Today, the Economic Policy Institute released an update to its signature Family Budget Calculator, which shows what’s required for families to attain an adequate—but modest—standard of living in communities throughout the country. The updated calculator contains data on the cost of living for ten family types in all 3,142 counties (and county equivalents) and in all 611 metro areas.
The Family Budget Calculator takes into account geographic differences in cost of living and factors in a broader range of expenses—including housing, food, transportation, child care, health care, and other basic necessities. Improving on previous iterations, the calculator contains detailed local-level estimates on such costs as food and transportation, where only state or national data were previously available. In order to keep the budgets modest, the calculator notably does not include many expenses associated with a middle-class lifestyle, such as paying off student loans or saving for college or retirement.
“Our Family Budget Calculator goes beyond traditional measures like the poverty line to paint a detailed picture of what families need to get by,” said EPI Senior Economist Elise Gould. “The latest update provides even greater detail on how costs vary throughout the country. It is above all else a tool for policymakers to advocate for ways to raise wages and make their communities more affordable.”
San Francisco topped the list of most expensive metro areas, with a basic budget of $148,439 a year for a two-parent, two-child household. However, with a median family income of $108,822, incomes in San Francisco are higher than most. Meanwhile, although its basic budget for a two-parent, two-child household of only $58,906 makes Brownsville, Texas, the least expensive metro area in the country, the median family income is only $38,203—making this city much less affordable than the topline numbers indicate.
“It’s clear from our analysis that, even in less-expensive areas, many families will struggle to meet their basic needs,” said research assistant Zane Mokhiber. “The good news is we have many different ways to remedy this, from a higher minimum wage to ambitious child care reform. Policymakers should draw on a range of tools to help people meet the needs laid out in the Family Budget Calculator.”
The Family Budget Calculator is a stark reminder that many workers in low-wage jobs do not earn enough to meet their family’s basic needs. Even after adjusting for higher state and city minimum wages, there is nowhere in the country where a minimum-wage worker—even a single adult without children—earns enough to meet the requirements of their local family budget.