Update: New Data, New Findings, Always Clarifying the Message Based on User Feedback

Written by Carey Nadeau and Dr. Amy K. Glasmeier on 05/28/2015

Living wage calculations are based on publicly available data. The calculation itself, however is based on a formula that includes multiple sub calculations that we update as new information in the form of user observations reaches our desks. When users of the calculator observe a result that doesn't make sense to them they write us and we dive back into the tool to see what is going on. We encourage you to let us know what you think and also what you find.

Wage data (adjusted for inflation) for 50,846,234 households from the American Community Survey 1-year estimates were compared to the living wage. These households 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 (37.6%), more than 19.1 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.

Nearly one-third (32.4%) of veterans earn less than the living wage. More, almost one in four (38.6%), of those who are in training for the reserves or serving in the National Guard only earn less than the living wage. While soldiers are still in the military, most (92.5%) earn a living wage.

States with a low share of residents earning below the living wage, often have legislated a living wage. Notably, of the top performers: District of Columbia (29.8%), North Dakota (30.9%), Maryland (31.5%), and Washington (31.6%), all but North Dakota (which is experiencing an economic boom due to natural resource extraction) have living wage ordinances. The share of families earning below their state-specific living wage is highest in the south and west, in states such as Mississippi (44.9% of families earn less than the Mississippi living wage), South Carolina, and Oregon (42.2% of families earn less than state living wage in both states).

In 11 states, the living wage is more than double the minimum wage for a family of two adults with two children. Curiously, the difference between the living wage and the minimum wage is highest in those states with the fewest number of people earning below the living wage, suggesting that in places like Hawaii, New York, and Maryland wages have adjusted to account for living expenses or the structure of the economy does not include a high share of low-wage work.