The Best and Worst U.S. Cities for Minimum-Wage Earners

Young woman minimum wage worker taking order at a restaurant
Paul Vasarhelyi / Shutterstock.com

This story comes from Move.org.

Coast to coast, American cities are filled with unique cultures, communities and people working to keep the world moving. As big cities grow, the cost of living goes up too, and more workers are needed to fill essential roles.

While the demand for labor in America’s growing cities increases, the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour hasn’t increased since 2009. (In 2018, the living wage was $16.14 per hour, meaning most American families aren’t even covered by two minimum wage incomes).

However, some states and cities set their own minimum wages to help their citizens as costs rise. Not every state has the same cost of living, but rent is a pretty good indicator of how livable a city is for minimum wage earners.

To help narrow down which cities are the best and worst for minimum-wage earners, Move.org looked at the minimum wage (dollars per hour) and the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the 75 most populous cities according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

We then calculated how many hours per week it would take minimum-wage earners living in these cities to pay for a small apartment. In cases where cities had a different minimum wage for larger companies and companies with 50 employees or fewer, we used the larger businesses’ minimum wage.

Additional expenses like food, utilities, insurance, entertainment and transportation had no impact on the rankings. Crime statistics, unemployment rates, access to government services or other quality of life factors were not considered.

The following five cities were omitted from the rankings because of missing rent data: Atlanta; Honolulu; Irvine, California; Newark, New Jersey; Durham, North Carolina.

Based on these calculations, we ranked the best and worst cities for minimum wage earners to live.

Here are the most livable cities for minimum-wage earners, followed by the least livable.

10. Cincinnati

Cincinnati, Ohio
Stephanie A Sellers / Shutterstock.com

Low rent rates and a higher minimum wage make Cincinnati a great place to live.

Fans of sports and Cincinnati-style chili will be happy to know they can live in the city with only 17 hours of minimum-wage work toward rent.

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

9. Phoenix

Aerial view of Phoenix, Arizona
Tim Roberts Photography / Shutterstock.com

Phoenix is one of the fastest-growing cities in the nation. And while the Arizona heat may turn some prospective citizens off, the higher minimum wage makes it far more livable.

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

8. Lincoln, Nebraska

Lincoln, Nebraska
Mark Dahmke / Shutterstock.com

Lincoln, home to three different colleges, is one of the best cities for 20-somethings. Nebraska’s capital has a minimum wage of $9 an hour and lower rental rates.

The Cornhusker State capital is reasonably affordable to minimum-wage earners, who need to work about 17 hours a week to afford rent. Lincoln’s minimum wage is $9 an hour, and its rental prices are relatively low.

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

7. Cleveland

Cleveland
Henryk Sadura / Shutterstock.com

Cleveland’s minimum wage is above the national minimum, and its rent isn’t too bad either. You only need to work 17 hours a week to live in the home of the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

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

6. Detroit

Detroit, Michigan
Stephanie Kenner / Shutterstock.com

Detroit’s one of America’s most historic cities, between its music scene and the automobile industry. On top of that, it’s pretty easy to make rent as a minimum-wage earner compared to other cities.

With an hourly minimum of $9.65, Detroit’s typical rent prices require about 17 hours of work a week to afford.

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

5. Minneapolis

Minneapolis, Minnesota
nikitsin.smugmug.com / Shutterstock.com

Minneapolis has the highest minimum wage in the top 10 cities list.

The average rental prices are pretty steep, but with the $13.25 per hour wage, you only need to work 16 hours a week to afford rent.

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

4. Toledo, Ohio

Toledo, Ohio
T.Slack / Shutterstock.com

Toledo’s rent is the lowest out of any of the cities on the list, so you only need 16 hours of work per week to afford rent as a minimum wage earner. Use that free time to check out the Glass City’s unique arts community.

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

3. Fresno, California

Fresno, California
Tupungato / Shutterstock.com

Fresno is in the heart of California farmland, and minimum-wage workers can settle down there easier, knowing they only need 15 hours of work each week to afford rent.

Even though rent’s a bit higher than in other cities on the list, the $13 minimum wage helps make up for it.

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

2. Tucson, Arizona

Tucson
Chris Rubino / Shutterstock.com

Minimum-wage workers only have to work 14 hours a week to afford a place to live in Tucson, Arizona.

If you’re looking for an affordable college town, students attending the University of Arizona can appreciate Tucson’s higher minimum wage and lower rent prices.

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

1. Bakersfield, California

Bakersfield, California
Richard Thornton / Shutterstock.com

Luckily for minimum-wage earners in Bakersfield, California, you can use your money on things besides rent. At $13 an hour, you only have to work 13 hours a week — the best earnings-to-rent ratio for minimum-wage workers in America’s big cities.

To put that into perspective, you have to work nearly three times more in Austin, Texas, than Bakersfield to afford a single-bedroom apartment: 37 hours a week at the federal minimum wage.

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

10. Philadelphia

Philadelphia, downtown evening rush hour.
Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com

Now, for the least livable cities.

You can’t deny the rich history of Philadelphia. The city’s name itself conjures up images of Rocky running up the steps, the cracked Liberty Bell or the signing of the Constitution.

Unfortunately, the City of Brotherly Love hasn’t surpassed the federal minimum wage and still comes with relatively high rent.

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

9. San Jose, California

The skyline of San Jose, which has a lower median rent than median mortgage payment
stellamc / Shutterstock.com

The capital of Silicon Valley hosts giant tech companies like eBay and Samsung, which doesn’t make the city’s rent cheap.

Although San Jose has a higher minimum wage of $15.25, the average rent for a single-bedroom apartment is still over $2,100. You’d have to work about 32 hours a week to afford that rent.

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

8. Raleigh, North Carolina

Raleigh, North Carolina
Sharkshock / Shutterstock.com

North Carolina’s capital city sticks with the $7.25 federal minimum, and workers there face a relatively high rent cost.

Minimum-wage earners need to dedicate 32 working hours to afford rent in a one-bedroom apartment in Raleigh.

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

7. New York City

Verizon building
By JJFarq / Shutterstock.com

Everyone knows New York City is expensive, but at least the city raised its minimum wage to $15 instead of leaving it at the federal requirement.

Still, with a single-bedroom apartment costing over $2,100 a month, a minimum-wage earner could expect to work 33 hours a week just to pay the rent.

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

6. Arlington, Texas

Arlington, Virginia
Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com

Arlington’s rent isn’t exactly cheap, and its minimum wage never made it past the 2009 federal requirement of $7.25.

But minimum-wage earners living in Arlington might find a job in nearby Fort Worth or Dallas, two of the biggest Texas cities.

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

5. Jersey City, New Jersey

Jersey City, New Jersey
f11photo / Shutterstock.com

New Jersey has a higher minimum wage than the federal requirement, but that might not cut it for workers in such an expensive city.

For minimum-wage earners looking to live across the bay from New York City, the idea of working 33 hours a week just to afford rent could be too much.

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

4. San Francisco

Homes in San Francisco, California
Sergey Novikov / Shutterstock.com

San Francisco has always been a hub of culture, attractive tourist spots and, more recently, the center for upcoming technology companies.

But despite the city’s higher minimum wage of $16.07, the rent is too high for minimum-wage earners to live comfortably.

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

3. Virginia Beach, Virginia

Virginia Beach, Virginia
JoMo333 / Shutterstock.com

Virginia Beach is a vibrant seaside city that looks directly out on 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 the rent with a minimum-wage job.

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

2. Plano, Texas

Plano, Texas hot air balloons
Wisanu Boonrawd / Shutterstock.com

Although Plano is known for having a good job market and promising opportunities, the city still stays at the federal minimum wage.

Combined with high rent prices, Plano will have a minimum-wage worker spending as much as 37 hours on the job to afford a single-bedroom apartment.

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

1. Austin, Texas

Austin, Texas
Roschetzky Photography / Shutterstock.com

Known for being one of the best U.S. cities to live in, Austin is a big city stuck on the federal minimum wage and growing living costs.

With high rent prices, you have to work 37 hours a week on minimum wage to afford a single-bedroom apartment in the Texas capital. That makes it one of the least livable cities in the U.S. for minimum-wage earners to live.

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

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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