The Least and Most Affordable Big Cities for Minimum Wage Earners

Joe Roberts
Researcher & Writer
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Published on June 18, 2021
2 min read

Plenty of big cities still fall under the federal minimum wage of $7.25, which isn’t a living wage for the majority of people in the US. So where can you live on minimum wage and still have a comfortable, affordable life?

We ranked the 75 biggest cities in the US by how many hours it would take to afford a one-bedroom apartment while making minimum wage. This doesn’t include all the other cost of living factors, but it does show where even paying rent on a single minimum wage job won’t work (if you’re planning on renting alone).

The average minimum wage in these 75 cities is $10.40 per hour, but the average one-bedroom apartment rent is $1,040 per month—that means rent in most big cities requires over 60% of monthly gross minimum wage income, which doesn’t include taxes.

You should be wary of places with a current federal minimum of $7.25 per hour and high rent—they’re likely unaffordable. Unless you have some housemates who can help cover the bills, or you’re going to work multiple jobs, you may want to consider moving to a nearby surrounding city or town with lower costs.

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The worst cities for a single-bedroom renter living on minimum wage

Rank
City
State
Population¹
Population rank
Median monthly gross rent²
Hourly minimum wage³
Monthly hours worked at gross minimum wage to afford rent
1AtlantaGeorgia506,80437$1,283$7.25177
2PlanoTexas285,84972$1,192$7.25164.4
3AustinTexas979,26311$1,186$7.25163.6
4CharlotteNorth Carolina885,70715$1,082$7.25149.2
5NashvilleTennessee668,58024$1,074$7.25148.1
6IrvineCalifornia287,38771$2,026$14.00144.7
7RaleighNorth Carolina474,70841$1,046$7.25144.3
8DallasTexas1,343,5659$1,001$7.25138.1
9DurhamNorth Carolina279,44774$983$7.25135.6
10OrlandoFlorida287,43570$1,147$8.56134
  • Atlanta is the worst city to work and live as a minimum wage earner. You’d have to work over 177 hours in a month to live in a single-bedroom apartment in Georgia’s capital.
  • Dallas has the ninth biggest population in the US, but it’s the sixth-worst city for minimum wage earners.
  • Irvine, California has the highest rent at $2,026 a month. Despite its higher minimum wage pay, it’s still too pricey to rent.
  • Texas and North Carolina both have three big cities where the rent is far higher than minimum wage earners should try to afford on their own.

Best cities for a single-bedroom renter living on minimum wage

Rank
City
State
Population¹
Population rank
Median monthly gross rent²
Hourly minimum wage³
Monthly hours worked at gross minimum wage to afford rent
1BakersfieldCalifornia384,15952$733$14.0052.4
2TucsonArizona548,08233$697$12.1557.4
3FresnoCalifornia531,58134$842$14.0060.1
4DetroitMichigan670,05223$608$9.8761.6
5ClevelandOhio380,98953$579$8.8065.8
6StocktonCalifornia312,68262$927$14.0066.2
7AlbuquerqueNew Mexico560,50432$740$10.5070.5
8St. LouisMissouri300,57665$727$10.3070.6
9St. PaulMinnesota308,09663$890$12.5071.2
10NewarkNew Jersey281,99973$860$12.0071.7
  • You can still live in sunny California and make a living wage: both Bakersfield and Stockton ranked in the top 10 best cities for minimum wage earners.
  • Out of all the cities with over a million people, Chicago is one of the best for livable wage earners. Phoenix, Arizona came in close at 14th best for minimum wage earners.

These days, living alone in a single-bedroom apartment in a bigger city may seem like a distant dream. However, two cities still (theoretically) allow minimum wage earners to only work one job and live there affordably: Bakersfield, California and Tucson, Arizona.

Increasing the federal minimum wage could help millions afford comfortable living, but for now it’s best for workers making minimum wage to try to find an affordable place outside the big city expenses.


Methodology

We analyzed the 75 most populous cities in the United States. We ranked each city by how many hours it would take for a renter to afford the median one-bedroom apartment in those cities while making minimum wage.

If the state/city’s minimum wage is under the federal minimum, we used the $7.25 minimum wage.

Additional expenses like food, insurance, entertainment, and transportation had no impact on the rankings, though some are mentioned occasionally throughout the article. We also didn’t rank these cities based on crime statistics, unemployment rates, access to government services, or other secondary factors.

Though cost of living and income levels both factor into how livable a city might be, these rankings don’t necessarily reflect the overall quality of life for residents.

Sources used

  1. US Census Bureau, “Total Population.” Accessed June 3, 2021.
  2. US Census Bureau, “Median Gross Rent By Bedrooms.” Accessed June 3, 2021.
  3. The Economic Policy Institute, “Minimum Wage Tracker.” Accessed June 3, 2021.

Full dataset

Rank
City
State
Population¹
Population Rank
Median monthly gross rent²
Hourly minimum wage³
Monthly hours worked at gross minimum wage to afford rent
1BakersfieldCalifornia384,15952$733$14.0052.4
2TucsonArizona548,08233$697$12.1557.4
3FresnoCalifornia531,58134$842$14.0060.1
4DetroitMichigan670,05223$608$9.8761.6
5ClevelandOhio380,98953$579$8.8065.8
6StocktonCalifornia312,68262$927$14.0066.2
7AlbuquerqueNew Mexico560,50432$740$10.5070.5
8St. LouisMissouri300,57665$727$10.3070.6
9St. PaulMinnesota308,09663$890$12.5071.2
10NewarkNew Jersey281,99973$860$12.0071.7
11MinneapolisMinnesota429,60546$976$13.2573.7
12CincinnatiOhio303,95464$662$8.8075.2
13ChicagoIllinois2,693,9593$1,061$14.0075.8
14PhoenixArizona1,680,9885$924$12.1576
15BaltimoreMaryland593,49030$919$11.7578.2
16SacramentoCalifornia513,62036$1,116$14.0079.7
17MesaArizona517,98135$982$12.1580.8
18Colorado SpringsColorado478,21539$1,003$12.3281.4
19Kansas CityMissouri495,27838$844$10.3081.9
20WichitaKansas389,91451$606$7.2583.6
21LincolnNebraska289,09668$770$9.0085.6
22Anchorage municipalityAlaska288,00069$890$10.3486.1
23DenverColorado727,21119$1,278$14.7786.5
24RiversideCalifornia331,36958$1,231$14.0087.9
25PortlandOregon653,46726$1,168$13.2588.2
26OmahaNebraska478,20340$804$9.0089.3
27Los AngelesCalifornia3,979,5372$1,372$15.0091.5
28Long BeachCalifornia462,64543$1,294$14.0092.4
29Oklahoma CityOklahoma655,15825$672$7.2592.7
30TulsaOklahoma401,76047$673$7.2592.8
31El PasoTexas681,72922$680$7.2593.8
32New YorkNew York8,336,8171$1,415$15.0094.3
33ColumbusOhio902,07314$847$8.8096.3
34AuroraColorado379,31254$1,191$12.3296.7
35Las VegasNevada651,29727$880$9.0097.8
36MilwaukeeWisconsin590,15731$715$7.2598.6
37SeattleWashington753,65518$1,671$16.69100.1
38Santa AnaCalifornia332,33257$1,409$14.00100.6
39Louisville/Jefferson County metro government (balance)Kentucky617,63029$730$7.25100.7
40Lexington-Fayette urban countyKentucky323,15260$738$7.25101.8
41OaklandCalifornia433,04445$1,484$14.36103.3
42JacksonvilleFlorida911,52813$891$8.56104.1
43AnaheimCalifornia350,35155$1,478$14.00105.6
44MemphisTennessee651,08828$771$7.25106.3
45WashingtonDistrict of Columbia705,74920$1,607$15.00107.1
46Indianapolis (balance)Indiana870,34017$788$7.25108.7
47San DiegoCalifornia1,423,8528$1,539$14.00109.9
48GreensboroNorth Carolina296,72567$825$7.25113.8
49TampaFlorida399,69048$993$8.56116
50New OrleansLouisiana390,14450$853$7.25117.7
51San JoseCalifornia1,021,78610$1,832$15.45118.6
52Corpus ChristiTexas326,59059$874$7.25120.6
53San AntonioTexas1,547,2507$875$7.25120.7
54Virginia BeachVirginia449,97444$1,166$9.50122.7
55PittsburghPennsylvania300,28166$891$7.25122.9
56BostonMassachusetts694,29521$1,661$13.50123
57Urban Honolulu CDPHawaii345,05556$1,245$10.10123.3
58San FranciscoCalifornia881,54916$2,005$16.07124.8
59HendersonNevada320,19061$1,127$9.00125.2
60MiamiFlorida467,96842$1,072$8.56125.2
61ArlingtonTexas398,86049$940$7.25129.7
62Fort WorthTexas913,65612$945$7.25130.3
63HoustonTexas2,316,7974$954$7.25131.6
64PhiladelphiaPennsylvania1,584,0646$964$7.25133
65OrlandoFlorida287,43570$1,147$8.56134
66DurhamNorth Carolina279,44774$983$7.25135.6
67DallasTexas1,343,5659$1,001$7.25138.1
68RaleighNorth Carolina474,70841$1,046$7.25144.3
69IrvineCalifornia287,38771$2,026$14.00144.7
70NashvilleTennessee668,58024"$1,074"$7.25148.1
71CharlotteNorth Carolina885,70715$1,082$7.25149.2
72AustinTexas979,26311$1,186$7.25163.6
73PlanoTexas285,84972$1,192$7.25164.4
74AtlantaGeorgia506,80437"$1,283"$7.25177
Joe Roberts
Written by
Joe Roberts
Joe Roberts is a professional writer with a degree in writing studies and over four 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.