Do you make enough money to enjoy a comfortable life? Or are you just scraping by? If it feels like you can’t ever truly get ahead, then you aren’t alone according to our latest map on the cost of living across the U.S.
Use this visualization
- Hawaii is the single most difficult state for workers to get ahead, requiging $96.1K to enjoy a comfortable life and 91-hour workweeks to get there.
- The states where a comfortable life is within reach stretch across the South. Mississippi is the most affordable at $40.4K. Making that much money would require average workers to clock 53 hours.
- Kansas stands out as a reasonably affordable place to enjoy the good life ($41.7K) without spending too much time on the job (46 hours).
- There isn’t a single state in the country where an average worker can enjoy a comfortable living on 40 hours or less of work per week. North Dakota has the shortest required minimum hours at 45.
We combined a few different datasets to create our visualization. First, we figured out the median wage for workers in 2018 in each state from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. We also used numbers from the BLS to calculate average annual consumer expenditures, adding a nice 20% bump to each state’s average to represent comfortable living. Then, we divided that figure by the number of earners the average household has to obtain the annual expenditure per earner. That amount was adjusted to each state’s cost of living using MERIC’s data, giving us the number of hours needed to make that wage. States with darker shades of purple require a higher wage to live comfortably, and larger green circles indicate longer workweeks.
Top 10 States Where it is Cheapest to Enjoy a Comfortable Living
1. Mississippi: $40,349 (53 hours)
2. Oklahoma: $41,113 (48 hours)
3. Arkansas: $41,495 (52 hours)
4. Kansas: $41,733 (46 hours)
5. Tennessee: $41,877 (48 hours)
6. New Mexico: $42,354 (50 hours)
7. Alabama: $42,497 (50 hours)
8. Missouri: $42,545 (47 hours)
9. Michigan: $42,832 (46 hours)
10. Georgia: $43,023 (48 hours)
Top 10 States Where it Costs the Most to Enjoy a Comfortable Living
1. Hawaii: $96,120 (91 hours)
2. Washington, D.C.: $78,310 (44 hours)
3. California: $66,754 (63 hours)
4. Oregon: $65,417 (66 hours)
5. New York: $64,462 (57 hours)
6. Massachusetts: $62,218 (51 hours)
7. Maryland: $61,836 (55 hours)
8. Alaska: $60,881 (51 hours)
9. Connecticut: $59,783 (51 hours)
10. New Jersey: $59,401 (54 hours)
The best states based on our number-crunching are shaded light purple and have small green circles. In other words, it’s comparably much easier to enjoy a comfortable living across the South and Midwest than it is on either the West or the East coasts. The absolute worst state for the Average Joe is Hawaii, where he would need to put in almost 91 hours each week just to make enough money ($96.1K) to have a comfortable life. That would mean working almost 13 hour days, every day, without ever getting a break.
The most interesting thing our map demonstrates, however, is the widespread unattainability of comfortable living across America. There isn’t a single state in the country where the average worker can put in 40 hours and enjoy a comfortable standard of living. Even in North Dakota, workers still need to clock 45 hours. Kansas is probably the best state when accounting for a low cost ($41.7K) combined with a shorter number of hours required (46).
Clearly, the vast majority of wage earners are just getting by, and there’s a lot of ink spilled on addressing these issues. Lots of people need personal loans to plug a financial gap. Some states are trying to legislate higher pay for overtime. Cities are passing minimum wage laws, like Chicago and Denver. Some people like Andrew Yang think every American should have a universal basic income of $1,000 a month.
Do you think any of these efforts will ultimately be successful? What are the biggest reasons why workers can’t enjoy a comfortable standard of living where you live? Let us know in the comments.