MIT Living Wage Calculator Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  1. How can I use this data?

    This tool was developed to help individuals, communities, and employers understand the local wage rate that allows residents to meet minimum standards of living. If you plan on using only one or two county’s worth of data, you may use it directly off the web. We ask that you cite our work (see Question 2). We also ask that you do not scrape, extract, or export our dataset. If you would like to request a larger set of counties for analysis, please see the responses to Questions 12 and 13.

  2. How do I cite the tool?

    Glasmeier, Amy K. Living Wage Calculator. 2020. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. livingwage.mit.edu. Please describe any changes or transformations that were made to the data.

  3. How often is the data updated?

    We update the data annually in the first quarter using the best available data as of December 31 of the previous year. States and municipalities change their minimum wages on an irregular and inconsistent basis. That said, most organizations we canvas indicate they implement wage changes at the beginning of the calendar year.

  4. Where do you get the typical annual salary numbers?

    We use data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oessrci.htm. Click on the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) industry code and title to see national OES occupational employment and wage estimates for that industry. See the NAICS at BLS page for more information about the NAICS system.

  5. How are you getting your data for "typical expenses"?

    We draw from publicly available, geographically specific expenditure data. For example, for housing costs, we leverage the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Fair Market Rents (FMR) estimates which are produced at the county and sub-county levels. Child care costs are developed using the state-level estimates published by the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies. For more detailed information about our data sources and methods, please reference the technical documentation here.

  6. Is historical data available for analysis?

    No. The MIT Living Wage Calculator presents current data. It is challenging to analyze living wage across time as key variables (e.g. cost of living and expenses) change year to year.

  7. Do you offer projections for future living wages?

    No. The MIT Living Wage Calculator presents current data. It is challenging to predict future living wages as key variables (e.g. cost of living and expenses) change year to year, sometimes unexpectedly.

  8. Can the data be viewed by city/zip code/census tract or is county the most granular it gets?

    The data is currently available at the county level only.

  9. Can child care costs be disaggregated by child age?

    Our current method of estimating child care costs does not account for child age. The Center for American Progress has published several reports on the topic, but their data does not fit neatly into our tool.

  10. How can I extrapolate living wage cost estimates for families with more than two adults or more than three children?

    We can’t offer a single explanation in answer to this question. To calculate additional costs requires making a series of decisions that can only be undertaken by the user wishing to add members to the household. For example, the first question would be whether there is additional bedrooms needed, whether childcare costs have to be augmented, whether the individual is of working wage versus retired. We do not have a simple conversion table at this time.

  11. Does the Living Wage Calculator account for state/local income tax?

    Yes. For more detailed information about our data sources and methods, please reference the technical documentation here.

  12. What do you think is the most reliable source for living wage data outside of the U.S.?

    The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) tracks minimum wage data for countries around the world. To conduct a living wage analysis for a geographic area outside of the U.S., we recommend reviewing our technical documentation here and identifying comparable available datasets for each typical expense category.

  13. How will COVID-19 affect living wages?

    COVID is a health and economic crisis unprecedented in scale. As of late May 2020, 38.6 million workers have filed for unemployment resulting in an unemployment rate of 14.7 percent. By summer 2020, unemployment levels will likely exceed those of the Great Depression during which one out of every four adults lacked work. On the state level, unemployment benefits and policies vary widely. On the federal level, the Payment Protection Program was a significant effort, but only about 5.7 percent of U.S. businesses received the relief. Dr. Amy Glasemeier and other researchers at MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning have several projects underway to analyze and understand the short- and long-term effects of COVID-19 on living wages.

  14. These numbers seem low. Why is that?

    The Living Wage Calculator accounts only for the basic needs of a family. It does not account 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 investments. 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.

  15. Have you run the model adding in a reasonable amount of savings and leisure expenditure to the income to give wages that reflect more than just subsistence living?

    No, but we would be interested in working with an individual or institution that has that interest and capacity.