As a society, we place a heavy importance on money. The famous phrase ‘money makes the world go round’ is often cited in movies and, sometimes, in real life. This mindset is regularly taken with us when we get our first real jobs, which are mostly offered at minimum wage and oft-times offered below it.
However, it is at that point when we get our first real jobs, after the jobs of our teenage years, that we begin to earn a real income and the excitement of actually being able to afford things really sets in. This can range from $12 to $24 per hour or even above that, with most people starting at around $16 per hour.
But the variation between jobs and states means that a lot of people scratch their head over their wage and many more ask the question: is this a good income?
Can I live on $16 per hour? Today, we are going to take a critical look at this pay per hour and answer those questions for you, determining whether this is a good wage to have or whether you should find another line of work.
How Much is $16 per Hour?
Although hourly amounts are useful to knowing how much your work is worth over the time you are there, they do make it somewhat difficult to judge how much you earn compared to everyone else in our society.
Therefore, it is necessary to calculate that number in years, months, weeks, and days in order to judge whether $16 per hour is a good income or not.
$16 per Hour per year
To make this calculation, we will use a common year from our Gregorian calendar, which has 365 days in total. We are going to assume that the job that someone is doing for $16 per hour is also a pretty standard 9 to 5 job that has the normal amount of holidays and every weekend off.
In the United States, there are 249 working days, 11 federal holidays, 104 weekend days, and 1 observed holiday which we will also include.
The average work week is about 40 hours long with an 8-hour work day, unless someone works part-time which can range, but we will use a 20-hour part-time work week and 4 hours per day as the mean for our calculation.
It is unlikely that someone is working 4 hours per day and is probably instead working a couple of 8-hour shifts over 2 or 3 days, but it is useful for the calculation.
- Full-time: 8 (hours per day) x 16 (pay per hour) x 249 (working days per year) = $31,872.
- Part-time: 4 (hours per day) x 16 (pay per hour) x 249 (working days per year) =$15,936.
These amounts are the gross annual salary you would receive if you were on $16 per hour, however these numbers can vary based on the number of working days there are in a year. If you wanted to calculate a leap year, which is 366 days, you would not just be counting the extra day.
The extra day can dramatically change the amount of working days and weekends there are in a year – in the leap year of 2020, there were 262 weekdays – so keep that in mind if you are trying to calculate a leap year.
$16 per hour per month
The amount of working days in one month can vary, so to make this calculation we will use 20 working days as the mean in a month, like before we will also not include weekends or holidays in our calculation and use a 40-hour work week for full time hours and a 20-hour work week for part-time hours.
- Full-time: 8 (hours per day) x 16 (pay per hour) x 20 (working days per month) = $2560
- Part-time: 4 (hours per day) x 16 (pay per hour) x 20 (working days per month) = $1280
Due to the number of working days in our year-long total, you will receive a different result when you add the monthly totals up. This is because we used an average of 20 working days, which is normally the most common number of days that people will work in a month.
$16 per hour per week
If we use the standard 9 to 5 working week without weekends that most people do, then the number of days people would work in a week is 5, unless there are extenuating circumstances or there is a national holiday.
This actually makes it easier for the calculation as we only need to use two numbers, those being the hours normally worked in the course of those 5 days and the pay per hour, along with splitting the calculation into full time and part-time hours.
- Full-time: 40 (hours per week) x 16 (pay per hour) = $640.
- Part-time: 20 (hours per week) x 16 (pay per hour) = $320
Weekly pay can be affected by holidays, overtime, sickness, and so on, so keep in mind that this calculation is a general average of what you will receive on $16 per hour per week.
$16 per hour per day
The last calculation is nice and easy, only using the hours in the day and the pay per hour to get the overall result. Although your hours in the day may vary, we are going to use a standard 8-hour day for the calculation of full-time work and a 4-hour day for part-time work.
- Full-time: 8 (hours per day) x 16 (pay per hour) = $128.
- Part-time: 4 (hours per day) x 16 (pay per hour) = $64.
Again, this result will be influenced by the things that happen in your day-to-day, normally things like overtime and being late, and as before keep in mind this is a calculation of the general average that you would receive.
How Far Removed is $16 per hour from Minimum Wage?
Minimum wage in the US is a complex affair, as in this country there are not only federal laws and directives to follow, but separate state laws that can also affect wage. As such, it is important to consider both, before discussing your wage in relation to the minimum wage. The absolute minimum wage that a job can have in the US is $7.25 per hour.
This is true for every state currently in the union, and there are few exceptions to this rule. The two notable exceptions would be commission work and tipped labor. With commission work, you receive your pay based on the commission sales you make, rather than from the employer.
With tipped labor, you can earn $2.13 per hour, as long as the hour wage plus the tip income you receive equals at the very least minimum wage. Commission based work would be jobs like door-to-door salesmen, and tipped labor would be jobs like a waitress.
No states can give a minimum wage below $7.25, however there are plenty who have a minimum wage that is higher. Out of the 50 states of the union, there are 29 who have a minimum wage above the lowest legal wage.
The two highest minimum wages are in Washington, D.C. and New York City, both of which have minimum wages that are at $15.00 per hour. If you look at the minimum wages of each state, there is often a pattern where the states with the more cities or – more accurately – metropolis’ have a higher minimum wage, due to the cost of living in a city regularly being higher.
That being said, asking how far from minimum wage is $16 per hour is a difficult question as it depends on where you live and your expenses. If you were living in a higher minimum wage area, then it may seem like you are still getting very little money for your work, yet if you were living in an area that got the absolute minimum then it would seem you were actually doing quite well for yourself.
The best solution is to look up the minimum wage for your area at a state level, that should give you a clear indicator of this job’s viability to your lifestyle’s expenses.
One last factor to consider for the minimum wage debate is local ordinances. In 2003, cities around the US started introducing local minimum wage ordinances that increased the minimum wage for very small specific areas.
For example, Washington state’s minimum wage is $13.69 an hour, but in 2014 Seattle pushed its minimum wage up to $15.00 an hour. With this in mind, keep an eye on your local area ordinance to make sure you are not being taken advantage of at your next job.
Living Wage in the USA
The living wage of any country is the minimum wage a worker needs to earn to meet their basic needs. This is different from a subsistence wage, as this only covers the biological minimum, such as food and water, and it is also different from the minimum wage, as this is just the legal minimum that someone can be paid.
The basic way that a living wage can be defined is a wage that can cover the cost of food, housing, other essentials, and still having a tiny amount left to prepare for unforeseen circumstances.
The reason it is important in this article is that we need to look at whether $16 per hour could be considered a living wage, even if it seems like a nice paycheck. Due to the United States position in world economics, it is considered to have a high-income average and thus the living wage needs to be higher as things cost more here.
However, things are rarely so simple and with a country as big as the United States, they are not either. If we take the most expensive areas like Hawaii, then the living wage would be over $30 per hour, yet if we take the cheapest like Arkansas, then it becomes more like $14 per hour.
As such, for the entirety of the United States we will take the average of all the states together, which comes to $16.54 per hour for a family that has two working adults and two children. I know that it seems low – especially when Hawaii is over $30 per hour – but most states are not that expensive to live in, meaning it rounds down more easily.
So, $16 per hour is on the cusp of being a living wage for the entirety of the country, but depending on where you live can actually provide you with the commodities that you need to survive or leave you in pressing financial straits. The best way to look at this is to examine where you live and compare your income to the living wage of your state or local ordinance, rather than the country as a whole.
Can I live off $16 per hour?
Now for the most important question, one that I’m sure people actually came to this article for: can I live off $16 per hour? Well, unfortunately, it depends on your circumstances, especially where you live.
Not to worry though as we are going to go through the things that $16 per hour can cover from weekly purchases to what $16 an hour can get you in different locations. This should give you a good idea about whether you are comfortable on $16 an hour or would prefer a little bit more.
Essential spending are the things that you need to spend money on to maintain a comfortable or, at least, safe lifestyle. Food and water are the most essential of these, for the obvious reason that we die without them.
So, there needs to be money for grocery shopping and water bills need to be paid. Housing is another essential item to live safely and comfortably. Some form of accommodation will keep you safe, warm, and secure, so it is a must.
Transportation to and from your job or other important places is needed as well, without some form of transport – especially in a country as big as the US – it makes life quite a bit more difficult. Lastly, bills, taxes, and insurance are essential.
Without paying these, you could have your power or internet cut off or land in some very hot legal water, which is not what you want.
In the US today, I believe these are the essential items that most people pay for every month without fail, there may be one or two that people live without – say transport, if you work from home or walk – but they tend to stay the same for every household.
Non-essential spending are things that you can live without but that you would prefer to have. Most of these things are hobby based and solely for our own entertainment, subscription services such as Netflix or Hulu would fall under this category or maybe gym memberships or musical equipment as well.
Yet, this can also include unnecessarily expensive food or drink items, like alcohol or chips, and even car payments for a vehicle beyond your means.
Finally, items already owned and used can also be counted as non-essential spending. Clothing can fall under this category, however in different circumstances clothing can also count as essential spending.
So, these are the two categories we keep that we can compare our $16 per hour against and whether it will cover both. The only problem left is location, which, as we mentioned earlier, changes how much our $16 will cover.
Therefore, we look at this from the perspective of three different locations: an expensive US city with one of the highest minimum wages, a cheaper US city with the federal minimum wage, and a middling US city with a minimum wage in between the two.
For this comparison, we will also be using the same metrics to compare, it’ll be one person earning $16 per hour and living in reasonable accommodation.
Expensive Area: Los Angeles, California
For the expensive area, we have picked Los Angeles, which sits at the third most expensive city in the US today. Considering its size, the state it’s in, and its reputation, it’s no wonder that Los Angeles is so expensive. So, how much does $16 per hour get you in Los Angeles? Well, if I’m being honest, not much.
Our monthly wage gross is $2560 before taxes. With the income tax in Los Angeles at 9.30%, you are losing about $435.2 from your income before it reaches you. This is not including other bills or insurances yet.
After the income taxes, you need to pay for a place to live, the problem is that the price of a 45 m2 furnished studio apartment in Los Angeles is normally between $1600 to $1800 per month, with only 1% of apartments being below $1000. As such, on an income of $16 per hour, you are already priced out of Los Angeles simply by the rent.
For the sake of argument, we will say that the rent ended up being $1200 with the utilities being $130, leaving you with $794.80 to play with, would you be able to get the rest of your essentials on that?
Well, one good thing about being in a city is that public transport is readily available and for essential trips to work you are probably looking at between $90 to $100 per month for traveling without a car, which gives us $704.80 at most for food.
Now, in the entirety of America the average food shop is $355.50 per month and Los Angeles doesn’t make the top 10 list of cities with the most expensive monthly grocery shops. However, I would take a guess that Los Angeles is maybe number 11 or 12 on this list, therefore we will put the average monthly grocery shop cost in Los Angeles at about $400 per month.
This means that at the end of the month, you would be left with $304.80. This number is not including other essential bills as well as health insurance, pension, or local and even federal taxes, which would probably make your total in the negative digits.
For a city like Los Angeles, we do not need to look at non-essential spending, as on $16 per hour it would be almost impossible to live there without some form of relief, like you live with your parents meaning less rent, or you commute into the city and live somewhere cheaper.
As such, in reference to places with higher living expenses, it would be extremely difficult to live off of $16 per hour.
Cheaper area: Atlanta, Georgia.
For the cheaper area, we picked Atlanta, Georgia, which is cheaper than 58% of cities in the United States today. The minimum wage of Georgia sits at the absolute federal minimum, and it is a state that is known for being cheaper than a lot of other places. In Georgia, $16 per hour can actually get you a sizable amount.
As before, the gross wage we start with is $2560 before taxes. Excluding federal and FICA taxes from our original calculations as we did before and taking only the state income tax which is 3% of your total monthly income.
This means that after state income tax you are left with $2483.20 before taking off the other taxes. However, we will leave that for now and continue forward with the housing costs. The price of a 45 m2 furnished studio apartment in Atlanta is between $1,100 and $1200, which is a step- down in price from the apartment in Los Angeles.
With the taxes being less burdensome as well, this lesser housing cost means that you still have $1283.20 to use for other expenses compared to the $794.80 in Los Angeles. If we add utilities at $77 per month, you still have $1206.20 left giving the sense that it is much easier to survive in Georgia than California.
In terms of transport, Atlanta and Los Angeles are actually fairly similar with public transport costing roughly $80 per month, instead of $90 to $100. The problem is that Atlanta is a smaller city than Los Angeles, so its public transport may not be up to scratch, but it should still suit the purposes of this hypothetical.
For grocery shopping, Atlanta is still a little more expensive than the national average with the monthly cost of a food shop being about $390, but thanks to the other low costs already mentioned you would still be left with $716.20 afterwards.
We are not going to calculate the federal income tax, FICA, or local taxes, but at the very, very most you are looking at $300 taken off of that $716.20 for these, meaning that for non-essential items or hobbies you have about $416.20 left to use. In essence, $16 per hour in a city like Atlanta is not a terrible income and could be considered above the living wage.
Middling city: Denver, Colorado
Lastly, we look at the final city, a city that is somewhat in the middle of expense in the United States, and that city is Denver. Denver is more expensive than 65% of cities in the US and its minimum wage is slightly higher than average at $12.32, so it will be interesting to see what you can get for $16 per hour in Denver.
Colorado is actually one of the few US states that has a flat tax rate that everyone pays no matter their income bracket. This rate is 4.63% of the total income earned, meaning that $2560 is reduced down to $2441.47 before other taxes, which is only slightly more than Georgia’s low flat rate.
For housing costs, Denver is almost identical to Atlanta with a 45 m2 furnished studio apartment costing between $1100 and $1200, which is still affordable on a $16 per hour income. Utilities are slightly more expensive at about $86 per month, but even with the housing cost and income tax you would still have about $1155.47, which is only about $60 less than when living in Atlanta.
Surprisingly, Denver’s public transport is more expensive than both Los Angeles and Atlanta, being between $110 and $120 per month, which in turn takes your money down to $1035.47, but the cost of groceries is actually lower than in a lot of other places, being on average $330 in Denver, $70 cheaper than Los Angeles.
Taking the monthly grocery shop off of the total leaves a very similar total to Georgia of $705.47, which is surprising considering that Denver is supposedly more expensive than 65% of US cities.
As before, we will use a maximum total of $300 to cover the other federal, FICA, local taxes that may be incurred – it is unlikely to be this amount, but it is useful to see how much you could pay – which leaves us with about $405.47 for non-essential hobbies and items that we choose to buy.
This amount is not unreasonable and may not be the best income, but certainly not the worst when used in places like Denver.
Different Cities, Different Income
From these comparisons, I think it’s obvious that $16 per hour can be a really good wage, depending on what city you live in. When you live in a cheaper or even a middling income area, $16 per hour is not the most amazing salary, but it is still a living wage and can not only give you breathing room but also provide you with additional entertainment that can make our life more comfortable.
In a high-income area, $16 per hour is not enough, not at all. When everything around you is so expensive, there is very little you can afford and even the essentials are out of your grasp, forcing some difficult life choices on people who are already facing difficult situations.
How Can I Make the Best of my Finances on $16 per Hour?
There will come a point in everyone’s life where they have to think about what they can do to stretch their finances and save as much as possible, except if you are extremely lucky.
Most people assume that it is too difficult to make changes or don’t want to give up certain things, yet it is not as difficult as people think and once something is gone you can get used to its absence if you need to. Either way, here is a list of things that you can do if you feel that $16 per hour is not enough for you to live on.
This may not seem like much, in fact I once told this to a friend, and they just thought I was making a joke. Nonetheless, penny saving is a great way to gather together cash you never thought you had. The principal is that any spare pennies, dollars, or cents that you have lying around, place in a jar or pot.
It’s essentially a piggy bank for grown-ups, and over time your piggy will get full and fat with your pennies. Then, once it is completely full, you can open it up and spend the cash on something nice for yourself. You can find the pennies anywhere as well: on the ground, behind the couch cushions, under the bed, spare change you don’t want, any of it works, still it needs to be small change, nothing big.
It may sound silly, but this way you can save up quite a bit of cash without breaking the bank for non-essential spending that may make you feel better in the future. My grandma used to do this and the amount would normally be about $20 to $30 every couple of months.
Cutting out non-essentials
Many people love the non-essential items that make up our day-to-day life, but we don’t necessarily need any of them. If you are struggling for cash, it may be necessary to stop spending money on these. Nevertheless, you should never cut everything out all at once, this can be heart-breaking and frequently people find themselves trapped and bored when this happens.
Instead, try cutting out everything but one non-essential that may be important to you. For example, if you love coffee, maybe cut out more expensive products and buy cheaper, except for coffee but cut back on the amount you drink. You still get to enjoy a cup of coffee, yet it is now less of a burden on your finances.
Many people have preferred stores that we buy at, places that we may have been shopping at for years, still it might be time to give those places a miss and find a cheaper shop elsewhere. The food may not be as good or the drinks might taste right, but the essential thing is that you think of food as sustenance, not as something to necessarily critic and improve upon.
Luckily, you are in America! There are cheap food stores everywhere and if you have a meticulous mind, you should try coupon shopping as well, you could gain a lot for surprisingly little money.
If you are not earning enough money, have some free time, but are struggling to find a better one at the moment, you should consider starting a side hustle. Thanks to the advent of the internet and the interconnectivity of the modern world, it is relatively easy to turn your free time into a tidy profit.
There are many great ways to earn a little extra cash, though a lot of them can take some time before the money starts rolling. Renting things out to people is always welcome, and frequently with cash compensation. If you have free storage space, a spare room, or a car in good condition, you should check out the apps Neighbor, Airbnb, and Turo respectively. These apps allow you to rent these things out for some quick cash.
If you are thinking longer term, maybe writing an ebook for Amazon or making a YouTube channel would be more your style. There are many ways to make cash on the internet, all you need to do is look for them. If this interests you greatly, then type in to google ‘best side hustles’ and you will get all the information that you need.
$16 per hour is an okay wage to be getting. Across the whole of the United States, it is not amazing, and it is not terrible. However, in specific areas it can be quite good, mostly cheaper areas, and in other areas it can be absolutely terrible, like expensive areas.
The problem with $16 per hour in the United States is that it does not allow for much non-essential spending, which can be useful for savings, treats, hobbies. As such, I would consider it a good starter wage for those beginning their careers, but not one for those who are looking to settle down or move to bigger cities.
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