New Data, New Geography, Message Still the Same: American Families Struggle To Get By

Written by Dr. Amy K. Glasmeier on 05/17/2015

Starting its 11th year, the living wage calculator now presents data for 2014. There is new documentation describing the components of the calculator, their spatial scale and date of the data elements. A new addition to the tool is data availability at the metropolitan scale. Now you can study the wage rate in your county of residence and compare it with your metro area.

While the minimum wage sets an earnings threshold under which our society is not willing to let families slip, it fails to approximate the basic expenses of families in 2014. Consequently, many working adults must seek public assistance and/or hold multiple jobs in order to afford to feed, cloth, house, and provide medical care for themselves and their families.

Wage data for 50,846,234 families and households with a householder living alone (18.6% of families and householders living alone) from the American Community Survey 2012 1-year estimates adjusted for inflation, were compared to the living wage. These families were selected because the family compositions, including age and labor force status, were comparable to the family compositions included in the living wage calculator. More than one-third of families (37.3%), nearly 19 million families, earned less than the living wage, compared to 20.3% below the poverty line in 2014.

Over 8.6 million families (for which living wage comparisons are available) earn above the poverty line, but less than the living wage, leaving them potentially ineligible for benefits including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Free and Reduced Price School Lunches. Of families with children, single parents are the most vulnerable; 86.5% of single parents and 89.8% of single moms earn wages below the living wage.

More than half of parents with one adult out of the labor force (51.8%) bring in less than the living wage, compared to 29.9% of parents with both adults in the labor force. More than one-third (37.6%) of single adults living alone also earn less than a living wage.

The update to the calculator reflects the efforts of several individuals. Carey Nadeau owner and operator of Open Data Nation, http://www.opendatanation.com completed the update and refinement of metrics, Eric Schultheis provided guidance during the transition and West Arete and company completed the design of the website and reprogramming of the tool. As of May 17, 2015 the tool is updated to reflect the experience of America’s communities and the wage it takes to get by for families and individuals.