Mapping How Minimum Wages Fall Short In Every County In America

We don’t pay our most vulnerable workers even close to what it takes to survive.

The federal minimum wage doesn’t buy what it used to buy. Since the 1960s, increases in the cost of housing, food and other basic goods have far outstripped increases passed by Congress. Adjusted for inflation, the minimum wage now ($7.25) is $3.44 (or 47%) less than it was back in 1968 when its purchasing power was at its peak.


Though 29 states require higher than federal rates, with Washington upping it the most ($9.47), in much of the country the minimum is really misnamed. It’s not so much a minimum as a token gesture. As you see from the maps here, in every county the minimum wage is far below what it takes to run a household these days.

The underlying data comes from MIT’s Living Wage Calculator, which calculates the cost of food, child care, health, housing, transport and other necessities across the country. The maps, which were made by Esri, the mapping software company, compare minimum wages with “living wages” (i.e. the real cost of living).

There are three different sets of results: for a parent with a non-working spouse and two children, single parents with one child, and single adults. For the first group, some of the biggest gaps are in places like Marin County outside of San Francisco ($21.31 gap) and Fairfax Count, Virginia ($20.20). The smallest gaps are in Washington where they get down to $11 or so. (Basically, according to the data, it’s impossible to raise a family on a minimum wage if only one parent is working).

The maps also show results for metro areas like Chicago and Oklahoma City (use the toggle) but broadly they tell a similar story. To bring up a two-kid family in New York City, for instance, costs $26.53 per hour and yet the minimum wage here is only $8. That’s more than three times less, by our calculations.

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.