Common Good Iowa

Cost of Living in Iowa 2022

What does it take to get by these days? This eighth edition of The Cost of Living in Iowa answers this question, and connects the answer to public policy choices that are in the hands of state and federal lawmakers. 

Basic family budgets

This report focuses on what Iowans must earn — a living wage, in any county, for 10 family types — to meet a family-supporting, basic-needs household budget. The hourly wage estimate is one that would provide after-tax income sufficient to meet basic needs for a full-time worker.

Both the basic-needs budgets and the self-sufficiency wage information are available for families in all 99 counties from the map below. To view it, hover the cursor above a county for the wage needed for each parent in a two-worker family with two children, and click on the county for the full table showing the basic-needs budget and necessary wages in various family types.

The report then turns to the analysis of how many Iowa working households earn enough to actually meet a basic-needs budget (about 1 in 7 overall do not). This varies by family type — an even greater share of single-parent working families fall short of basic needs on their earnings — with pronounced racial disparities as well.

A recurring theme emerges: The federal poverty guidelines fall woefully short in measuring poverty, if the goal is to show what income is presumed to be enough to help a family get by. Depending on the family type, the basic-needs, self-sufficiency household budget needs to be two to three times higher than what the poverty guidelines claim.

What policies should lawmakers enact to help Iowa working households meet and exceed a basic-needs budget?   

Iowa families are working hard, but wages have not kept up with costs and productivity. There are strategies to turn the tide. We can enact policies to:

  • Boost workers’ earnings, including increasing the minimum wage, investing more in caring economy wages, expanding ending wage theft and worker misclassification, and protecting collective bargaining. 

  • Build a robust safety-net to help families bridge the gap between wages and a basic budget by expanding tax credits, limiting families’ child care expenses, and bolstering health care, food and housing assistance. 

  • Invest in education — from Pre-K through college — because the clearest path to higher lifelong earnings is more and higher-quality education. 

  • Analyze policy impacts by race and ethnicity and implement data-informed policies and practices that give all Iowa workers the opportunity to earn a wage that allows them to thrive. 

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