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Living Wage Calculator

Pennsylvania State University maintains an interesting site called the Living Wage Calculator. It was developed to “estimate the cost of living in your community or region. The calculator lists typical expenses, the living wage and typical wages for the selected location.” The main page and the “about” section outline the history and source data.

The calculator allows the searcher to select a state then obtain data by county, place or the state as a whole. The results include the living wage, minimum wage and poverty wage. It also provides general figures for expenses such as food, childcare and transportation. A third section lists typical wages for various occupations.

The Living Wage Calculator is a companion site to Penn State’s Poverty in America Project. This site includes numerous publications and tools. In addition to the calculator, the site features “Community Development Resources” which is similar to an online bibliography of relevant resources.


  1. I live in Oak Park Ill. and serve on a commission that is studying the pro’s and con’s of a Living Wage Ordinance. I have done a considerable amount of research on the PSA Calculator and have strong reservations about its capability in generating a meaningful Living Wage Hourly Rate.

    A study of twenty cities with current ordinances (with living wages) find that the PSU Calculation was within 10% of the actual wage in only 25% of the cities, and missed the actual labor rate by 18% in 35% of the cases. There were two cases where the PSU Calculator produced Living Wage Hourly Rates in excess of 35% of the ordinance rate.

    The calculator might be worthwhile for research, but it does not seem to have the track record to allow governments. So far our findings are that the calculator cannot create a reasonable range of hourly wage rates much less a strong estimate . We have asked the proponents of the living wage, an active group with two economists, to identify communities, or even one community, that have used the PSU Calculator to enact a Living Wage Hourly Rate in an ordinance. So far no one has found a community yet.

    Using a model for research is one thing. Using a model to convince an overtaxed public that a 75% pay increases over the state’s minimum wage requires robust proof of the model’s success. Seemingly, that does not yet exist.

    John Murtagh

  2. Thank you John for your insight.

  3. The PSU model for Dane county and Madison city is a little short in my view. You would definitely be hardpressed to find childcare for under $600/month as is stated in their website. In fact, I don’t know anyone who pays less than $900/month for childcare for ONE child. We have a great deal with a home daycare and pay that much – centers are higher priced.

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