Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is a living wage?
A living wage is what one full-time worker must earn on an hourly basis to help cover the cost of their family’s minimum basic needs where they live while still being self-sufficient.
What typical expenses are included in the Living Wage Calculator’s estimates?
The Living Wage Calculator’s estimate of living wage includes eight typical expenses or basic needs – food, childcare, health care, housing, transportation, civic engagement, broadband, and other necessities. In addition to these basic needs, the Calculator also accounts for the additional cost to families associated with income and payroll taxes.
What geographies is data available for?
The Living Wage Calculator currently produces and publishes estimates for Counties, Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs), and States in the United States.
How many family types are available?
Currently, there are 12 different family types available, which vary by the number of working adults and children.
How often is the data updated?
We update the living wage, typical expenses, poverty wage, minimum wage, and typical annual salaries by occupation estimates annually – generally in the first quarter of the year – using the best available data as of December 31 of the previous year. Since states and municipalities change their minimum wages on an irregular and inconsistent basis, these values may be further adjusted over the course of the year to reflect the latest minimum wage statutes and ordinances.
Can I scrape the living wage data?
This tool was developed to help individuals, communities, employers, and other users understand the local wage rate that allows residents to meet minimum standards of living. If you plan on using a few counties worth of data, you may use it directly off the web, citing it appropriately. If you want to use data for more than a few counties at once, we ask that you do not scrape, extract, or export the data available on the site. Please instead submit a Living Wage Data Request, and a member of our team will follow up with you.
How can I get a copy of the data in tabular (spreadsheet) format?
We ask that you do not scrape, extract, or export the data on the Living Wage Calculator website, so if you are interested in using the data, please submit a Living Wage Data Request.
Can I request living wage estimates for Cities, Zip Codes, or Census Tracts?
The most granular level of data available currently is County. The Living Wage Calculator also produces and publishes estimates at the Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) and State level.
Can I request data for the national-level living wage?
Because the living wage is calculated using a market-based approach using geographically specific expenditure data, we strongly recommend using the localized estimates available on the site. Though they are not published, we are able to provide Regional and National level estimates on a case-by-case basis. Please submit a Living Wage Data Request, and a member of our team will follow up with you.
Is historical or projected data available for analysis?
No, we are unable to share historical data or projections of future living wages. The Living Wage Calculator uses the previous year’s data to estimate the living wage for the current year. It is challenging to track the living wage across time as key variables can change year to year – sometimes unexpectedly – due to factors like inflation, the cost of living, and other methodological shifts in underlying data.
How much does a data request cost?
Please submit a Living Wage Data Request, and a member of our team will follow up with you about your data extract or analytical needs and pricing.
Where can I learn more about the methodology for calculating a living wage?
Please visit the Methodology page for a brief explainer on the living wage and how it is calculated. To learn even more about the Living Wage Calculator’s methodology, please read our technical documentation or submit a question through our Contact Us page.
Where does the cost data for typical expenses come from?
The Living Wage Calculator leverages publicly available, geographically specific expenditure data to estimate the costs associated with each basic need. Please see the table on the Methodology page for a full list of sources.
Where do you get the typical annual salary numbers?
We source data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS) dataset. The OEWS data provides employment and annual wage estimates for each North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) industry code and its underlying occupation. The tool uses the annual mean wage data for the major occupational groups at the State, National, and – where available – Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) levels as a comparative reference for the living wage estimates.
Can child care costs be disaggregated by child age?
Our current method of estimating child care costs does not account for a child’s age. As more data disaggregated by child age becomes available at the County level through the Department of Labor Women’s Bureau’s National Database of Child Care Prices, we will explore how to integrate it into our methodology.
How can I extrapolate living wage cost estimates for families with more than two adults or more than three children?
At this time, we do not have a simple conversion table. In order to extrapolate the living wage estimates for families not currently covered by the Living Wage Calculator, users would need to decide on several factors that impact family expenses. For example, some considerations include whether adding a new family member would require an additional bedroom or increase child care needs or whether costs would be offset or augmented by a working or retired adult.
Do the living wage estimates account for state or local income taxes?
The model accounts for state income taxes but not local taxes. The cost of income and payroll taxes to families is calculated using the National Bureau of Economic Research’s TAXSIM, a microsimulation model of the U.S. federal and state income tax system. Find additional details about which taxes are included in the living wage estimates on the Methodology page.
Do the living wage estimates include a reasonable amount of savings and leisure expenditures or go beyond a subsistence wage?
No, the living wage currently does not factor in savings, leisure expenditures, emergency expenses, or other cost categories beyond basic needs. We are open to partnerships that explore this question.
This Year’s versus Last Year’s Data
What are the biggest differences between this year’s and last year’s data?
The living wage estimates are not comparable to the previous year’s estimates. To learn more about the differences between this year’s data and the previous year’s, please visit the Methodology page.
Can I compare the data year-over-year?
We do not recommend comparing the living wage data year-over-year. Due to variations in the data collection process and changes in underlying source data or methodologies, the typical expenses that underpin the living wage calculation may not be comparable.
How has COVID-19 affected living wages?
COVID-19 is a health and economic crisis unprecedented in scale, and its impact on living wages is still unclear. Because the Living Wage Calculator’s estimates are based on several data sources that use a survey methodology, decreased survey participation over the course of the pandemic may have resulted in small shifts in cost component data and, in some cases, the overall living wage value. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that there was a larger-than-normal decline in response rates to the Consumer Expenditure Survey – a key source for estimating several cost components – and reductions in spending on items like apparel and personal care goods generally included in our “Other” cost component in 2020. The Living Wage Calculator and other researchers at MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning are continuing to analyze and understand the short- and long-term impacts of COVID-19 and survey data quality on living wages.
How should I cite the living wage data?
We recommend citing the data as Glasmeier, Amy K. Living Wage Calculator. 2023. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. https://livingwage.mit.edu. Please cite the Living Wage Calculator in any public documentation, and, if written consent has been received, please describe any changes, reprocessing, or transformations that have been made to the data.