The minimum wage is meant to act as a backstop for American workers, allowing them to at least make ends meet as long as they’re working. However, no matter the intent, the minimum wage still isn’t enough to get by in a number of places across the country.
With the cost of living on the rise — especially in major cities — there’s a growing number of places where a minimum wage is, well, still less than the minimum of what you need.
That’s what a GOBankingRates study has turned up, identifying some 30 cities where the cost of basic necessities — things like housing, groceries, utilities and healthcare — still outpace your earnings if you put in 40 hours a week at the minimum wage in the city. In fact, almost every city included here leave a minimum-wage worker more than $10,000 short of what they need to get by.
- Denver Minimum Wage: $21,216 (annually)
- Annual Necessities: $31,180.80
- Deficit: $9,964.80
Denver’s $10.20 an hour minimum wage translates to $21,216 annually, but that’s still well short of the over $30,000 you would need to live in the Mile High City. Almost two-thirds of that comes in the form of the $19,800 in rent you’ll need to pay for a median one-bedroom apartment there, which would eat up 93 percent of your paycheck if you’re a minimum wage earner before you’ve even started to pay for any other costs.
To top it off, Denver is only getting more expensive — it’s one of the cities where the cost of living is expected to soar this year, found a previous study.
29. Richmond, Va.
- Richmond Minimum Wage: $15,080 (annually)
- Annual Necessities: $25,070.52
- Deficit: $9,990.52
Note the $15,080 a year, as that’s the annual salary for someone earning the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, the rate for 13 of the 30 cities on this list.
Richmond’s cost for annual necessities isn’t especially high at just over $25,000, but without any state or local markups to the minimum wage, the city’s lowest tier of full-time earners would still need to find another $9,990.52 to be able to afford a one-bedroom apartment and other basic necessities.
28. Austin, Texas
- Austin Minimum Wage: $15,080 (annually)
- Annual Necessities: $25,171.20
- Deficit: $10,091.20
Austin residents earning the minimum wage are still going to need to find another 10 grand in their budget to cover their basic expenses if they’re paying the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment. That’s likely not going to be easy, given that rent takes up more than two-thirds of what they’re already earning from the federal minimum wage.
27. Orlando, Fla.
- Orlando Minimum Wage: $17,160 (annually)
- Annual Necessities: $27,319.68
- Deficit: $10,159.68
At $8.25 an hour, Orlando’s minimum-wage earners will only bring home $17,160 a year, nearly all of which they’ll pay in rent if they’re in a median one-bedroom apartment. The annual cost for housing, in that case, would come to $16,224 a year, leaving earners with less than $1,000 left to cover some $4,250 in grocery costs and $4,500 in healthcare expenses. But there is some good news: The Orlando area is one of the cities with the fastest-growing incomes.
26. Raleigh, N.C.
- Raleigh Minimum Wage: $15,080 (annually)
- Annual Necessities: $25,255.32
- Deficit: $10,175.32
Raleigh residents earn the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, leaving them struggling to keep up with the costs of life in this major North Carolina city. That would mean that almost a third of your total income is getting eaten up by you, given annual grocery costs of over $4,400.
- Pittsburgh Minimum Wage: $15,080 (annually)
- Annual Necessities: $25,281.96
- Deficit: $10,201.96
Living in the Steel City on a minimum wage likely requires some steel nerves, as you would need to find ways to eliminate about 40 percent of the cost of your basic necessities over the city-wide median. While a median rent under $1,000 a month helps some, the $5,664 a year in healthcare costs account for over a third of your total earnings before taxes.
24. Fort Worth, Texas
- Fort Worth Minimum Wage: $15,080 (annually)
- Annual Necessities: $25,627.08
- Deficit: $10,547.08
If you’re earning the minimum wage in this Texas city, you better hope you’re getting your money’s worth when you shop for a place to live: The median rent of $15,216 in the city means your entire paycheck plus some is needed to pay for a median one-bedroom apartment. And to top it all off, Fort Worth is one of the cities getting more expensive.
- Houston Minimum Wage: $15,080 (annually)
- Annual Necessities: $25,653.36
- Deficit: $10,573.36
Houston is another city with the unfortunate distinction of having a median annual rent for a one-bedroom apartment exceeding the annual income for a minimum-wage worker.
22. Oakland, Calif.
- Oakland Minimum Wage: $27,518.40 (annually)
- Annual Necessities: $38,496.72
- Deficit: $10,978.32
While Oakland residents can enjoy a minimum wage of $13.23 that is nearly double the rate of anyone making just the federal minimum wage, the annual cost for necessities is also much higher, leaving minimum-wage earners almost $11,000 short of making ends meet. The biggest cost? You guessed it: rent, at $26,400 — 96 percent of pre-tax earnings for a minimum-wage salary.
However, if you’re earning the minimum wage but want to stay in Northern California, consider nearby Sacramento — it’s one of the cities where you can realistically live on minimum wage.
21. Virginia Beach, Va.
- Virginia Beach Minimum Wage: $15,080 (annually)
- Annual Necessities: $26,439.72
- Deficit: $11,359.72
Although it’s one of the best places to live in America if you’re trying to save money, Virginia Beach is not ideal for minimum-wage earners. The annual cost of healthcare in Virginia Beach is over $5,000, leaving earners with less than $10,000 to cover all of their remaining costs.
20. San Diego
- San Diego Minimum Wage: $23,920 (annually)
- Annual Necessities: $35,336.28
- Deficit: $11,416.28
California residents might enjoy a state-wide minimum wage of $11 an hour — and San Diego tacks on another 50 cents for a total of $11.50 — but they’re also living in one of the priciest places in the country. California is one of the most expensive states in the U.S, a fact that makes it much harder to get by if you’re earning less.
- Dallas Minimum Wage: $15,080 (annually)
- Annual Necessities: $26,702.64
- Deficit: $11,622.64
It might take just $26,702.64 to cover basic necessities in Dallas, but the cost of a comfortable life that includes money for savings and splurging on the occasional meal out will run you $68,698 a year — more than four times what you would make earning the minimum wage. Even just the cost of basic necessities, though, still exceeds what you’re making by over $11,000.
18. Arlington, Va.
- Arlington Minimum Wage: $15,080 (annually)
- Annual Necessities: $27,231.84
- Deficit: $12,151.84
The $15,080 a year you would earn from a minimum wage full-time job in Virginia is just over half of what you would need to cover basic necessities while living in Arlington. And while the median rent under $992 a month is fairly reasonable, it exists in the context of an annual grocery bill in excess of $6,000 and a healthcare bill that’s over $5,000. But there’s good news for aspiring homeowners: Arlington is one of the major cities where home prices are falling.
17. New Orleans
- New Orleans Minimum Wage: $15,080 (annually)
- Annual Necessities: $27,505.08
- Deficit: $12,425.08
The Big Easy is anything but if you’re only earning the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. Not only is it one of the cities with the most income inequality, but it’s hard to survive on minimum wage in New Orleans. Your paycheck falls just short of enough to cover the $15,270 a year you’ll need to rent a median one-bedroom apartment.
16. Washington, D.C.
- Washington, D.C. Minimum Wage: $27,560 (annually)
- Annual Necessities: $40,500.36
- Deficit: $12,940.36
The nation’s capital offers a much better minimum wage than most of the country at $13.25, but that’s not enough to make up for its high costs. With the median rent exceeding $27,000 a year alongside transportation costs that are second only to nearby Arlington, you would need to earn over $40,000 a year just to cover the basics in Washington, D.C.
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15. Tampa, Fla.
- Tampa Minimum Wage: $17,160 (annually)
- Annual Necessities: $30,151.56
- Deficit: $12,991.56
Tampa might be one of the best big cities for renters — but perhaps not for renters earning the minimum wage. Rent alone is shy of $20,000 a year, with groceries totaling another $4,000 plus and healthcare costs in excess of $4,500.
- Honolulu Minimum Wage: $21,008 (annually)
- Annual Necessities: $34,574.40
- Deficit: $13,556.40
Life in America’s most expensive state is even tougher if you’re earning the minimum wage of $10.10 an hour in Honolulu. After paying rent on a median one-bedroom apartment each year, you’ll be left with all of $8 to put toward your annual grocery costs of nearly $6,000.
13. Charlotte, N.C.
- Charlotte Minimum Wage: $15,080 (annually)
- Annual Necessities: $28,862.88
- Deficit: $13,782.88
Charlotte has high costs of living, but neither the state of North Carolina nor the city of Charlotte have passed any local laws to help out the city’s lowest earners with full-time jobs. The biggest driver of the costs that are almost $14,000 more than your annual salary? The second-highest cost of healthcare in this study at $6,168 per annum.
- Seattle Minimum Wage: $23,920 (annually)
- Annual Necessities: $37,933.20
- Deficit: $14,013.20
Seattle’s minimum wage of $11.50 an hour should take much of the sting out of the cost of living, but certainly not enough that you can expect to afford many $5 coffees from Seattle-based Starbucks. With annual necessities of nearly $38,000 a year, you’ll find that a full year’s earnings are still more than $14,000 short of what you need to make ends meet.
11. San Jose, Calif.
- San Jose Minimum Wage: $28,080 (annually)
- Annual Necessities: $42,795.84
- Deficit: $14,715.84
San Jose’s minimum wage of $13.50 — a full $2.50 an hour higher than the California rate — is the second-highest in this study. However, even when earning almost double the federal minimum wage, minimum-wage earners in San Jose are hit by the Bay Area’s high costs of over $30,000 each year just to rent a median one-bedroom apartment.
- Boston Minimum Wage: $22,880 (annually)
- Annual Necessities: $37,815.48
- Deficit: $14,935.48
Massachusetts is one of the five most expensive states in the U.S., and Beantown is among the most expensive places in said state. Even at a minimum wage of $11 an hour, paying more than $2,000 a month for a median one-bedroom apartment means you can’t cover rent on your paycheck and are about $15,000 shy of covering basic necessities.
9. Anaheim, Calif.
- Anaheim Minimum Wage: $22,880 (annually)
- Annual Necessities: $38,458.56
- Deficit: $15,578.56
While Disneyland might be the “happiest place on earth” to visitors, its home city is anything but if you’re earning the minimum wage of $11 an hour. With the cost of rent exceeding $25,000 a year and annual healthcare costs approaching another $5,000, you’re still over $15,000 short of covering basic necessities despite working full time.
- Philadelphia Minimum Wage: $15,080 (annually)
- Annual Necessities: $31,003.68
- Deficit: $15,923.68
The City of Brotherly Love doesn’t appear to have a lot for men or women who make the minimum wage. With the cost of basic necessities exceeding $30,000 a year and no state or local laws increasing the minimum wage beyond the federal rate, Philadelphia is one of just five cities in this study where the annual salary of a full-time worker at the minimum rate covers less than half their total costs.
7. Los Angeles
- Los Angeles Minimum Wage: $22,880 (annually)
- Annual Necessities: $39,287.40
- Deficit: $16,407.40
Los Angeles is one of the cities where you need to make at least $80,000 to live comfortably. The City of Angels sees minimum-wage workers earning the $11 rate that’s state-wide for California. But the cost to live there is nearly $40,000 a year, putting even a modest lifestyle well out of reach.
6. New York
- New York Minimum Wage: $24,960 (annually)
- Annual Necessities: $42,512.88
- Deficit: $17,552.88
It costs a lot to live in the Big Apple. The $28,740 in annual rent is the third-highest in this study, and grocery and transportation costs are among the top five — all of which is much more than you can expect to afford on the $12 an hour employers with 10 employees or less are required to pay. Even if you’re paid $15 an hour paid by a larger employer, you’re still over $11,000 short of making ends meet.
5. Nashville, Tenn.
- Nashville Minimum Wage: $15,080 (annually)
- Annual Necessities: $32,693.64
- Deficit: $17,613.64
Although it’s one of the most tax-friendly cities in America, Nashville’s high costs of living is well out of reach if you’re making the minimum wage. In fact, it’s another city where your minimum-wage salary is less than half of what’s needed for basic necessities. The primary culprit? Healthcare costs in excess of $7,000 a year — the highest level in this study.
- Miami Minimum Wage: $17,160 (annually)
- Annual Necessities: $35,910.60
- Deficit: $18,750.60
Miami might be well known for its night life, but if you’re earning the $8.25 minimum wage in the state of Florida, it’s unlikely you’ll get to enjoy much of it. With an average rent of over $2,000, it’s another city with the dubious honor of having a minimum wage job cover less than half the total cost of necessities in a given year.
- Atlanta Minimum Wage: $10,712 (annually)
- Annual Necessities: $30,432.60
- Deficit: $19,720.60
Not only does the minimum wage in Atlanta cover less than half the cost of basic necessities in the city, it’s actually closer to cover just a third. Of course, part of that is because the minimum wage in the state is actually just $5.15 for the small portion of workers in jobs that are exempt from the federal rate.
Still, even at the $7.25 rate that applies to most of the state’s workers, Atlanta’s cost of basics is still more than double what minimum-wage earners are making.
2. Jersey City, N.J.
- Jersey City Minimum Wage: $17,888 (annually)
- Annual Necessities: $40,140.48
- Deficit: $22,252.48
In Jersey City, the annual salary at a minimum-wage job is still less than half the cost of basic necessities, driven by the $2,375 a month it costs to rent a median one-bedroom apartment. Just the annual cost of groceries, utilities, transportation and healthcare add up to over $11,500.
1. San Francisco
- San Francisco Minimum Wage: $31,200 (annually)
- Annual Necessities: $55,074
- Deficit: $23,874
Anyone familiar with the cost of living in America’s largest cities will likely not be surprised by San Francisco topping this list.
Despite a minimum wage of $15 an hour — the highest of any city included here — full-time workers earning the least legally allowed would still find themselves close to $25,000 short of the whopping $55,000-plus needed to live in Frisco. That should be surprising, though, given that a median one-bedroom apartment will cost you nearly $3,500 a month — also the highest in this study.
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Can You Survive on Minimum Wage in America?
If the basic premise of the minimum wage is that no one who is working full time should be unable to pay for basics like rent, food and healthcare, the current rate in many American cities falls well short of that tacit guarantee. With higher rents driving most of the costs, these 30 cities leave minimum-wage earners an average of $13,875.91 short of the cost of basic necessities.
More on Places to Live in America
- Cities Where You Can Realistically Live on Minimum Wage
- Richest and Poorest Area Codes in the U.S.
- 10 Effects of Inflation — and How to Protect Your Money Now
- Watch: Why Your Next Home Will Be a Shoebox
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Methodology: GOBankingRates determined where cost of living outpaces minimum wage in America by analyzing the 75 largest U.S. cities in terms of their: 1) minimum wage, as of Aug. 27, 2018, sourced from each locality’s individual city, county or state website, and/or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Living Wage Calculator; 2) median rent for a one-bedroom residence, sourced from Zillow’s rent index; 3) cost of groceries, 4) cost of transportation, 5) cost of utilities, 6) cost of healthcare, sourced from Numbeo on Aug. 27, 2018, and multiplied by 12 to calculate annual cost. All these individual costs of living were added together to calculate total annual expenditures. This was then subtracted from annual minimum wage to get the difference between a year’s minimum wage and year’s expenses.