Special Report

The Income a Family Really Needs to Avoid Poverty in Every State

Millions of jobs have been lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in the early months. While some jobs have since been regained, more than 10 million people in the American labor force are still unemployed. And many of those who still have a job have had to take a pay cut or reduced hours. To date, the federal government has awarded two stimulus checks, with a maximum combined per-individual payout of $2,000. For many, those two stimulus checks have done little to make up for their income losses during the crisis that is now more than a year old

The U.S.’s official poverty measure, which sets an income threshold based on household size, is intended to capture those individuals and families who are unable to meet basic needs. However, many economists contest the traditional measure — which does not include several expense categories and does not adjust for regional cost of living differences — is inadequate in assessing just how many Americans are unable to meet their basic needs. 

24/7 Wall St. reviewed March 2018 cost of living estimates, adjusted for inflation, from financial think tank the Economic Policy Institute’s Family Budget Calculator. The estimates are of the costs needed for a family of two (two adults and no children) to lead a “modest yet adequate standard of living.” These costs include all of the basic necessities, including housing, food, transportation, health care, and others, as well as taxes. The income required for a family of two to meet these necessities varies from just under $45,000 in one state to over $69,000 in another. These income thresholds are much higher than the Census Bureau’s official poverty threshold for a household with two people of $16,521.

Of course, for larger families, the EPI’s estimated annual family budget is tens of thousands of dollars higher in every state. 

At a more local level, costs can be even higher, with the costs to meet a basic standard of living for a family of two in some metro areas exceeding $70,000, and for a family of four well above $120,000. While cities and counties with higher costs of living tend to be concentrated in states with generally higher costs of living, they can be found all across the country. This is the most expensive place to live in every state.

Click here to see the income a family really needs to avoid poverty in every state.
Click here to see our detailed methodology.