American families need to earn $35.80 an hour just to survive. Few earn it.

Decades of stagnant wages, soaring costs and frequent US economic crises have put millions of Americans close to financial margins. Just to survive, a family with one adult and two children needs to earn an average of $35.80 an hour — an income level that is beyond what most families across the country are earning, according to a new report. 2022 County Health study. Ratings.

Of the country’s more than 3,100 counties, only two provide living wages for the average worker, said Keith Gennuso, the study’s lead author. A living wage covers the costs of food, housing, child care, medical care, and transportation, but does not provide for retirement savings, higher education costs, emergency savings, or other expenses that can help families ensure long-term financial security.

An hourly wage of $35.80 equates to about $74,400 in annual income. The median hourly wage stood at $31.73 in March, or about $66,000 a year, according to the latest government data. That means many families are falling behind in their ability to pay for the basics, said Marjory Givens, co-director of County Health Rankings, which is a program at the University of Wisconsin Institute of Population Health.

“This is definitely a clear indication that economic security is out of reach for many,” Givens told CBS MoneyWatch. “It’s a call to action.”

The two counties where earnings meet or exceed basic wages are Los Alamos County, New Mexico, and Williamson County, Tennessee, according to the analysis, which was based on 2021 data from the Living Wage Calculator. from MIT professor Amy Glasmeier. These two counties “appear to be relatively high-income counties with lower cost of living and good health outcomes,” Givens noted.

Los Alamos County, home of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, has an average household income of more than $111,000. Williamson County, Tennessee, near Nashville, has an average household income of about $118,000.

A minimum wage is not uniform across the country, with some areas — like expensive coastal cities like New York and Los Angeles — having significantly higher basic costs than other regions. The study found that the minimum wage is $29.81 an hour, which is enough for basic needs in Holmes County, Mississippi, and as high as $65.45 an hour in San Francisco.

Inflation erodes wage gains

Workers are now seeing significant wage gains amid labor shortages, but these increases are getting devoured as inflation far exceeds the typical wage increase. This is putting more workers under financial stress as they look to regain their balance amid the ongoing pandemic.

The County Health Rankings leveraged data from 2021, but it doesn’t fully reflect rising inflation in late 2021 and into 2022, Givens noted.

At the same time, families continue to suffer financially from long-term structural issues such as sexism and racism, with the report highlighting the gender pay gap as detrimental to the well-being of families and the economy. Women earn about 81 cents for every dollar earned by men, with an even greater difference in the southern and western plains states, the study found.

The pandemic has exacerbated the financial hardship faced by many women in the workforce, with the female labor force participation rate falling to a 30-year low. In some cases, this was due to the need for women with children to take time off work amid a shortage of childcare and other challenges.

“We already knew that women experience discriminatory practices in the workplace and our systems do not allow women to fully participate in the workforce,” said Givens. “These are systems and structures that we need to service.”

Daycare inaccessible in all counties

Day care is generally considered affordable if it costs less than 7% of a family’s income, but the study found no US county where day care for two children is at this threshold or below. This is a major barrier for families and childcare providers themselves, whose low average salary makes it virtually impossible to afford outside care for their own children, the study found.

“It is likely that a child care provider with two children will not be able to provide their own services – that would represent 50% of their income,” Gennuso said.

Conflicts in the child care industry


Older children are also being disadvantaged in much of the country, with the study finding that public schools are underfunded in many parts of the country, the researchers said. About half of all US counties operate with public school funding shortfalls, needing an additional $3,000 per student on average, with the largest shortfalls in the southern states.

“We know that a well-funded school can put a child on the path to success and a healthy life,” said Gennuso. “Schools need resources to provide this quality education, and we know that’s not the reality in the US”

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