Wednesday, July 5, 2017

How far do your wages go?

By Ranada Robinson, Research Manager

About a week ago, one of the hot topics in my social media feeds was that “no full-time minimum wage worker can afford a 2-bedroom apartment in any US state.” According to the National low Income Housing Coalition, in some states, including most Northeastern states, Alaska, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Virginia, and Washington, workers would need to make over $20 to afford the average two-bedroom apartment. This is an economic development issue because housing availability and affordability are major considerations for the talent that companies desire. Sometimes it seems that these conversations spur debates over how to address the needs of the poorest among us, but that is shortsighted—the ability to obtain affordable and decent housing can be a major hurdle for entry-level workers, including teachers, police officers, and other professions that are paramount to a community, but in many communities those workers have to commute from afar or make other arrangements that they would maybe prefer not to, such as having one or more roommates.

So as I read through the report, I became interested in the broader question of how far do wages go in communities? So updating the data I gathered a couple of years ago, I re-examined the wage/cost differential, which compares the relative wage of a metro area to the relative cost of living index[1] as published by the Council for Community and Economic Research. This analysis allows us to really examine how competitive a community’s wages are in terms of being able to afford that community’s cost of living.

The following table presents the twenty metros that have the most competitive wages as a percentage of the national average annual wage across all metros compared to the relative cost of living. Consistent with the 2014 analysis, Texas metros and several high-growth Southern (like Austin, Atlanta, Dallas, and Nashville), and Midwest metros (like are on this list. Also consistent with the 2014 analysis, the Bridgeport, Connecticut MSA has a very high cost of living compared to the national average, but it still ranks as favorable because its average annual wage is similarly much higher than the national average, so the average worker can handle the expense of living in this metro.

[1] For this analysis, the primary urban area in the C2ER Cost of Living Index was chosen for comparison in instances where a metropolitan area or division has multiple urban areas represented.

Top 20 Metros with Favorable Wage/Cost Differentials, 2016

Source: Council for Community and Economic Research; Economic Modeling Specialists Intl.

Not surprisingly, the twenty metros with the most concerning differentials are in states known for their high cost of living, like Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and New York. However, it is interesting to note that two southern communities with lower than average costs of living appear in this list: Auburn, AL (which was in the top 10 in the 2014 data) and Hilton Head, SC. This goes to show that the cost of living on its own does not always tell the full story—but analyses like the housing report or this wage/cost differential allow us to gain context and perspective.

Twenty Metros with the Least Favorable Wage/Cost Differentials, 2016

Source: Council for Community and Economic Research; Economic Modeling Specialists Intl.