The Least Livable US Cities for Minimum Wage Earners

Minimum wage in US cities

From New York to Los Angeles, American cities are known around the world for being vibrant, industrious, and constantly growing. Every year, more people are enticed into big cities by unique job opportunities, cultures, landscapes, and communities.

As populations in these cities rise, so too does the cost of living—and if a city’s minimum wage doesn’t increase fast enough to match its growth, residents can be hard-pressed to make ends meet.

This is because minimum wage and living wage (how much you actually need to earn to get by) aren’t the same thing. The federal minimum wage in the US is $7.25 an hour, but the living wage in many US cities is much higher.

States and some cities set their own minimum wages to help their citizens break even. While this makes it easier for breadwinners to put food on the table, not all states or cities take this step. Even cities and states that increase the minimum wage almost never set the threshold at the living wage.

If you work a job that pays minimum wage and you want to move to a different city, check that city’s living wage to make sure it would be feasible for you. To help you out, we’ve compiled a list of popular American cities and ranked them based on how easily someone on minimum wage could afford to pay rent there.

Keep reading to learn what we discovered.

Our ranking criteria

We looked at the 75 most populous cities according to the U.S. Census Bureau1 and gathered the following info about each:

  • Minimum wage (dollars per hour)
  • Average rent for a 1-bedroom apartment2

We then calculated how many hours minimum-wage earners living in these cities would need to work to pay for a small apartment.

Based on our calculations, we ranked the cities from the least livable to the most livable for minimum-wage earners.

10 least livable cities for minimum wage earners

1. Austin, TX

Austin is often ranked among the best US cities to live in, and it’s easy to see why: it has a healthy economy, a bumping nightlife, and a world-famous food scene. But this all comes at a cost, and since Austin hasn’t set its minimum wage higher than the federal limit, it’s the hardest city in the US for minimum-wage earners to live in.

  • Hourly minimum wage: $7.25
  • Rent for a 1-bedroom apartment: $1,177
  • Hours you’d need to work each week: 37

2. Plano, TX

Plano is known for its strong economy and thriving job market, thanks in part to city officials who work hard to attract corporations to set up shop there. However, like Austin, the city’s minimum wage is set at the federal limit, and the cost of living requires minimum-wage earners to clock a lot of hours.

  • Hourly minimum wage: $7.25
  • Rent for a 1-bedroom apartment: $1,171
  • Hours you’d need to work each week: 37

3. Virginia Beach, VA

Virginia Beach is a vibrant seaside city that looks directly out onto the Atlantic Ocean, making it an ideal spot for anyone who loves long walks on the beach, fresh seafood, and oceanfront nightlife. The downside is that Virginia Beach’s minimum wage is just $7.25, so you’d need to work about 35 hours every week just to pay rent on minimum wage.

  • Hourly minimum wage: $7.25
  • Rent for a 1-bedroom apartment: $1,100
  • Hours you’d need to work each week: 35

4. San Francisco, CA

San Francisco is a popular tourist destination, a diverse melting pot of culture, and a hub for technological advancement. Additionally, it’s the first city on our list with a minimum wage ($16.07) above the federal limit.

However, the city’s ever-increasing cost of living makes it notoriously unlivable for all but the highest earners. For this reason, it might be more feasible to visit SF than to move there.

  • Hourly minimum wage: $16.07
  • Rent for a 1-bedroom apartment: $2,416
  • Hours you’d need to work each week: 35

5. Jersey City, NJ

Just across the bay from New York City lies Jersey City, a historic den of artistic talent and ethnic diversity. The skyline is crowned with skyscrapers, and many celebrities (Shaquille O’Neal, Martha Stewart, and Frank Sinatra, to name a few) have called the city home.

But Jersey City’s meager minimum wage means anyone working a low-paying job might struggle to make rent.

  • Hourly minimum wage: $11.00
  • Rent for a 1-bedroom apartment: $1,587
  • Hours you’d need to work each week: 33

6. Arlington, TX

Like the other Longhorn State cities we’ve mentioned so far, Arlington’s minimum wage is set right at the federal limit. The good news is that the city lies right between Fort Worth and Dallas, two of Texas’s biggest cities, so residents have plenty of job prospects.

  • Hourly minimum wage: $7.25
  • Rent for a 1-bedroom apartment: $1,024
  • Hours you’d need to work each week: 33

7. New York, NY

New York City is the most populous metropolis in the US, and it’s arguably the most famous as well. Immortalized in countless songs, movies, and TV shows, the Big Apple is a popular tourist destination, and many dream of living there at some point.

That said, minimum-wage earners will find it almost impossible to make a decent living in NYC. Let’s just say you couldn’t afford Monica’s West Village apartment earning $15 an hour.

  • Hourly minimum wage: $15.00
  • Rent for a 1-bedroom apartment: $2,115
  • Hours you’d need to work each week: 33

8. Raleigh, NC

Raleigh, the capital of North Carolina, is the very best city in the US for jobs according to Glassdoor. This is a little surprising considering that the city’s minimum wage is $7.25. Despite this, Glassdoor lists the city’s median base salary as $55,252.3

  • Hourly minimum wage: $7.25
  • Rent for a 1-bedroom apartment: $1,007
  • Hours you’d need to work each week: 32

9. San Jose, CA

San Jose is sometimes referred to as “The Capital of Silicon Valley” because industry giants like eBay and Samsung have their headquarters there. As a complement to all this innovation, the city also has a rich past and a historic downtown area.

Unfortunately, the cost of living is so high that a minimum-wage earner would need to work a lot of hours just to put a roof over their head.

  • Hourly minimum wage: $15.25
  • Rent for a 1-bedroom apartment: $2,105
  • Hours you’d need to work each week: 32

10. Philadelphia, PA

Philadelphia’s history is almost synonymous with the history of the USA itself, and it is home to monuments like the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. The city has also played home to iconic characters like Rocky Balboa, Frank Reynolds, and the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

Unfortunately, the low pay and relatively expensive monthly rent make this historic and iconic city virtually unlivable for anyone earning minimum wage.

  • Hourly minimum wage: $7.25
  • Rent for a 1-bedroom apartment: $978
  • Hours you’d need to work each week: 31

10 most livable cities for minimum wage earners

1. Bakersfield, CA

Bakersfield’s minimum wage is exceptionally high compared to its average rent prices, and you’d need to work just 13 hours a week to afford a single-bedroom apartment there. This makes Bakersfield the most livable city on our list for minimum-wage earners.

  • Hourly minimum wage: $13.00
  • Rent for a 1-bedroom apartment: $738
  • Hours you’d need to work each week: 13

2. Tucson, AZ

Two things make Tucson a superb college town: the University of Arizona and the city’s $12 minimum wage. This combination is ideal for students because it allows them to get an excellent education while earning enough money to stay afloat and avoid taking on immense amounts of debt. (Pssst: If you’re looking for an inexpensive place to study, check out our list of affordable college towns.)

  • Hourly minimum wage: $12.00
  • Rent for a 1-bedroom apartment: $720
  • Hours you’d need to work each week: 14

3. Fresno, CA

A metropolis in the heart of farmland, Fresno offers a unique environment that blends rural and urban scenery into one. While rent in the city runs relatively high, the minimum wage is set at $13, so living in Fresno is still a realistic choice for minimum-wage earners.

Bonus fact for outdoorsy folks: Fresno is only 2.5 hours away from Yosemite National Park.

  • Hourly minimum wage: $13.00
  • Rent for a 1-bedroom apartment: $847
  • Hours you’d need to work each week: 15

4. Toledo, OH

Toledo’s history is rooted in glass manufacturing, so it’s aptly called “The Glass City.” Jeep is headquartered in Toledo, and the company is one of Toledo’s largest employers. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Toledo is the lowest of all the cities on our list.

  • Hourly minimum wage: $8.70
  • Rent for a 1-bedroom apartment: $596
  • Hours you’d need to work each week: 16

5. Minneapolis, MN

Minneapolis’s minimum wage is the very highest in our top 10 cities for minimum-wage earners. While it’s average one-bedroom rental prices are also pretty high, you’d still only need to work about 16 hours every week to pay for an apartment while earning minimum wage there.

  • Hourly minimum wage: $13.25
  • Rent for a 1-bedroom apartment: $911
  • Hours you’d need to work each week: 16

6. Detroit, MI

Also known as “Motor City,” Detroit is a historic town with a vital music scene and strong ties to the automobile industry. Detroit offers a higher minimum wage than the federal mandate, and rent for a one-bedroom apartment is very manageable.

  • Hourly minimum wage: $9.65
  • Rent for a 1-bedroom apartment: $692
  • Hours you’d need to work each week: 17

7. Cleveland, OH

Home of the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland is a passion-filled city with lots to offer sports fans and music fans alike. To pay rent on minimum wage in Cleveland, you’d only need to work about 17 hours a week.

  • Hourly minimum wage: $8.70
  • Rent for a 1-bedroom apartment: $627
  • Hours you’d need to work each week: 17

8. Lincoln, NE

As the capital of Nebraska, Lincoln embodies the Cornhusker State’s community, history, and culture. Lincoln’s minimum wage is $9 an hour, and its rental prices are fairly low, making living there very reasonable. Lincoln is also home to three different colleges, so it’s a fantastic town for students—and a great place to stay after graduation.

  • Hourly minimum wage: $9.00
  • Rent for a 1-bedroom apartment: $660
  • Hours you’d need to work each week: 17

9. Phoenix, AZ

If you want to live in a big city and don’t mind the desert heat, Phoenix might be the perfect place for you. The city offers a $12 minimum wage and a reasonable cost of living, so it’s easy to see why it’s one of the fastest-growing cities in the nation.

  • Hourly minimum wage: $12.00
  • Rent for a 1-bedroom apartment: $885
  • Hours you’d need to work each week: 17

10. Cincinnati, OH

Cincinnati’s apartment rates are among the lowest on our list. Pair this with the city’s higher-than-federal minimum wage, and you’ve got a recipe for one of the most livable US cities of its size.

Cincinnati also has deep roots in beer culture and boasts a broad assortment of craft breweries, making it a great home for beer connoisseurs.

  • Hourly minimum wage: $8.70
  • Rent for a 1-bedroom apartment: $654
  • Hours you’d need to work each week: 17

Methodology

For our rankings, we analyzed the 75 most populous cities in the United States. These rankings were based solely on each city’s minimum wage and how much it would cost on average to pay for a one-bedroom apartment in that city.

Additional expenses like food, utilities, insurance, entertainment, and transportation had no impact on the rankings. We also didn’t rank these cities based on crime statistics, unemployment rates, access to government services, or other quality of life factors.

Several cities have minimum wages that vary based on business size. For this list, we focused on larger businesses, so if a city had a minimum wage of $8 for businesses of 50 employees or fewer and a minimum wage of $10 for all other businesses, we used the $10 minimum wage for our rankings.

These five cities were omitted from our rankings because of missing rent data:

  1. Atlanta, GA
  2. Honolulu, HI
  3. Irvine, CA
  4. Newark, NJ
  5. Durham, NC

For the complete list of our rankings, check out the table below.

Thinking of moving?

If our list made you consider moving to a city with a higher minimum wage or a lower cost of living than the one you’re in right now, we can help you find a long-distance moving company to get you there. Or if we helped you decide not to move somewhere with higher rent or a lower minimum wage, we would love to hear about it in the comments.

Have you ever lived on minimum wage in any of the cities we mentioned? Feel free to comment and tell us about your experience.

Full dataset

RankCityMinimum wagePopulation (2019)Average rent for a one-bedroom apartmentWorking hours per week
1Bakersfield, CA$13.004384,145$738 13
2Tucson, AZ$12.004548,073$720 14
3Fresno, CA$13.004531,576$847 15
4Toledo, OH$8.704 272,779$596 16
5Minneapolis, MN$13.255429,606$911 16
6Detroit, MI$9.654670,031$692 17
7Cleveland, OH$8.704 381,009$627 17
8Lincoln, NE$9.004 289,102$660 17
9Phoenix, AZ$12.004 1,680,992$885 17
10Cincinnati, OH$8.704303,940$654 17
11Sacramento, CA$13.004513,624$980 17
12Stockton, CA$13.004312,697$993 18
13Mesa, AZ$12.004518,012$921 18
14St. Louis, MO$9.454300,576$727 18
15Albuquerque, NM$9.356560,513$725 18
16Chicago, IL$14.0072,693,976$1,096 18
17Saint Paul, MN$12.508308,09698118
18Wichita, KS$7.254389,938$573 18
19Kansas City, MO$9.454495,327$751 18
20Seattle, WA$16.399 753,675$1,348 19
21Denver, CO$12.8510727,211$1,063 19
22Colorado Springs, CO$12.004478,221$993 19
23Riverside, CA$13.004331,360$1,084 19
24Anchorage, AL$10.194288,000$853 19
25Portland, OR$13.2511654,741$1,119 20
26Fort Wayne, IN$7.254270,402$613 20
27Omaha, NE$9.004478,192$770 20
28Baltimore, MD$11.004 593,490$953 20
29Columbus, OH$8.704 898,553$755 20
30Oklahoma City, OK$7.254 655,057$636 20
31Tulsa, OK$7.254 401,190$652 21
32Washington, DC$15.0012705,749135321
33Laredo, TX$7.254262,491$666 21
34Louisville, KY$7.254 617,638$668 21
35Lexington, KY$7.254 323,152$676 22
36Los Angeles, CA$14.25133,979,576$1,360 22
37El Paso, TX$7.254681,728$702 22
38Memphis, TN$7.254 651,073$708 23
39Indianapolis, IN$7.254 876,384$711 23
40Milwaukee, WI$7.254 590,157$733 23
41Pittsburgh, PA$7.254 300,286$740 24
42Greensboro, NC$7.254 296,710$751 24
43Aurora, CO$12.004 379,289$1,249 24
44Jacksonville, FL$8.564 911,507$896 24
45Long Beach, CA$13.004 462,628$1,386 25
46Las Vegas, NV$9.004 651,319$961 25
47New Orleans, LA$7.254 390,144$803 26
48Santa Ana, CA$13.004 332,318$1,445 26
49St. Petersburg, FL$8.564 265,351$966 26
50Houston, TX$7.254 2,320,268$838 27
51San Antonio, TX$7.2541,547,253$855 27
52Corpus Christi, TX$7.254 326,586$863 27
53Tampa, FL$8.564 399,700$1,030 28
54San Diego, CA$13.004 1,423,851$1,573 28
55Henderson, NV$9.004 320,189$1,101 28
56Oakland, CA$14.1414 433,031$1,747 29
57Orlando, FL$8.564287,442$1,058 29
58Dallas, TX$7.2541,343,573$912 29
59Miami, FL$8.564 467,963$1,078 29
60Chula Vista, CA$13.004 274,492$1,651 29
61Fort Worth, TX$7.254 909,585$930 30
62Anaheim, CA$13.004 350,365$1,670 30
63Nashville, TN$7.254 670,820$948 30
64Boston, MA$12.754 692,600$1,700 31
65Charlotte, NC$7.254 885,708$977 31
66Philadelphia, PA$7.254 1,584,064$978 31
67San Jose, CA$15.25151,021,795$2,105 32
68Raleigh, NC$7.254 474,069$1,007 32
69New York, NY$15.0016 8,336,817$2,115 33
70Arlington, TX$7.254398,854$1,024 33
71Jersey City, NJ$11.004262,075$1,587 33
72San Francisco, CA$16.0717881,549$2,416 35
73Virginia Beach, VA$7.254449,974$1,100 35
74Plano, TX$7.254287,677$1,171 37
75Austin, TX$7.254978,908$1,177 37
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City Minimum wage Population (2019) Average rent for a one-bedroom apartment Working hours per week
Bakersfield, CA $13.004 384,145 $738 13
Tucson, AZ $12.004 548,073 $720 14
Fresno, CA $13.004 531,576 $847 15
Toledo, OH $8.704 272,779 $596 16
Minneapolis, MN $13.255 429,606 $911 16
Detroit, MI $9.654 670,031 $692 17
Cleveland, OH $8.704 381,009 $627 17
Lincoln, NE $9.004 289,102 $660 17
Phoenix, AZ $12.004 1,680,992 $885 17
Cincinnati, OH $8.704 303,940 $654 17
Sacramento, CA $13.004 513,624 $980 17
Stockton, CA $13.004 312,697 $993 18
Mesa, AZ $12.004 518,012 $921 18
St. Louis, MO $9.454 300,576 $727 18
Albuquerque, NM $9.356 560,513 $725 18
Chicago, IL $14.007 2,693,976 $1,096 18
Saint Paul, MN $12.508 308,096 981 18
Wichita, KS $7.254 389,938 $573 18
Kansas City, MO $9.454 495,327 $751 18
Seattle, WA $16.399 753,675 $1,348 19
Denver, CO $12.8510 727,211 $1,063 19
Colorado Springs, CO $12.004 478,221 $993 19
Riverside, CA $13.004 331,360 $1,084 19
Anchorage, AL $10.194 288,000 $853 19
Portland, OR $13.2511 654,741 $1,119 20
Fort Wayne, IN $7.254 270,402 $613 20
Omaha, NE $9.004 478,192 $770 20
Baltimore, MD $11.004 593,490 $953 20
Columbus, OH $8.704 898,553 $755 20
Oklahoma City, OK $7.254 655,057 $636 20
Tulsa, OK $7.254 401,190 $652 21
Washington, DC $15.0012 705,749 1353 21
Laredo, TX $7.254 262,491 $666 21
Louisville, KY $7.254 617,638 $668 21
Lexington, KY $7.254 323,152 $676 22
Los Angeles, CA $14.2513 3,979,576 $1,360 22
El Paso, TX $7.254 681,728 $702 22
Memphis, TN $7.254 651,073 $708 23
Indianapolis, IN $7.254 876,384 $711 23
Milwaukee, WI $7.254 590,157 $733 23
Pittsburgh, PA $7.254 300,286 $740 24
Greensboro, NC $7.254 296,710 $751 24
Aurora, CO $12.004 379,289 $1,249 24
Jacksonville, FL $8.564 911,507 $896 24
Long Beach, CA $13.004 462,628 $1,386 25
Las Vegas, NV $9.004 651,319 $961 25
New Orleans, LA $7.254 390,144 $803 26
Santa Ana, CA $13.004 332,318 $1,445 26
St. Petersburg, FL $8.564 265,351 $966 26
Houston, TX $7.254 2,320,268 $838 27
San Antonio, TX $7.254 1,547,253 $855 27
Corpus Christi, TX $7.254 326,586 $863 27
Tampa, FL $8.564 399,700 $1,030 28
San Diego, CA $13.004 1,423,851 $1,573 28
Henderson, NV $9.004 320,189 $1,101 28
Oakland, CA $14.1414 433,031 $1,747 29
Orlando, FL $8.564 287,442 $1,058 29
Dallas, TX $7.254 1,343,573 $912 29
Miami, FL $8.564 467,963 $1,078 29
Chula Vista, CA $13.004 274,492 $1,651 29
Fort Worth, TX $7.254 909,585 $930 30
Anaheim, CA $13.004 350,365 $1,670 30
Nashville, TN $7.254 670,820 $948 30
Boston, MA $12.754 692,600 $1,700 31
Charlotte, NC $7.254 885,708 $977 31
Philadelphia, PA $7.254 1,584,064 $978 31
San Jose, CA $15.2515 1,021,795 $2,105 32
Raleigh, NC $7.254 474,069 $1,007 32
New York, NY $15.0016 8,336,817 $2,115 33
Arlington, TX $7.254 398,854 $1,024 33
Jersey City, NJ $11.004 262,075 $1,587 33
San Francisco, CA $16.0717 881,549 $2,416 35
Virginia Beach, VA $7.254 449,974 $1,100 35
Plano, TX $7.254 287,677 $1,171 37
Austin, TX $7.254 978,908 $1,177 37

Sources

  1. United States Census Bureau, “City and Town Population Totals: 2010-2019,” revised May 7, 2020. Accessed July 21, 2020.
  2. Apartment List, “Data & Rent Estimates.” Accessed July 21, 2020.
  3. Glassdoor, “25 Best Cities for Jobs 2020.” Accessed July 21, 2020.
  4. U.S. Department of Labor, “State Minimum Wage Laws.” Accessed July 22, 2020.
  5. Minneapolis, “Minimum Wage.” Accessed July 22, 2020.
  6. City of Albuquerque, “Albuquerque Minimum Wage – 2019.” Accessed July 22, 2020.
  7. City of Chicago, “Minimum Wage.” Accessed July 22, 2020.
  8. Saint Paul, “Minimum Wage.” Accessed July 22, 2020.
  9. Seattle Office of Labor Standards, “Minimum Wage.” Accessed July 22, 2020.
  10. Denver Mayor’s Office, “A Livable Wage For Denver.” Accessed July 22, 2020.
  11. Oregon Bureau of Labor & Industries, “Oregon Minimum Wage.” Accessed July 22, 2020.
  12. DC Department of Employment Services, “Minimum Wage.” Accessed July 22, 2020.
  13. Los Angeles Department of Public Works, “LA’s Minimum Wage Increase.” Accessed July 22, 2020.
  14. City of Oakland, “Oakland’s Minimum Wage, Paid Leave & Service Charge Law and Hotel Workers Protection & Employment Standards.” Accessed July 22, 2020.
  15. City of San Jose, “Minimum Wage Ordinance.” Accessed July 22, 2020.
  16. New York State Department of Labor, “Minimum Wage.” Accessed July 22, 2020.
  17. San Francisco Office of Labor Standards Enforcement, “Minimum Wage Ordinance.” Accessed July 22, 2020.

About Joe Roberts

Joe Roberts
Joe Roberts is a professional writer with a degree in writing studies and over three years of copywriting experience. He previously worked at Overstock.com, where he wrote about furniture, home decor, and moving. Joe has moved all over Utah, so he knows his way around a moving truck—and he spends his time (and money) expanding his personal library so it will be even heavier next time he moves.
  • http://ashkir.com/ Ashkir

    Hello. Your minimum wage calculations are a bit incorrect. San Francisco, and San Jose minimum wage is $15.00. Bakersfield’s is $12.00. California is $12.00 minimums. Oakland is $12.25.

    • Ronald McDonald

      I thought the same too but looking at the chart the year referenced is 2017. None the less great article on the how minimum wage is not enough to survive in these cities. On another note I just finished a great book about this same topic titled “Nickel & Dimed” by Barbara Ehrenreich. Very good read.

  • Mr. Alderson

    fresno is actually the closest major city to yosemite and i believe also sequoia and kings and sierra national forest. and technically its only 1 hour to yosemite depending how deep you go in yosemite valley.

  • Shawn Matheny

    Joe has moved all over Utah ……well, I am sure that’s impressive, however, anyone without a degree in writing is able to do a better job of writing about other places. Anyone is able to use internet stats and write a paper and we all know what you read on line is accurate, however, get out of Utah and learn more before you try to come off as an expert.