map is fiery red; there isn’t a single county in which a minimum wage can match the local cost of living. In some counties, such as Marin County near San Francisco or Prince Williams County in Virginia, the breadwinner of this household would have to bring in upwards of $20 more per hour to support his or her family.

Things are tough for a single parent with one child, too. The living wage is higher than the minimum wage in every state. Not surprisingly, cities such as New York, Boston, Washington and Chicago—where housing and other expenses are sky-high—are stained the deepest red:

For single adults, the map shows that Washington State, where the minimum wage is $9.32, is a sort of living-wage oasis. It contains patches (in green) where the cost of living is actually lower than the minimum wage. Adults making the minimum in Pend Oreille County, for instance, bring in 65 cents more an hour than they need to get by.

The city map for single adults, however, shows that urban living is still far too expensive for low-wage workers, even if you don’t have dependents to support:

Play around with the maps here.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Life

    The Cities Americans Want to Flee, and Where They Want to Go

    An Apartment List report reveals the cities apartment-hunters are targeting for their next move—and shows that tales of a California exodus may be overstated.

  2. photo: a pair of homes in Pittsburgh
    Equity

    The House Flippers of Pittsburgh Try a New Tactic

    As the city’s real estate market heats up, neighborhood groups say that cash investors use building code violations to encourage homeowners to sell.  

  3. Transportation

    In Paris, a Very Progressive Agenda Is Going Mainstream

    Boosted by big sustainability wins, Mayor Anne Hidalgo is pitching bold plans to make the city center “100 percent bicycle” and turn office space into housing.

  4. A photo of a police officer in El Paso, Texas.
    Equity

    What New Research Says About Race and Police Shootings

    Two new studies have revived the long-running debate over how police respond to white criminal suspects versus African Americans.

  5. Equity

    What ‘Livability’ Looks Like for Black Women

    Livability indexes can obscure the experiences of non-white people. CityLab analyzed the outcomes just for black women, for a different kind of ranking.

×