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Current costs of living—yow

Headshot of Richard Smoley


Life in America these days is expensive—a fact that I expect will come as news to exactly 0 percent of readers.

How expensive? You may want to look at the Living Wage Calculator, created by Dr. Amy Glasmeier of MIT.

Let me take myself as an example. I live in DuPage County, IL, the location of Blue Book headquarters. I’m married with two children and one person working, so a living wage amounts to $33.61 per hour. If I were single with two children, it would be a lot worse: $43.37. Why? Because that would include $22,875 in childcare costs.

The Illinois minimum wage is currently $10 an hour.

Let’s look at one agricultural area: Monterey County, CA, “the nation’s salad bowl.” Here a married individual with two children and one person working would have to earn $41.94 an hour to have a living wage. A single person with two children would need $49.98.

The wage assumes 2,080 hours worked, meaning 40 hours for 52 weeks (no vacation or other time off).

A living wage in Monterey County, then, would be nearly $104,000 a year if you are single with two children.

Not long ago, someone might boast of a six-figure income, but if you live in Salinas, CA, that’s no more than a living wage.

What are people earning? The latest farm labor statistics that I could find date back to April 2021.

From them, I learn that the average gross wage rate for the Pacific region is $18.15 (up from $17 the previous April). The average wage for the continuous 48 states was $15.95, up from $15.06 from the previous year.

That’s for all workers. Let’s look at the top of the heap: the category “farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers.” Nationwide, their average wage is $25.50. This is up from $24.60 for the previous April, but it’s not exactly princely.

In fact, it’s not that much higher than Amazon’s wage of $22.50 for workers in packaging and transport, which, as The Economist observed in its October 16 issue, makes “left-wing activists’ demand for a federal minimum wage of $15 seem quaint.”

As of September, consumer prices rose by 5.4 percent over the previous year, The Economist notes.

Concerns about a possible wage-price spiral hardly seem fanciful.

The causes of this shift goes far beyond the coronavirus and extend back to the stagnant real wages that prevailed for decades before the pandemic.

Such disparities between incomes and costs of living are likely to lead to unrest in the labor sector and in society at large. Employers cannot forestall these shifts, but it would be wise to prepare for them.


Richard Smoley, contributing editor for Blue Book Services, Inc., has more than 40 years of experience in magazine writing and editing, and is the former managing editor of California Farmer magazine. A graduate of Harvard and Oxford universities, he has published 12 books.