The Least Livable US Cities for Minimum Wage Earners in 2020

Joe Roberts
Researcher & Writer
Read More
Published on July 28, 2020
9 min read
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.


Sign up for our moving guide!

Get emails with discounts, tips, and checklists—to guide you through every step of your move.


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

Rank
City
Minimum wage
Population (2019)
Average rent for a one-bedroom apartment
Working hours per week

1

Bakersfield, CA

$13.004

384,145

$738

13

2

Tucson, AZ

$12.004

548,073

$720

14

3

Fresno, CA

$13.004

531,576

$847

15

4

Toledo, OH

$8.704

272,779

$596

16

5

Minneapolis, MN

$13.255

429,606

$911

16

6

Detroit, MI

$9.654

670,031

$692

17

7

Cleveland, OH

$8.704

381,009

$627

17

8

Lincoln, NE

$9.004

289,102

$660

17

9

Phoenix, AZ

$12.004

1,680,992

$885

17

10

Cincinnati, OH

$8.704

303,940

$654

17

11

Sacramento, CA

$13.004

513,624

$980

17

12

Stockton, CA

$13.004

312,697

$993

18

13

Mesa, AZ

$12.004

518,012

$921

18

14

St. Louis, MO

$9.454

300,576

$727

18

15

Albuquerque, NM

$9.356

560,513

$725

18

16

Chicago, IL

$14.007

2,693,976

$1,096

18

17

Saint Paul, MN

$12.508

308,096

981

18

18

Wichita, KS

$7.254

389,938

$573

18

19

Kansas City, MO

$9.454

495,327

$751

18

20

Seattle, WA

$16.399

753,675

$1,348

19

21

Denver, CO

$12.8510

727,211

$1,063

19

22

Colorado Springs, CO

$12.004

478,221

$993

19

23

Riverside, CA

$13.004

331,360

$1,084

19

24

Anchorage, AL

$10.194

288,000

$853

19

25

Portland, OR

$13.2511

654,741

$1,119

20

26

Fort Wayne, IN

$7.254

270,402

$613

20

27

Omaha, NE

$9.004

478,192

$770

20

28

Baltimore, MD

$11.004

593,490

$953

20

29

Columbus, OH

$8.704

898,553

$755

20

30

Oklahoma City, OK

$7.254

655,057

$636

20

31

Tulsa, OK

$7.254

401,190

$652

21

32

Washington, DC

$15.0012

705,749

1353

21

33

Laredo, TX

$7.254

262,491

$666

21

34

Louisville, KY

$7.254

617,638

$668

21

35

Lexington, KY

$7.254

323,152

$676

22

36

Los Angeles, CA

$14.2513

3,979,576

$1,360

22

37

El Paso, TX

$7.254

681,728

$702

22

38

Memphis, TN

$7.254

651,073

$708

23

39

Indianapolis, IN

$7.254

876,384

$711

23

40

Milwaukee, WI

$7.254

590,157

$733

23

41

Pittsburgh, PA

$7.254

300,286

$740

24

42

Greensboro, NC

$7.254

296,710

$751

24

43

Aurora, CO

$12.004

379,289

$1,249

24

44

Jacksonville, FL

$8.564

911,507

$896

24

45

Long Beach, CA

$13.004

462,628

$1,386

25

46

Las Vegas, NV

$9.004

651,319

$961

25

47

New Orleans, LA

$7.254

390,144

$803

26

48

Santa Ana, CA

$13.004

332,318

$1,445

26

49

St. Petersburg, FL

$8.564

265,351

$966

26

50

Houston, TX

$7.254

2,320,268

$838

27

51

San Antonio, TX

$7.254

1,547,253

$855

27

52

Corpus Christi, TX

$7.254

326,586

$863

27

53

Tampa, FL

$8.564

399,700

$1,030

28

54

San Diego, CA

$13.004

1,423,851

$1,573

28

55

Henderson, NV

$9.004

320,189

$1,101

28

56

Oakland, CA

$14.1414

433,031

$1,747

29

57

Orlando, FL

$8.564

287,442

$1,058

29

58

Dallas, TX

$7.254

1,343,573

$912

29

59

Miami, FL

$8.564

467,963

$1,078

29

60

Chula Vista, CA

$13.004

274,492

$1,651

29

61

Fort Worth, TX

$7.254

909,585

$930

30

62

Anaheim, CA

$13.004

350,365

$1,670

30

63

Nashville, TN

$7.254

670,820

$948

30

64

Boston, MA

$12.754

692,600

$1,700

31

65

Charlotte, NC

$7.254

885,708

$977

31

66

Philadelphia, PA

$7.254

1,584,064

$978

31

67

San Jose, CA

$15.2515

1,021,795

$2,105

32

68

Raleigh, NC

$7.254

474,069

$1,007

32

69

New York, NY

$15.0016

8,336,817

$2,115

33

70

Arlington, TX

$7.254

398,854

$1,024

33

71

Jersey City, NJ

$11.004

262,075

$1,587

33

72

San Francisco, CA

$16.0717

881,549

$2,416

35

73

Virginia Beach, VA

$7.254

449,974

$1,100

35

74

Plano, TX

$7.254

287,677

$1,171

37

75

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.
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.