Living Wage*

Loading interactive model…


The hourly wage needed to cover basic household expenses plus all relevant taxes for a household of one adult and two children. The 2024 Annual Data Release used data from 2023 for this measure.

This living wage estimate is calculated by The Living Wage Institute for twelve different household compositions. We include a measure of Living Wage reflecting a household of three with one adult working full-time and two children.   

Living wage represents the minimum income necessary to meet the basic needs of an individual or family for an adequate standard of living without requiring public assistance.1 The Living Wage measure specifically accounts for basic household needs, including childcare, civic engagement, food, health care, housing, internet and mobile, transportation, and other necessities. The costs of many elements of the basic needs budget are based on market-derived data which vary according to geographic region. This makes the Living Wage measure a much more accurate determination of household need as compared to the federal poverty thresholds.

In the United States, living wages have been implemented in varied ways, such as through county- and city-level ordinances (especially in large cities) that require certain local employers to pay their employees a living wage or through voluntary implementation by employers. In practice, living wages mandated by local ordinances are usually set at rates required to lift a family of four above the federal poverty threshold, and are not based on the income necessary to cover basic needs.2,3 There is some evidence that living wage ordinances can reduce poverty for covered low-wage workers.2,4 Additionally, living wage ordinances have been associated with reductions in property-related crime.5 Reducing poverty is especially important for families with children, as childhood poverty is associated with lasting effects on academic achievement, health, and income into adulthood.6-8 Earning a living wage may also improve the psychological well-being of workers.9 

Of note, the $15 wage advocated for by the Fight for $15 movement is sometimes called a living wage but has no methodology or formula to support the $15 rate.3 A $15 minimum wage may not be an adequate living wage across the U.S. for all household structures. 

Find strategies to address Living Wage*

Data and methods

Data Source

The Living Wage Institute

The Living Wage Institute is a benefit corporation founded in 2023, leveraging over 20 years of expertise from the creators of the Living Wage Calculator, a leading public resource for living wage data in the United States. The Living Wage Calculator helps individuals, communities, employers, and others estimate the local wage rate that a full-time worker requires to cover the costs of their family’s basic needs where they live. Users can explore the living wage for other areas and household compositions on their website, where a public version of this data is hosted. 

Website to download data
For more detailed methodological information

Key Measure Methods

Living Wage is a dollar amount

Living Wage reflects an hourly wage.

Living Wage is created using statistical modeling

The Living Wage methodology includes household composition, varies geographically, and is based on market-driven costs for each element of the basic needs budget; savings and leisure expenditures are not included in the Living Wage. Basic household expenses include the cost of food (USDA low-cost food plan), childcare, health care (insurance premiums and out of pocket costs), housing, transportation, other necessities (clothing, personal care items), civic engagement, broadband service, and cell phone service.1 This contrasts with the official federal poverty thresholds which are based on a multiple of the most basic food budget (USDA lowest cost, thrifty food plan) for a household and do not vary geographically (they are the same for all states and D.C.).6, 10, 11  

Caution should be used when comparing these estimates across states

Caution should be used when comparing county values across state borders because cost of living estimates are influenced by state policies and practices.

Caution should be used when comparing these estimates across years

Caution should be used when comparing across years because there are variations in the data collection process and changes in underlying source data or methodologies year to year. Additionally, due to methods changes implemented by the Living Wage Institute, Living Wage data included in the 2024 Annual Data Release should not be compared with previous years.

Measure limitations

There is no universally accepted method for calculating a living wage and several researchers and organizations have calculated their own version of a living wage with varying data sources and definitions of a basic needs budget.  

Can This Measure Be Used to Track Progress

The living wage estimates are not appropriate for measuring progress due to geographic variations in data collection and changes in methodologies over time.

Finding More Data

For additional context to understand living wage in your community, look to these measures:

  • Children in Single-parent Households: percentage of children living in a household headed by a single parent.
  • Children in Poverty: percentage of people under the age of 18 in poverty (children living in a household with income below the poverty threshold set for that household composition).
  • Severe Housing Cost Burden: percentage of households that spend 50% or more of their household income on housing.
  • Income Inequality: ratio of household income at the 80th percentile to household income at the 20th percentile.


1 Living Wage Institute, Inc. 2024. Living Wage Benchmark Series.  

2 Holzer HJ. 2008. Living wage laws: How much do (can) they matter? Washington, D.C.: The Urban Institute; 2008. 

3 Luce S. Living wages: A U.S. perspective. Employee Relations. 2017;39(6):863-874. 

4 Clain SH. How living wage legislation affects U.S. poverty rates. Journal of Labor Research. 2008;29(3):205-218.  

5  Fernandez JM, Holman T, Pepper JV. The impact of living wage ordinances on urban crime. Industrial Relations: A Journal of Economy and Society. 2014;53(3):478-500.  

6 McCarty AT. Child poverty in the United States: A tale of devastation and the promise of hope. Sociology Compass. 2016;10(7):623-639.  

7 Hair NL, Hanson JL, Wolfe BL, Pollak SD. Association of child poverty, brain development, and academic achievement. JAMA Pediatrics. 2015;169(9):822-829.   

8 Dreyer BP. To create a better world for children and families: The case for ending childhood poverty. Academic Pediatrics. 2013;13(2):83-90.

9 Flint E, Cummins S, Wills J. Investigating the effect of the London living wage on the psychological wellbeing of low-wage service sector employees: A feasibility study. Journal of Public Health. 2014;36(2):187-193. 

10 U.S. Department of Agriculture. Thrifty Food Plan, 2021. 2021. FNS-916. 

11 Institute for Research on Poverty, University of Wisconsin-Madison. How is poverty measured?