Background

The Living Wage Calculator was first created in 2004 by Dr. Amy K. Glasmeier at MIT.

Introduction to the living wage model

Analysts and policy makers often compare income to the federal poverty threshold in order to determine an individual’s ability to live within a certain standard of living. However, poverty thresholds do not account for living costs beyond a very basic food budget. The federal poverty measure does not take into consideration costs like childcare and health care that not only draw from one’s income, but also are determining factors in one’s ability to work and to endure the potential hardships associated with balancing employment and other aspects of everyday life. Further, poverty thresholds do not account for geographic variation in the cost of essential household expenses.

The living wage model is an alternative measure of basic needs. It is a market-based approach that draws upon geographically specific expenditure data related to a family’s likely minimum food, childcare, health insurance, housing, transportation, and other basic necessities (e.g. clothing, personal care items, etc.) costs. The living wage draws on these cost elements and the rough effects of income and payroll taxes to determine the minimum employment earnings necessary to meet a family’s basic needs while also maintaining self-sufficiency.

The living wage model is a ‘step up’ from poverty as measured by the poverty thresholds but it is a small ‘step up’, one that accounts for only the basic needs of a family. The living wage model does not allow for what many consider the basic necessities enjoyed by many Americans. It does not budget funds for pre-prepared meals or those eaten in restaurants. It does not include money for entertainment nor does it does not allocate leisure time for unpaid vacations or holidays. Lastly, it does not provide a financial means for planning for the future through savings and investment or for the purchase of capital assets (e.g. provisions for retirement or home purchases). The living wage is the minimum income standard that, if met, draws a very fine line between the financial independence of the working poor and the need to seek out public assistance or suffer consistent and severe housing and food insecurity. In light of this fact, the living wage is perhaps better defined as a minimum subsistence wage for persons living in the United States.

Family Compositions

The living wage calculator estimates the living wage needed to support families of twelve different compositions: one adult families with 0, 1, 2, or 3 dependent children, two adult families where both adults are in the work force with 0, 1, 2, or 3 dependent children, and two adult families where one adult is not in the work force with 0, 1, 2, or dependent children.

For single adult families, the adult is assumed to be employed full-time. For two adult families where both adults are in the labor force, both adults are assumed to be employed full-time. For two adult families where one adult is not in the labor force, one of the adults is assumed to be employed full-time while the other non-wage-earning adult provides full-time childcare for the family’s children. Full-time work is assumed to be year-round, 40 hours per week for 52 weeks, per adult.

Families with one child are assumed to have a ‘young child’ (4 years old). Families with two children are assumed to have a ‘young child’ and a ‘child’ (9 years old). Families with three children are assumed to have a ‘young child’, a ‘child’, and a ‘teenager’ (15 years old).

Technical Documentation

For a more detailed description of the methodology used, please see the technical documentation here.