Making a livable wage can be a lifelong struggle. The mounting costs of housing and basic necessities can add up quickly, leaving you scraping to make ends meet rather than saving and building wealth. How far your money goes depends on where you live, too.
That’s why GOBankingRates conducted a study to identify the annual living wage needed to live comfortably in each of the 50 states, and it revealed that even if you’re living comfortably in one region, you could be living paycheck to paycheck in another.
Not to be confused with the minimum wage, we define the “living wage” as the income you need to cover necessary and discretionary expenses while still contributing to savings. Using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the 50/30/20 budgeting rule — that allocates 50% of your income to necessities, 30% to discretionary expenses and 20% to savings — the study found what you would need to earn to comfortably cover your basic needs while still saving for the future. But the results reveal that the average salary in your state might not be enough to do just that.
Last updated: Jun. 2, 2021
Annual Living Wage: $53,824
Alabama is among the least expensive places in America to live — in part thanks to median housing costs of just $8,590 a year — but earning a median wage would still leave inhabitants of the Yellow Hammer State $3,288 short of a living wage.
Annual Living Wage: $86,002
Life in The Last Frontier state comes at a cost, with the total price of necessities in Alaska clearing $43,000 a year. Housing, groceries, utilities, healthcare and transportation in Alaska all cost well above the median price in the U.S.
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Annual Living Wage: $64,500
Arizona’s cost of living is 3.2% above the national average. Only healthcare costs are less than the average.
Annual Living Wage: $53,067
Arkansas is one of the top two states where your dollar will stretch far with a cost of living that’s more than 10% under the national average. Many residents of the Razorback State, though, are still struggling to hit the annual living wage mark as the average household income is just $47,597 — the third-lowest in the country.
Annual Living Wage: $97,806
The nation’s most populous state is also among the third most expensive, with a living wage translating to just about six figures if you’re planning on following the 50/30/20 rule. Even for a state with an average annual income of $75,235, those are costs that are hard to bear.
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Annual Living Wage: $66,443
Residents of the Rocky Mountain State actually have some money to spare. With a median income of $72,331, the average Coloradan can bank $5,888 at the end of the year.
Annual Living Wage: $78,454
Connecticut’s relatively high cost of living means you would need to earn nearly $80,000 to follow the 50/30/20 formula. A big chunk of that ends up going to housing, with an average annual bill of $17,155 for Connecticut residents.
Annual Living Wage: $66,838
While Delaware residents enjoy overall costs that generally aren’t too far above the national average, they are paying 18.3% more for their groceries than the average American, translating to an annual bill of $5,590.
Annual Living Wage: $63,645
Although the cost of living in Florida is actually a hair below the national average, the median income in the Sunshine State isn’t quite so sunny at $55,660 a year. That leaves a gap of nearly $8,000 between the typical annual salary and a living wage. Still, Florida is considered one the best states for the middle class.
Annual Living Wage: $54,847
Georgians have an easier time financially than residents of some other states. Their cost of living is about 10% below the national average, and their median income is above the living wage at $58,700.
Annual Living Wage: $141,680
Hawaii is the most expensive state in the country, mostly due to housing costs that run more than triple the national average at about $41,000 a year. As such, despite a median income of $81,275 a year, the typical Hawaiian is still over $60,000 short of a living wage — the largest such gap in this study.
Annual Living Wage: $59,153
Idaho is another state that comes in under the national average for its cost of living, but it has a median income of $55,785. The annual utilities cost in Idaho is the lowest in the study.
Annual Living Wage: $59,690
Not only are costs lower than the national average in Illinois, but residents there are also earning a median salary of $65,886. That puts the average income $6,196 above the living wage.
Annual Living Wage: $55,583
Indiana is one of the cheaper states to live in, thanks to costs of living that are below the national average in each category in the study.
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Annual Living Wage: $57,104
Iowa can boast relatively low costs of living — including housing costs that are more than 20% below the national average at just $9,477 per annum. The median salary is $60,523, a few thousand dollars above the annual living wage.
Annual Living Wage: $54,570
Kansas wraps up a quartet of Midwestern states where low median salaries are offset by a low cost of living and puts a living wage in reach for many. With a median salary of $59,597, the typical Jayhawk earns about $5,000 more than the living wage in the state.
Annual Living Wage: $56,116
While Kentucky has a low cost of living that’s largely in line with states such as Indiana, Illinois and Iowa, the median salary of just $50,589 is much lower, leaving a $5,527 gap to a living wage despite below-average costs.
Annual Living Wage: $57,984
Much like Kentucky, Louisiana has low costs but also lower wages. A median salary in the state is just $49,469, so while residents might be paying almost 13% less for housing than the average American, they’re also more likely to be struggling to afford it.
Annual Living Wage: $75,245
Residents of Maine are much more likely to be struggling with higher costs than the rest of the country. The annual living wage of over $75,000 is among the highest in the country, but the median income there is on the lower side at just $57,918. That leaves a $17,327 gap between a median salary and a living wage, one of the largest in the study.
Annual Living Wage: $83,159
Maryland’s living wage of over $83,000 is among the highest in the country. Although Maryland is one of the nation’s most expensive places to live, the median annual salary of $84,805 covers the living wage.
Annual Living Wage: $85,784
Massachusetts residents can expect that the cost of their basic necessities will run a full third higher than the national average when totaled, leaving a sky-high living wage of $85,784. And while it’s a state of high earners, the average annual housing cost of nearly $21,000 keeps most residents of the Bay State from meeting the living wage.
Annual Living Wage: $56,256
The median income in Michigan is $57,144. Average housing costs of just $9,453 a year help Michigan residents meet the living wage.
Annual Living Wage: $62,105
The term “Minnesota Nice” generally refers to the state’s cordial residents, but it could also be describing the nexus of decent wages and affordable costs in the state. While cost of living there is slightly higher than the national average — by just 0.7% — the median annual salary of $71,306 leaves Minnesotans with an excess of $9,201 a year above the living wage.
Annual Living Wage: $51,218
Mississippi has the lowest cost of living in the country. But before anyone starts thinking about making a big purchase, know it also has the lowest median income in the nation at just over $45,000 — that results in a gap of more than $6,000.
Annual Living Wage: $55,047
Residents of the Show Me State have a median annual income of $55,461 — plus they’re also living somewhere where a dollar goes farther. Missouri is one of the 10 least-expensive places to live.
Annual Living Wage: $62,649
Some residents of the Big Sky State might grumble that it could just as easily be called the “Big Cost of Living State,” with average annual housing costs that near $13,000. There’s nearly an $8,000 gap between the median annual income of $54,970 a year and the average annual living wage.
Annual Living Wage: $57,800
While the median annual salary of $61,439 might mean that the typical Cornhusker isn’t exactly rolling in the dough, it’s still enough to exceed the annual living wage costs.
Annual Living Wage: $70,163
Nevada is a relatively expensive state where residents don’t appear to be earning enough to cover costs. With an annual median income of $60,365, the average resident falls close to $10,000 short of the living wage.
Annual Living Wage: $67,926
While the cost of living in New Hampshire drives up its living wage to nearly $68,000 a year, the state also has a lot of residents with higher incomes, leading to a median salary of $76,768 a year. The resulting gap between the two of $8,842 is among the highest that’s most favorable to residents in any state.
Annual Living Wage: $75,503
The annual cost of living in the Garden State is nearly 17% higher than the national average, but that also comes with higher wages in the state. The median income is a whopping $82,545 — the second highest on the list — and enough to surpass the living wage.
Annual Living Wage: $56,291
It doesn’t cost as much to get by in New Mexico, but the state’s very low median income — just $49,754 — means most residents are still probably struggling to make ends meet. That median salary is about $6,500 short of a living wage.
Annual Living Wage: $99,778
After Hawaii, no state is as expensive to call home as the Empire State. And while the median salary is a healthy $68,486, the $31,292 gap between paychecks and a living wage trails only Hawaii.
Annual Living Wage: $60,543
Tar Heel State residents have significantly lower housing costs than most — paying about $10,700 a year on average. However, despite this, a low median income in the state leaves the typical resident earning $5,941 less than they need for a living wage.
Annual Living Wage: $62,259
The annual cost of living in North Dakota is just slightly above the national average, and with a median annual salary of nearly $65,000 a year, the state’s typical resident earns more than $2,600 above the living wage.
Annual Living Wage: $56,856
Ohioans come out just about even in the survey. The median income for the Buckeye State is $56,602, meaning the average resident is about $250 short of what they need by year’s end.
Annual Living Wage: $53,824
Housing costs in Oklahoma are very low — just $8,824 on average — contributing to low overall costs. With a median income of $52,919, the average resident will come up about $900 short of the living wage.
Annual Living Wage: $88,394
While Hawaii’s astronomical gap of more than $60,000 between its median salary and its living wage is No. 1, the state of Oregon comes in third at $25,576. The housing cost is one of the biggest reasons, with the average Oregonian needing more than $22,000 a year for a place to live.
Annual Living Wage: $66,290
Pennsylvania has housing costs that are just above the national average at $12,520 a year. Still, the median salary of $61,744 in the Keystone State is more than $4,500 less than the living wage.
Annual Living Wage: $74,971
Unfortunately for Rhode Islanders, living in the smallest state carries a big price. Housing costs there are close to 30% higher than the national average, costing the typical resident a tick below $16,000 a year. That’s a big part of why a living wage exceeds the median salary by more than $7,800.
Annual Living Wage: $59,280
While South Carolina falls below the national average when it comes to living wage, the median annual salary in the Palmetto State is low enough that a living wage is still about $6,000 higher than what the average South Carolinian makes.
Annual Living Wage: $64,796
The average annual housing costs in South Dakota of $14,123 are about 15% higher than the national average. With a median income of $58,275, residents are more than $6,500 short of a living wage, on average.
Annual Living Wage: $54,961
The gap between the median income of $53,320 and the $54,961 living wage in Tennessee is under $2,000, but that’s driven more by lower wages than higher costs. The costs of housing and every other category considered in the survey are lower than the national average in Tennessee.
Annual Living Wage: $57,160
With a median income of $61,874 in the state, many Texans’ earnings exceed the annual living wage. That’s helped by average housing costs of less than $10,500 a year.
Annual Living Wage: $61,547
A median income of $71,621 in the Beehive State makes Utah the state with the highest positive gap between living wage and median income — a total of more than $10,000 a year.
Annual Living Wage: $77,260
Living in New England can get expensive, and the Green Mountain State is an example of this. With housing prices nearly 40% above the national average, it costs about $17,000 a year to live in Vermont. With a median income of $61,973, Vermont residents fall well below earning the annual living wage for the state.
Annual Living Wage: $64,779
While the cost of living is slightly higher than the national average in Virginia, the state’s high earning power helps to make it an affordable place to live. The median income in Virginia is $74,222.
Annual Living Wage: $72,761
While life in Washington is pretty expensive when compared to the rest of the country, salaries are high as well. With the median income in the state reaching $73,775, residents have about $1,000 left.
Annual Living Wage: $54,703
West Virginia’s median annual salary of $46,711 is one of just five less than $50,000 in the survey. So, while the cost of living there is relatively low, a living wage is still $7,992 more than the typical salary.
Annual Living Wage: $61,365
Wisconsin is just about even when comparing the living wage and the median income. With a median salary of $61,747, the average resident of the Badger State is in a relatively good financial spot.
Annual Living Wage: $56,805
Wyoming is one of the top five states where income exceeds the living wage. With a median income of $64,049, the average Wyoming resident has enough to get by.
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Joel Anderson contributed to the reporting for this article.
Methodology: GOBankingRates surveyed annual living expenses in all 50 states, using the 2019/2020 Midyear Consumer Expenditure Survey (latest available) data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The itemized costs of living evaluated were housing, groceries, utilities, healthcare and transportation, collectively termed as “necessities.” Based on each state’s respective cost of living index for each category, sourced from the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center’s 2020 Cost of Living Data Series, the study calculated the annual cost of each necessity and summed them up to find total annual expenditure on necessities. Using the 50-30-20 budget rule, which allocates 50% of income for necessities, the study doubled the total annual expenditure on necessities in order to determine the “living wage” in each state. “Living wage” is defined as the income required to be able to cover 50% necessities, 30% discretionary/luxury spending and 20% for savings. GOBankingRates also found the median household income of each state from the 2019 American Community Survey and compared the difference between the living wage and median income of each state. All data was collected on and up to date as of May 4, 2021.