It’s tough to get by on minimum wage no matter where you live. But in a few select cities, life on the lowest end of the pay scale is more forgiving.
To determine the cities where it’s easiest to be a minimum wage worker, GOBankingRates found the largest cities where the minimum wage is higher than the $7.25-an-hour federal minimum wage. Then, we examined the median price of rent for a one-bedroom apartment and the cost of groceries, utilities and transportation to determine if the pay from a minimum-wage job could cover those expenses.
Of the 13 cities that met that threshold, we ranked them in order of how much was money left over per year after paying for basic expenses, from the least amount of extra cash to the most. If you earn the minimum wage, click through to see where you can live comfortably.
13. Sacramento, Calif.
Yearly minimum wage: $21,840Total annual necessities: $20,724
At $10.50 an hour, the minimum wage in Sacramento is tied with Fresno for the title of highest paycheck among all the cities on this list. The downside for workers there is that, at $1,195 per month, the median cost of housing is by far the most expensive out of all cities. Also, no other city on the list pays more for transportation.
Grocery costs are also the highest on this list, but you can use many strategies to help you save hundreds on food. In the end, minimum-wage workers in California’s capital city have enough to pay for what they need with just under $1,116 left to spare at the end of the year.
12. St. Louis
Yearly minimum wage: $16,016Total annual necessities: $14,623
With a minimum wage of just $7.70 an hour, the lowest-paid workers in St. Louis earn less than those in all but just one other city on this list. The silver lining, however, is that the cost of living is also low, with the median rent coming in at just $750 per month — only five other cities on this list pay less.
Although only Sacramento residents pay more for transportation than St. Louis residents do, minimum-wage employees in St. Louis have $1,393 left at the end of the year once all the bills are paid.
11. Las Vegas
Yearly minimum wage: $17,160Total annual necessities: $15,587
In Sin City, minimum-wage workers earn a relatively low $8.25 an hour, yet they pay an annual median rate of $10,620 a year for rent. Only residents of Sacramento and Phoenix pay more. When the dust settles, minimum-wage workers in Las Vegas finish the year with $1,573 left over.
10. Albuquerque, N.M.
Yearly minimum wage: $15,600Total annual necessities: $13,290
No city on the list pays a lower minimum wage than Albuquerque, where the lowest-paid workers earn just $7.50 an hour, or $15,600 a year. The good news is that at just under $1,432, residents pay less for annual utilities than any other city on the list. And, the city’s $360 yearly transportation costs are the cheapest by far, leaving earners $2,310 more per year than they need for annual necessities.
9. Columbus, Ohio
Yearly minimum wage: $16,952Total annual necessities: $14,641
In Columbus, the capital city of Ohio, the lowest-paid earners end the year with $2,311 more than they need to cover the annual cost of necessities. Minimum-wage earners bring home just $8.15 an hour. Fortunately, relatively cheap groceries, utilities and transportation costs contribute to a low cost of living.
8. Omaha, Neb.
Yearly minimum wage: $18,720Total annual necessities: $15,760
In Omaha, the minimum wage is a relatively high $9 an hour, which helps employees afford the $10,542 median annual rent, which is costlier than all but three other cities on this list. Groceries aren’t particularly cheap either, but utilities and transportation costs are on the less expensive side of the list.
After basic necessities are paid for, minimum-wage workers in Omaha have $2,960 left. Omaha ranks among the best cities to save money, according to another GOBankingRates study.
Yearly minimum wage: $20,800Total annual necessities: $16,706
Phoenix boasts a high $10 minimum wage. This allows its lowest-earning workers to end the year with $4,094 after basic expenses — that’s more than $1,000 higher than the next-best city, Omaha.
Phoenix is one of just two cities among the bottom seven — the other being Sacramento — whose minimum wage earners pull in more than $20,000 a year. But Sacramento is also the only city with higher rents — the median annual rent in Phoenix is $11,400. In Arizona, it’s generally cheaper to rent than it is to buy, according to another GOBankingRates study.
6. Buffalo, N.Y.
Yearly minimum wage: $20,176Total annual necessities: $15,898
Buffalo is one of the cities where your paycheck goes to the furthest. It’s sandwiched in the middle of the list, and the median prices of groceries, rent and utilities reflect that, as none are particularly pricey or especially cheap.
A $900 annual transportation bill, however, makes the cost of getting around more expensive than anywhere but St. Louis and Sacramento. At the end of the year, the cost of living leaves minimum-wage workers in Buffalo with $4,278.
Yearly minimum wage: $18,512Total annual necessities: $13,642
Residents of Detroit pay less for rent than all but two other cities on the list. The median monthly rent is just $599.50, but the lowest-earning employees there make only $8.90 an hour to pay for it. At $564 a year, transportation costs are low, too.
In the end, minimum-wage earners in Detroit have $4,870 left over for the year once they’ve paid for basic necessities.
4. Toledo, Ohio
Yearly minimum wage: $16,952Total annual necessities: $11,704
The second city in Ohio to make the list is Toledo, where the minimum wage is $8.15 an hour. That comes out to less than $17,000 a year, but at $500 per month — or $6,000 per year — no city on the list pays less for rent.
Groceries are also cheaper than any other city — in fact, Toledo is the only city on the list with a bill lower than $3,000 a year. When basic necessities are paid for, minimum-wage earners in Toledo can expect to have $5,248 left over for the year. It’s one of the top cities where your paycheck goes the furthest.
3. Mesa, Ariz.
Yearly minimum wage: $20,800Total annual necessities: $14,599
Tied for the No. 2 highest minimum wage on this list, Mesa pays its lowest-wage earners $10 an hour. Residents there not only earn a relatively high wage, but they pay less for utilities than all but one other city on the list — Albuquerque. When the year is done and the bills are paid, minimum-wage workers in Mesa have $6,201 left over for the year.
2. Fresno, Calif.
Yearly minimum wage: $21,840Total annual necessities: $13,453
One of the two cities tied for the No. 1 highest minimum wage on this list is Fresno, which pays a relatively generous $10.50 an hour. Even better, rent and utilities are both fairly cheap there. At $8,387, Fresno is also one of just two cities where low-wage workers have more than $8,000 left over annually after necessities are paid for.
1. Tucson, Ariz.
Yearly minimum wage: $20,800Total annual necessities: $12,096
In the city of Tucson, minimum-wage earners make $10 an hour. At $599 a month, the median rent is lower than in all but just one other city on the list, Toledo. It also takes the No. 2 spot for lowest annual grocery bill — only Toledo residents pay less than the $3,133 required in Tucson. In fact, Toledo is the only city on this list with lower overall expenses, which leaves minimum-wage workers in Tucson with $8,704 annually after the necessities are out of the way.
Where the Liveable Cities Are Located
The cities where minimum-wage employees can realistically live are located in two main areas: the Southwest and the Midwest. Wages are higher and the cost of living is lower than the coasts. Conspicuously absent is the Southeast, because states and cities there typically don’t have minimum wages that are higher than the federal rate.
Methodology: GOBankingRates compiled the list of cities based on the 100 most populous U.S. cities, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates and scraped for cities located in states with higher minimum wage than the federal minimum wage, according to U.S. Department of Labor data. Monthly costs of living included the following factors for a single person: (1) housing, using the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in each city, sourced from Zillow’s October 2017 rental index; (2) groceries, using the recommended amount reported by cost-of-living database Numbeo.com for each city; (3) utilities in each city, according to cost estimates from Numbeo.com; (4) transportation cost based on the price of a monthly pass for public transportation, according to cost estimates from Numbeo.com. Monthly costs were totaled and multiplied by 12 to get the annual dollar cost of necessities in each city. To get yearly salaries, the minimum wage was multiplied by 40 hours a week and by 52 weeks in a year.