Most and Least Affordable Cities To Live on Minimum Wage

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Evaluating how affordable a city is involves weighing a number of factors. While the average cost of rent is a big one, the city’s minimum wage and general cost of living are also taken into consideration.

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For this piece GOBankingRates first looked at the biggest cities (in terms of population) that had 2022 one-bedroom rent data as sourced from ApartmentList. With these 100 qualifying cities isolated, GOBankingRates then found the minimum wage and 2022 average rent for a one-bedroom in each city. The hours of work needed to afford one-bedroom rent was also included, and the list was narrowed to the 15 most and least affordable cities.

Take a look at the best and worst places to live, financially speaking, if you’re making minimum wage.

Best Cities

First up are the 15 most affordable cities to live on minimum wage. 

Spokane, Washington

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Lilac City doesn’t have the lowest average rent on this list, but the relatively high minimum wage helps bridge the gap. For minimum-wage workers, it’s the most affordable city in the U.S. right now.

Cleveland, Ohio

A Midwest metropolis on the banks of Lake Erie, Cleveland, Ohio, boasts the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the Greater Cleveland Aquarium and the house from “A Christmas Story.” While the minimum wage isn’t far above the national rate, the low cost of living makes it one of the most affordable places to live in the U.S.

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Detroit, Michigan

The largest city on the border between the U.S. and Canada, Detroit, Michigan, was once known as the heart of the auto industry. Today, it is known for its passionate theater community, the country’s largest urban park and a food scene that’s been thriving since the late 19th century. 

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Fresno, California

The closest city to Yellowstone National Park, and a short drive from Kings Canyon and Sequoia, Fresno defies California’s generally pricey nature thanks to a high minimum wage and (relatively) low rent. The community itself is largely agricultural, with nearly 2 million acres of the country’s most active farmland. 

Tucson, Arizona

Located east of the Sonoran Desert, Tucson, Arizona, boasts some of the best views for stargazing. It’s also affordable, with a low rent and better-than-average minimum wage, and has some of the cleanest air of any major city in the U.S. 

St. Louis, Missouri

St. Louis is home to the Gateway Arch, birthplace of the ice cream cone and where more BBQ is consumed than anywhere else in the country. Thanks to the city’s affordable rents and $11.15 minimum wage, it’s a city that won’t break the bank. 

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Newark, New Jersey

The cultural center of the Garden State, Newark offers plenty in the way of arts, entertainment and nightlife. It turns out it also offers plenty in the way of opportunities for anyone looking for an economical place to call home. While rents average a bit higher, a $13 minimum wage helps keep things affordable. 

Tacoma, Washington

Despite the nickname Grit City, Tacoma, Washington, is known for a creative-yet-sophisticated vibe. It is also a cost-effective place to live. Located between Seattle and Olympia, its history as a port and railroad city with a modern twist represents a city that merges the old with the new. 

Kansas City, Missouri

A bustling city nestled in the heartland, Kansas City has all the big city amenities without a big city price tag. And while St. Louis might consume more BBQ per capita, K.C. boasts the most BBQ restaurants than anywhere else, so meat lovers will always be able to get their fix. 

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Cincinnati, Ohio

With a nickname like ‘The Paris of America,’ you might not expect that it’s also a pretty affordable place to live. A big part of its appeal is the array of modern and classic architecture, as well as numerous landmarks and no shortage of things to do. 

Sacramento, California

Known for trees and farm-to-table dining, Sacramento joins Fresno as a California city that won’t break the bank. It’s also become home to an abundance of breweries and top-rated cuisine than ever before, making the capital of the Sunshine State even more appealing. 

Baltimore, Maryland

Forty miles from the nation’s capital, Baltimore, Maryland, is a city known for a vibrant art scene, world-class museums, and an urban beach. It’s also affordable, with reasonable rent prices and decent minimum wage to go with it. 

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Albuquerque, New Mexico

The highest metro area in the U.S., Albuquerque offers an authentic Southwest experience thanks to its multicultural history and heritage. Along with plenty of scenic views and 310 days of sunshine, it’s an economical place to call home. 

Lincoln, Nebraska

The capitol of Nebraska, as well as home to the state’s University, Lincoln has a unique combination of small-town charm and big-city experiences. The generally laid-back atmosphere pairs nicely with a cost-effective bottom line for those who live there. 

St. Paul, Minnesota

Ripe with tradition, diversity, and a unique culture, St. Paul, MN is one-half of the Twin Cities, and the one that makes it on the list of most affordable cities. Despite a less-than-stellar minimum wage, the low rent prices help keep the city a vibrant hub of activity. 

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Worst Cities

Now that the most affordable cities in the U.S. have been covered, it’s time to take a look at 15 of the least affordable cities. While extremely high rents play a major role, so does the fact that most rely on the federal minimum wage, which puts these places further out of reach. 

Atlanta, Georgia

Earlier this year, the Federal Reserve Bank declared houses in Atlanta, GA to be officially unaffordable to the average buyer for the first time in more than a decade. While the city’s home to some of the biggest global brands, world-famous institutions, high rents and the bottom-end minimum wage means it can be a difficult place to make ends meet. 

Austin, Texas

A bustling cultural hub, the capital city of Texas  has become another city where the cost of living has far outpaced the wages — thanks in part to the $7.25 minimum wage. However, the city has been steadily attracting higher-wage earners, with nearly 200 people relocating there daily. 

Plano, Texas

With housing almost 30% above the national average, and utilities at 14% higher, Plano was recently determined to be the most affluent city in the U.S. Which makes it hard to get by unless you’re on the higher end of the wage scale. 

Arlington, Virginia

Like Plano, things like utilities and transportation tend to run a bit higher in Arlington compared to the national average. However, housing is a whopping 134% higher. However, for those that can afford it, the city that hosts the Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery is often considered one of the country’s best places to live. 

Irvine, California

Unlike Fresno or Sacramento, Irvine is one of those cities that lives up to the Sunshine State’s costly reputation. Cost of living is close to 90% higher than the national average, with the overall high cost of real estate doing its part in driving up rents. While it’s always been considered an affluent area, it’s getting increasingly out of reach even with a $15 minimum wage. 

Nashville, Tennessee

Nashville is a city known for country music that’s currently becoming a hotspot destination for tourists and permanent residents alike, and that popularity comes at a price. It’s also one of the cities that continued to see record growth despite the COVID pandemic, so its upward trend is likely to continue. 

Charlotte, North Carolina

Once known as an affordable city, Charlotte’s home values have increased almost 90% in five years, while prices are predicted to rise another 5.6% by the end of 2022. However, that cost gives residents a thriving city filled with well-funded schools, outdoor venues and scenic parks. 

Raleigh, North Carolina

While property taxes are low in Raleigh, North Carolina, the cost of housing has been steadily rising, which has spilled over into the rental market. Granted, those who can afford it are drawn to the city’s suburban vibe compared to Charlotte’s more bustling environment. 

Irving, Texas

Irving, Texas, has costs that edge out the national average by a few percentage points, but similar to other entries, is hindered by a low minimum wage that is outpaced greatly by housing costs. Granted, this part of the larger DFW metroplex in north Texas is home to five Fortune 500 companies and more than 8,000 companies overall. 

Madison, Wisconsin

Home to the University of Wisconsin, renting can become competitive when school is in session, which has driven up demand and costs. Still, the Wisconsin state capitol offers breweries, festivals and numerous James Beard Award-winners helping to elevate the city’s already popular food scene.

Dallas, Texas

Dallas, Texas, might be a lucrative place to start a business, but this cornerstone to the DFW metroplex is less forgiving to renters on the low end of the wage scale. In the past five years, there’s been a nearly 80% increase in home values, with more than 18% year-over-year growth. 

Durham, North Carolina

Though some signs indicate that Durham, North Carolina, is a buyer’s market when it comes to real estate, those looking to rent will incur higher rents made tougher by a lower minimum wage. 

Boise, Idaho

A hot destination for Californians and millennials alike, Boise, Idaho, has turned into an overhyped housing market. Still, it has a cosmopolitan feel mixed with distinct local charm that make it a sought-after locale. 

Miami, Florida

Despite a higher minimum wage than many cities, the cost of living in Miami, Florida, puts this city out of reach for some renters. Even as rents continue to climb, this coastal city is likely to continue attracting both tourists and transplants. 

Fort Worth, Texas

With an active downtown and popular tourist spots like the Stockyards, Fort Worth is another Texas city where its low wages counter its relatively cheaper housing costs. However, it’s also considered to be one of the most overpriced cities in the U.S. 

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