The Cost of Living in Iowa
When Iowa Wages Fall Short, How Do Policy Choices Fill the Gap?

By Peter Fisher



What does it take to get by these days? This latest 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. In 2016 we presented the report in three installments, as we did in 2014.

We published the first installment of our 2016 report in April, focusing on what Iowans must earn — in any county, for several family types — for a family-supporting, basic-needs household budget. We followed in July with analysis that examines how many Iowa families earn enough to actually meet a basic-needs budget (about 1 in 5). In November we released further analysis to show how work-support programs are necessary for many families to make those ends meet.

For Many Iowa Families, It Takes More than the Median Wage Just to Get By

COL Figure 2


Iowans pay differing amounts for the basic living essentials depending on where they live. A family living in Linn County and a family living in Clay County will face different housing costs, commuting times and health insurance premiums; child care costs will differ as well. Part 1 of this report details how much families throughout the state must earn in order to meet their basic needs and underscores the importance of public work support programs for many Iowans, who despite their work efforts, are not able to pay for the most basic living expenses.

Below, see how costs compare for families in your county and neighboring counties; click on any county for the data.

map Union Shelby Woodbury Ringgold Van Buren Wapello Scott Sioux Sac Tama Webster Warren Washington Wayne Wright Worth Winnebago Winneshiek Muscatine Mahaska Poweshiek Jasper Marion Monroe Lucas Page Montgomery Pottawattamie Mills Monona Marshall Story Humboldt Pocahontas Palo Alto O'Brien Plymouth Mitchell Hamilton Hardin Grundy Guthrie Franklin Madison Keokuk Louisa Iowa Lee Henry Fremont Ida Jones Linn Howard Kossuth Hancock Johnson Jackson Harrison Greene Jefferson Decatur Davis Emmet Floyd Delaware Dubuque Fayette Dallas Dickinson Des Moines Butler Buena Vista Boone Bremer Clayton Chickasaw Cerro Gordo Cass Crawford Calhoun Clay Cherokee Clarke Carroll Buchanan Black Hawk Benton Clinton Cedar Audubon appanoose Adair Adams Osceola Allamakee Lyon Taylor Polk

Part 1: Basic Family Budgets
Part 1 of this report details how much working families must earn in order to meet their basic needs and underscores the importance of public work support programs for many Iowans, who despite their work efforts, are not able to pay for the most basic living expenses.
View full report or printable 21-page PDF April 5, 2016
News release or printable 2-page PDF
County and regional data (map, printable tables)
Appendix (methodology)

Part 2: Many Iowa Families Struggle to Meet Basic Needs
Nearly 114,000 working households in Iowa — 19 percent — do not earn enough to meet a basic needs family budget.
Full report 7/6/16
Full report printable PDF (6 pages)
News release (or 2 page PDF)

Part 3: Strengthening Pathways to the Middle Class: The Role of Work Supports
Iowa can design child care assistance and other policies to “make work pay” for low-income working families.
Full report 11/15/16
Full report printable PDF (20 pages)
Cliff effects backgrounder PDF (2 pages)
News release (or 2 page PDF)