15 States With the Lowest Minimum Wage Relative to Cost of Living

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Editor's Note: This story originally appeared on Self.

The pandemic-era economy has many unusual and uncertain features that have made it difficult to analyze. And one of the major open questions is what this economic period will do to wages and prices long-term.

The federal minimum wage was first created in 1938 as part of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which originally set the minimum wage at $0.25 per hour. The federal minimum wage is not automatically indexed to inflation or any other economic indicator, which means that it takes an act of Congress to raise the minimum. Historically, Congress has passed increases every few years to reflect inflation and the changing purchasing power of the dollar. But the last minimum wage increase took place in 2009 to $7.25 per hour, and the time between then and now represents the longest-ever period without an increase. Even before the recent worries about inflation, normal changes in cost of living have made it harder and harder for the lowest-wage workers to subsist on that amount.

The result of requiring Congress to act to raise the federal minimum wage is that the real value of the wage has fluctuated over time. At its peak in 1968, the minimum wage was worth $12.77 in 2020 dollars. When the last minimum wage increase took effect in 2009, the wage was worth $9.22 per hour in 2020 dollars. This means that the real value of the current $7.25 wage is down 43% from its historical peak, down 21% since the last increase, and at one of its lowest-ever levels in recent history.

The federal minimum wage is just one tool for increasing workers’ pay. Another major policy lever is state minimum wages. Currently, 30 states have enacted their own minimum wages above the federal minimum of $7.25, ranging from as low as $8.75 to $14 in nation-leading California. Most of the states with higher minimum wages are located in the western or northeastern U.S., where cost of living tends to be higher.

In some of the 20 states that have not raised the minimum wage, cost of living is low, so the federal minimum wage does not create as much pressure on household finances. In others, however, the real value of the minimum wage relative to cost of living is much lower, and low-wage workers may have a harder time getting by.

To determine the states with the lowest minimum wage relative to cost of living, researchers at Self Financial calculated the cost-of-living adjusted minimum wage in each state using minimum wage data compiled from state government websites, cost-of-living data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, and poverty data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Here are the states with the lowest minimum wage relative to cost of living.

15. Indiana

Fort Wayne Indiana
Travis Eckert / Shutterstock.com
  • Minimum wage (cost-of-living adjusted): $8.17
  • Minimum wage (actual): $7.25
  • Cost of living (compared to average): -11.3%
  • Poverty rate: 11.9%

14. Iowa

Dubuque, Iowa
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  • Minimum wage (cost-of-living adjusted): $8.15
  • Minimum wage (actual): $7.25
  • Cost of living (compared to average): -11.0%
  • Poverty rate: 11.2%

13. Kansas

Overland Park Kansas
Jacob Boomsma / Shutterstock.com
  • Minimum wage (cost-of-living adjusted): $8.13
  • Minimum wage (actual): $7.25
  • Cost of living (compared to average): -10.8%
  • Poverty rate: 11.4%

12. North Dakota

Fargo, North Dakota
Jacob Boomsma / Shutterstock.com
  • Minimum wage (cost-of-living adjusted): $8.12
  • Minimum wage (actual): $7.25
  • Cost of living (compared to average): -10.7%
  • Poverty rate: 10.6%

11. Tennessee

Knoxville, Tennessee
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  • Minimum wage (cost-of-living adjusted): $8.08
  • Minimum wage (actual): $7.25
  • Cost of living (compared to average): -10.3%
  • Poverty rate: 13.9%

10. South Carolina

Spartanburg, South Carolina
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  • Minimum wage (cost-of-living adjusted): $7.92
  • Minimum wage (actual): $7.25
  • Cost of living (compared to average): -8.5%
  • Poverty rate: 13.8%

9. North Carolina

Charlotte North Carolina
Kevin Ruck / Shutterstock.com
  • Minimum wage (cost-of-living adjusted): $7.91
  • Minimum wage (actual): $7.25
  • Cost of living (compared to average): -8.3%
  • Poverty rate: 13.6%

8. Wisconsin

La Crosse, Wisconsin
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  • Minimum wage (cost-of-living adjusted): $7.89
  • Minimum wage (actual): $7.25
  • Cost of living (compared to average): -8.1%
  • Poverty rate: 10.4%

7. Idaho

Coeur d' Alene, Idaho
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  • Minimum wage (cost-of-living adjusted): $7.86
  • Minimum wage (actual): $7.25
  • Cost of living (compared to average): -7.8%
  • Poverty rate: 11.2%

6. Wyoming

Jackson Hole, Wyoming
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  • Minimum wage (cost-of-living adjusted): $7.81
  • Minimum wage (actual): $7.25
  • Cost of living (compared to average): -7.2%
  • Poverty rate: 10.1%

5. Georgia

Atlanta, Georgia homes
RodClementPhotography / Shutterstock.com
  • Minimum wage (cost-of-living adjusted): $7.78
  • Minimum wage (actual): $7.25
  • Cost of living (compared to average): -6.8%
  • Poverty rate: 13.3%

4. Texas

Corpus Christi Texas
Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com
  • Minimum wage (cost-of-living adjusted): $7.51
  • Minimum wage (actual): $7.25
  • Cost of living (compared to average): -3.5%
  • Poverty rate: 13.6%

3. Utah

Park City, Utah
Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com
  • Minimum wage (cost-of-living adjusted): $7.51
  • Minimum wage (actual): $7.25
  • Cost of living (compared to average): -3.5%
  • Poverty rate: 8.9%

2. Pennsylvania

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
Jon Bilous / Shutterstock.com
  • Minimum wage (cost-of-living adjusted): $7.47
  • Minimum wage (actual): $7.25
  • Cost of living (compared to average): -3.0%
  • Poverty rate: 12.0%

1. New Hampshire

Manchester, New Hampshire
Wangkun Jia / Shutterstock.com
  • Minimum wage (cost-of-living adjusted): $6.81
  • Minimum wage (actual): $7.25
  • Cost of living (compared to average): +6.5%
  • Poverty rate: 7.3%

Methodology & Detailed Findings

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Minimum wage statistics by state were compiled from state government websites; statistics on cost of living by state were sourced from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis’s Regional Price Parities (RPP) dataset; and poverty statistics were sourced from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey. To determine the states with the lowest minimum wage relative to cost of living, researchers calculated the cost-of-living adjusted minimum wage in each state by dividing the state’s actual minimum wage by its corresponding RPP. In the event of a tie, the state with the lower actual minimum wage was ranked higher.

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