Minimum wage has nothing to do with how much it actually costs to live. In many cities -- even places with a minimum wage well above the federal floor -- the least a company can pay per hour is far below how much a worker truly needs to make in order to pay for basic expenses.
"This is because minimum wage and living wage (how much you actually need to get by) aren't the same thing," wrote Move.org's Joe Roberts. "For example, the federal minimum wage in the US is $7.25 an hour, but the average living wage is $16.07 (and varies from city to city)."
That means that workers at the bottom of the wage scale can struggle to pay for even the bare minimum needed to get by, but it's not the same in every city. Move.org examined minimum wage, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment, and the average monthly cost of internet and basic utilities to help minimum wage workers figure out which cities are the most livable.
Minimum wage varies as does the cost of living depending upon where you are. image source: Getty Images.
It's a struggle everywhere
These calculations only factor in rent, internet, and basic utilities. They don't account for food or transportation -- and while some people may be able to walk to work, everyone needs to eat. Still, some cities are better than others and while it's not easy to live on minimum wage in any city, these cities are the most livable for the lowest earners.
10 most livable cities for minimum wage earners
- Bakersfield, CA
- Fresno, CA
- Toledo, OH
- Lincoln, NE
- Tucson, AZ
- Cincinnati, OH
- Phoenix, AZ
- Detroit, MI
- Mesa, AZ
- Cleveland, OH
Bakersfield wins because a minimum wage ($11 in the city) worker needs to work only 20 hours each week to cover the $725 cost of a one-bedroom apartment and the $208.18 needed for utilities and internet, leaving a reasonable cushion for full-time (40 hours per week) workers to pay for food and other costs.
Conversely, in San Francisco, the least-livable city for minimum wage workers, someone must put in 56 hours per week to cover an apartment and utilities. There, the average one-bedroom is $2,464 while utilities plus internet costs $183.31.
A lesson for everyone
Cost of living isn't just something to consider for lower-wage workers. If you could earn $80,000 in Cleveland, you might be better off than making $120,000 in San Francisco.
If you're looking for a job, you have to factor in what an apartment and other expenses will cost. If you can work someplace where it's much cheaper to live, your money will go much farther. So rather than getting hung up on the salary figure, instead think about how much you will have left after paying for essentials. It may make sense to make much less in a city where it's inexpensive to live than to have a huge salary in a pricier locale.
For many people, salary is a bragging point. In reality, how much you can save matters a lot more than the bottom line number.
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