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The Living Wage Calculator: What It Actually Takes to Get By

by: Emily Cadik

Tue Jul 03, 2012 at 02:30 PM CDT

There's always a lot of controversy around what it really means to have a living wage and what it means to be in poverty.  And we know that the way poverty is defined now is arbitrary and outdated.  The latest effort to come up with a more realistic model comes from MIT, where the Living Wage Project put together a Living Wage Calculator- an ambitious undertaking that estimates living wage and poverty wage by state, city and county.  

In Texas, the living wage for one adult is $7.64, and for an adult and a child is $14.95.  The poverty wage for one adult is $5.04, and for an adult and a child is $6.68.  Of course, the actual minimum wage paid to an adult remains at $7.25, which means you might have a few dollars of disposable income as a single adult, but for everyone else it's not enough.

This puts workers in a lot of key sectors in Texas squarely below the living wage.  Based on average salaries, workers in the field of transportation and material moving; production; farming, fishing and forestry; and food preparation, among others, aren't making a living wage.  

And it's of course interest to compare the states, counties and cities:

  • In South Dakota, the living wage for one person is $6.44 - 91 cents below the minimum wage. But there are only a handful of states who fall into this category, including North Dakota, Kansas, Mississippi, Iowa, Oklahoma and Wyoming.  On the other end of the spectrum, the living wage is as high as $11.92 for one person in the District of Columbia, $10.37 in New York state (not to mention $11.96 in Manhattan), $11.58 in Massachusetts, $10.72 in California ($12.65 in San Francisco) and $11.45 in Hawaii.  

  • Within Texas, the range isn't quite as dramatic but still shows disparities about where you'd expect them.  In Austin, the living wage for one person is $8.72; in Odessa it's $6.93.  In Plano it's $8.92; in Lufkin it's $7.05.  If you live near a major employment center, you're going to pay up.  

The methodology includes basics like food, child care, medical expenses, housing and transportation.  It doesn't count some other payments that many people are responsible for on a monthly basis, like student loans, other debt like credit card payments, or additional taxes that people who are self-employed have to pay.  In places like Austin, with an abundance of start-ups and recent students, some of these expenses are especially common.  But it provides a general idea of the bare minimum needed to get by.  And almost everywhere, the minimum wage doesn't cut it.  


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