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

The Best and Worst U.S. Cities for Minimum-Wage Earners
Young woman minimum wage worker taking order at a restaurant
Paul Vasarhelyi /

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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, 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.

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