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What you can afford working on minimum wage in United States?


Minimum wage is certainly not an average salary, but based on statistic close to 5% of workers who are receiving paychecks earning $7.25 or less per hour. Analyzing salary and living expenses in Chicago metropolitan area which is one of the biggest in United States it is easy to get an idea what to expect from minimum wage job.

What people actually earn?

Each state has its own minimum wage level and currently (as of 2013) in Illinois employer have to pay no less than $8.25 per hour to hired employees. Most of unskilled workers with no education or experience start from low wage work. In real life $10 per hour or approximately $365 per week is what majority of cashiers, receptionists, or general labor workers bringing home after all deduction including federal and state taxes, social security and Medicare. Not long ago popular overtimes paid at 1.5 higher compare to regular per hour rate become nearly a history and many employers even do not offer full time positions not saying about overtime.

Where the money goes?


Many might assume it is extremely costly to live in big cities, but there are neighborhoods for any budget. Excluding potentially unsafe places for $750 a month you can rent a decent 1 bedroom apartment in close suburbs. Working on minimum wage, buying a property usually out of considerations, but even renting own place will consume most of your monthly earnings.


While eating cereal and junk-food every day it is possible to survive on $100 - $120 a month for one person, but purchasing meat, fresh fish and other healthy food might be costly. When it comes to groceries expenses, part of a country or particular city doesn’t really matter, but affordability is a factor which might limit your monthly food budget.


Car insurance, license plates renewal, city sticker, regular vehicle maintenance, and gas can easily cost over $150 a month. In a big city it is possible to live without a car at all, but it will significantly decrease chances to find a job and you simply won’t be able to work at locations which are out of reach by public transportation.

Personal expenses

It all depends, but personal expenses are always actual, and even working on minimum wage it is impossible to avoid purchasing new clothes, shoes or toothpaste.


If an employer does not offer any health care plan, workers have two choices: buy insurance by self or pay every time visiting the doctor. Simple checkup might cost hundreds not talking about staying in the hospital for a couple days. If urgent care is unavoidable low wage workers often simply cannot afford to pay thousands in medical bills.

Family planning and government support

Low income families qualify for a free healthcare for their children. There are also food and cash assistance programs which vary from state to state. Not everyone can find well-paid job, but a single mother working on minimum wage is still able to raise a child with the government support.

What you can actually afford working on minimum wage?

With all numbers and potential expenses in mind you can easily figure out what you can afford earning close to $1,200 a month. On 12,000 – S14,000 yearly salary you simply won’t be able to live even in one bedroom apartment paying $9,000 a year for rent and at the same time covering all other daily expenses.