How Much Does it Take to Cover A Person's Cost of Living in America's Largest Metro Areas?

Written by Diamond Thompson and Dr. Amy K. Glasmeier on 04/17/2023

In a recent study, Patrick Villanova of Smart Asset assessed how much a single adult with no children would need to live comfortably in the 25 largest US metro areas. Using data from the MIT Living Wage calculator, Villanova found that St. Louis, Missouri was the most affordable city to live in, and income demands in the Riverside-San Bernadino – Ontario region increased by 40% —the most significant rise across all evaluated metropolitan areas.

Villanova's analysis uses the 50/30/20 rule, which differs from Dr. Glasmeier's definition of a livable wage. The 50/30/20 rule assumes that 50% of a family's budget would go towards essential needs (e.g., housing, food, etc.), 30% toward non-essential goods, and 20% towards savings or paying off debts. While the 50/30/20 rule may be a helpful budgeting tool for families with surplus income, the living wage calculator is concerned with addressing a family's most basic needs. As such, Dr. Glasmeier defines a living wage as "the wage needed to cover basic family expenses plus all relevant taxes" (Glasmeier, 2022). For example, Dr. Glasmeier estimates that the livable wage in St. Louis County, MO., for a single adult with no children is $16.14 per hour or $33,566 a year.

Still, the Living Wage Calculator allows a person to evaluate the difference between an area's median income and the living wage estimation to approximate a resident's degree of comfort within those regions.