Families living in major cities on the coasts of the U.S. often look with wonder and envy at their Midwestern and Central counterparts. How is it that similar jobs, similar family sizes and and even higher incomes on the coasts still equate to so much less spending power compared to families in other parts of the U.S.?
The cost of living is, of course, the answer. But the difference isn't just a few hundred dollars here and there. The higher cost of living in some cities can be more than twice that of others. And New York City, San Francisco and Los Angeles aren't even the worst off.
In particular, there is one expense that tops everything in 500 out of the 618 cities ranked by the Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank created in 1986 to include the needs of low- and middle-income workers in economic policy discussions. That one expense is childcare.
The EPI developed a 2015 Family Budget Calculator to determine the income level necessary for families to secure an adequate but modest living standard based on these differences in the cost of living per city. More than just an exercise in city versus country living, the EPIs calculator is a more accurate measure of what it means to be poor or middle class in specific locations in the U.S. Based on cost of living factors, like housing, food, transportation, taxes, health care, childcare and other necessities, EPI determined the income families need in order to reach a secure yet modest living standard in hundreds of cities around the U.S.
Child care averages about $12,500 nationally, but drilling down to the city-level, it reaches on average $31,158 a year in Washington, D.C., the most expensive city in the U.S. for families. Acccording to the EPI's calculator, a family of four in D.C. needs $106,493 just to get by.
Just to get by? Meanwhile, the federal poverty level for a family of four is $24,250 or less in annual earnings. That's a huge difference with a real impact, especially on young children.
The next 9 cities in order of least affordable for families are:
2. Nassau-Suffolk, N.Y., where families need on average $103,606 for two adults to raise two kids.
To find what it takes to get by in your area of the country, go to the Family Budget Calculator. Select the number of adults in your household, the number of children and plug in your ZIP code.
The EPI's calculator puts a number on issues that are important to families, particularly the cost of housing and childcare. While the costs of things like even high-end electronics and clothing are lower now than they've ever been, child care and affordable housing dominate the financial lives of young families.