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How Much Is Your Paycheck Really Worth? 


Geography affects your cost of living, which affects your purchasing power. Use our interactive maps, graphs, and tools to see how far your paycheck goes.


RPP Indices

So how would you compare your current job in, say, St. Louis with a new job in, say, New York City? You'd expect to pay more for most things in New York, but also to have a higher salary to compensate for the higher cost of living. But how do you accurately compare income in a high-cost region with income in low-cost region? These graphs and maps use regional price parities (RPPs) to make even comparisons across the country.

Each state has an RPP that depicts the state's cost of living compared with a national average of all areas, which is 100. So values above 100 reflect higher-than-average costs and values below 100 reflect lower-than-average costs. 


NOTE: Click on the bars to reveal the three expenditure categories: goods, services, and housing. Orange bars indicate states of the Eighth Federal Reserve District, home of the St. Louis Fed. For details on how these RPPs were calculated, see the BEA website.


Income

RPPs also let us compare income levels around the U.S. to show the real buying power of a paycheck for each state. U.S. median household income (MHI) was $52,006 in 2016. Missouri's MHI, adjusted for its own cost of living, was $52,186, compared with its unadjusted MHI of $51,746. So, Missouri's lower cost of living gives a boost to the value of a paycheck in that state.



Minimum Wage

A state's cost of living also affects the value of its minimum wage. Some states set their minimum wage higher than the federal minimum wage of $7.25. Does that mean workers in that state earn a paycheck that's worth more than the federal minimum wage would provide? Maybe yes, maybe no. To know for sure, we first need to calculate the real minimum wage for each state.

Some states have real minimum wages that are actually lower than the federal minimum wage. For example, New Hampshire has a relatively high RPP (105.9) and its minimum wage is the same as the federal minimum wage of $7.25. But after adjusting for cost of living, New Hampshire's real minimum wage is only $6.85. In Missouri, the opposite is true: The state minimum wage is $7.70, but it's actually $8.60 when adjusted for Missouri's relatively low cost of living.


NOTE: We adjust 2017 minimum wage data for cost of living using the RPPs from 2016. The correlation between state-level RPPs from one year to the next is approximately 99.9%, so we expect the 2017 RPPs are very close to the 2016 RPPs. For more information about minimum wage laws across and within states, see Gascon (2014).


The District

A Closer Look at St. Louis

How does St. Louis measure up? We compare the RPP-adjusted measures of income for St. Louis with the national average. We also look at the measures of income for the three next-largest MSAs in the Eighth Federal Reserve District—Louisville, Memphis, and Little Rock.

The St. Louis Fed is part of the Eighth Federal Reserve District, which includes all of Arkansas and parts of Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, and Tennessee. Its headquarters is in St. Louis, and its branch offices are in Little Rock, Louisville, and Memphis.

St. Louis has relatively high living standards despite slow income growth in the District overall. In fact, the St. Louis MSA ranks in the top 8% of MSAs based on real per capita personal income (PCPI) and in the top 12% based on real median household income (MHI), according to the most recent data.

The living standards for Louisville, Memphis, and Little Rock are comparable to national averages.


NOTE: PCPI is an average while MHI is the median. PCPI has increased at a faster rate than MHI for a variety of reasons. See Coughlin, Gascon, and Kliesen (2017) for more information.


Calculators

To help interpret this calculation, see the notes on RPP and standard of living.

Consider the entire national basket of goods and services in the United States: Some of the prices for these goods and services vary, depending on the region you're in. Regional price parities (RPPs) help adjust for these differences.

The formal definition of an RPP is a weighted average of the price level of goods and services for the typical consumer in one geographic region compared with all other regions in the U.S. Other similar indices exist, but we like this one for its accuracy and reliability. The RPP for the entire U.S. is 100. So areas with higher RPP values have prices that are, on average, higher; areas with lower RPP values have prices that are, on average, lower. Missouri's RPP in 2016 was 89.5, which means the prices of goods and services purchased in Missouri were 10.5% lower than the national average. New York's RPP was 115.6, which is 15.6% higher than the national average. So a "typical" consumer in Missouri pays 26.1% less than a consumer in New York.

RPPs are based on what the typical consumer purchases in one geographical area. While the basket of goods and services doesn't change, the choices of the items purchased may change from one area to the next. For instance, since housing is pricier in New York City, a consumer spends more income on rent/housing and less on other goods and services, whereas the opposite would be true in a place like St. Louis, where the price of rent/housing is lower. Thus, when we compare standards of living, we're comparing the different purchasing power from the cost-of-living-adjusted incomes between areas. This assumes that consumers maximize preferences given a menu of relative costs.


Wage Calculator by Occupation

Different states have different wages for the same occupation. Where can you earn the most? Choose general categories or very specific occupations to reveal the median salary in each state adjusted for that state's cost of living.


NOTE: We convert annual salaries from hourly wages as follows: Annual wage = Hourly wage x 2,080 hours. We adjust 2017 minimum wage data for cost of living using the RPPs from 2016. The correlation between state-level RPPs from one year to the next is approximately 99.9%, so we expect the 2017 RPPs are very close to the 2016 RPPs. Blank states indicate missing data.


References and Additional Resources

Bullard, James. "Comparing Living Standards across U.S. Metro Areas: Which Ones Fared Well?" Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis Regional Economist, March 1, 2018; https://www.stlouisfed.org/publications/regional-economist/first-quarter-2018/comparing-living-standards.

Coughlin, Cletus C.; Gascon, Charles S. and Kliesen, Kevin L. "Living Standards in St. Louis and the Eighth Federal Reserve District: Let's Get Real." Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis Review, Fourth Quarter 2017, pp. 377-94; https://research.stlouisfed.org/publications/review/2017/10/04/living-standards-in-st-louis-and-the-eighth-federal-reserve-district-lets-get-real/.

Gascon, Charles S. "Buying Power of Minimum Wage Varies across and within States." Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis Regional Economist, October 2014, pp. 20-21; https://www.stlouisfed.org/publications/regional-economist/october-2014/buying-power-of-minimum-wage-varies-across-and-within-states.

Reinbold, Brian and Wen, Yi. "Income and Living Standards within the Eighth District." Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis Regional Economist, First Quarter 2018; https://www.stlouisfed.org/publications/regional-economist/first-quarter-2018/income-living-standards.


This webpage was designed by Suvy Qin as part of a 2018 internship project in the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Content is based on previous research, especially Coughlin, Gascon, and Kliesen (2017). Daniel Eubanks, Charles Gascon, and Andrew Spewak provided technical assistance and helpful suggestions.


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