The Cost of Living in Iowa — 2014 Edition
When the Median Wage Just Isn't Enough to Make Ends Meet


View full report as 22-page PDF
This news release

IOWA CITY, Iowa (Feb. 26, 2014) — Even at the state's median wage, many families in Iowa cannot make ends meet. The latest “Cost of Living in Iowa” report from the nonpartisan Iowa Policy Project (IPP) illustrates costs of a basic-needs, no-frills family budget. The report found substantial increases in costs over the last few years in housing, food, transportation and child care.

“We often hear about low-income families in the context of the official poverty level, but you would need to make nearly three times that level in some cases just to make ends meet,” said Peter Fisher, research director of IPP and lead author of the report.

“That is why public work supports, such as child care, food and energy assistance, as well as the Earned Income Tax Credit and health care subsidies, are so important to low-income families,” said co-author Lily French, senior policy consultant for IPP.

At the state's median wage — $15.33 in 2012 — many family types on average would need to make substantially more in a full-time job:
— $25.04 per hour for one worker in a two-parent family with two children;
— $20.11 per hour for one worker in a two-parent family with one child;
— $28.11 per hour for a single parent with two children; and
— $20.87 per hour for a single parent with one child.

Fig 2 graph: basic needs vs. median

“These figures put some real context into the political debate we hear about whether to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 per hour,” Fisher said. “Even at $10.10 per hour, families will need significant supports to stay afloat.”

The report is the opening installment of the fourth edition of “The Cost of Living in Iowa.” It is available on the IPP website,

The report includes complete information on basic-needs family budgets for all family types and geographic areas in the state, with tables providing county-by-county information. “Cost differences from county to county can be dramatic,” French noted. “Monthly child care expenses for two children ranged from $562 to $998. Average costs of health care ranged from $575 to $739 per month, and rent varied from $721 to $1,254.

“In the highest cost county, a total basic needs budget for a family with two children was $9,000 higher than the lowest-cost county,” she added.

Subsequent installments of the 2014 report will focus more closely on work supports and how they affect basic family budgets in various regions of Iowa. A preliminary version of this part of the analysis, illustrating "cliff effects" in the Child Care Assistance program, was released in December and is available on the IPP website here:

The Iowa Policy Project is a nonpartisan, nonprofit public policy research organization based in Iowa City. Reports are at

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