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A Visualization of How Much It Costs to Live in California

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Living in California may cost you more than you anticipated. Currently, the minimum wage in California is $8, but research shows a California resident needs to make $11/hour to pay for basic living expenses. Explore these interactive infographs created by KQED’s The Lowdown, with the help of Amy K. Glasmeier, an urban planning professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, that show estimated monthly costs of basic expenses and the annual income needed to afford these expenses in different households.


How Much Does it Really Cost to Live in California?How Much Does it Really Cost to Live in California? Includes interactive infographic California’s statewide minimum wage is $8/hour. But in order to pay for basic living expenses, a single California resident with no children actually needs to make more like $11.20/hour. This is an estimate of what’s called a living wage.

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Suggested Activity:

Learning Outcomes


Students will be able to

● calculate weekly and monthly pay given hourly pay

● determine whether monthly pay is sufficient to cover living expenses

● define minimum wage and living wage


Common Core State Standards: 5.MD.A.1, 6.RP.A.3b, 7.RP.A.2c, 7.RP.A.3


Vocabulary: Minimum wage, living wage


Materials: For the class: one computer with Internet access and a large monitor; per two to four students: computer

Preparation: Find out the minimum hourly wage in your state and the hourly rate for local low-wage jobs. Estimate minimum monthly costs of food, health insurance, housing, and transportation for a single adult. Optional: For student research, you may gather relevant resources showing costs.



1. Introduction (5 minutes, whole group)

Ask students about their experiences with hourly pay. Ask, Who works for pay or has an older sibling who does? What do you/they do? What does a babysitter (or other jobs mentioned) earn per hour?

As needed, supply information on typical low-wage hourly jobs.

Ask students to calculate weekly (40 hours) and monthly (4 weeks) pay for a couple of the suggested hourly amounts. For ease of mental calculation, students may round hourly wage to the nearest whole dollar.

Explain the concept of minimum wage and tell students what the minimum wage is in your state. Ask students to calculate weekly and monthly pay based on minimum wage.


2. Could I Live on That? (10–15 minutes, pairs)

Lead the group in brainstorming categories of living expenses. Tell students that they are babysitters earning $10 per hour, $400 per week, and $1600 per month. Ask, If you live alone, what would you have to use the money for?

If students do not suggest housing, food, medical care, and transportation, raise these yourself. Let students know the typical costs for these or distribute the information you gathered so that they can find out themselves.

Next, pose this challenge to students: If you are making minimum wage, will you earn enough to cover your monthly expenses? In other words, is minimum wage a living wage? If it’s not enough, how much more would you need each month?

As students work, circulate to check that they are choosing appropriate calculations and to encourage them to organize their work so someone else could follow their steps.

Wrap up by asking students to share their conclusions and reasoning.


3. Conclusion: Comparing with California (5 minutes, whole group)

Engage students in a discussion comparing minimum wage vs. living wage in California in 2013. Students should view the infographic as a class or in groups of two to four per computer. Prompt discussion with the following questions:

● How is this information similar to/different from what we found out about our area?

● What do you think “average” costs mean for California? Could there be some places in California that are more or less expensive?

● (For those students who live in California) How do you think our area compares to the rest of the state?


Activity Extension: Have students use the “living wage calculator” component of the infographic to compare their findings with costs that economists have determined for their local area and state.


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