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A family needs to make $105,539 a year to live 'modestly' in the D.C. region

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Yu, Elly
Publication Date: 
2 May 2019


In order for a family of four in the D.C. metro to have a “modest yet adequate” standard of living, they need to make at least $105,539. And this cost is being driven largely in part by the rising price of childcare and housing, experts say.

The Economic Policy Institute’s “Family Budget Calculator” measures the income a family needs to cover basic living expenses, including housing, food, child care and transportation. The budget is based on figures from 2017.

Of the top 100 metro areas in the country, D.C. had the 10th-highest costs in the country for a two-parent, two-childhood household. The San Francisco metro area ranked 1st with an average cost of $148,440. The median family income for the D.C. region was $ 113,810, in 2017, according to American Community Survey.

The data illustrate what a family needs in order to get by, says Elise Gould, senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute.

“It’s really a paycheck to paycheck phenomenon,” Gould says. “It’s not a middle class lifestyle in the sense that what’s not in the budget are the really important things that we think of as components of a middle-class lifestyle. Let’s say, saving more for retirement, saving for your kids’ college.”

The budget doesn’t include expenses like student loan debt or saving up for rainy day funds.

Gould says the cost of childcare, which has been rising much faster than inflation in recent years, is one of the drivers of rising living costs. According to the calculator, childcare for a family with two children (one four-year-old, and one older school-aged child) costs on average $1,762 a month.

From 2009 to this year, childcare costs rose 50 percent faster than the Consumer Price Index overall, according to analysis from the Economic Policy Institute.

“It’s one of the reasons why families are feeling so strapped,” Gould says. “And you want to get a handle on that, and you need to get a handle on it in a way that doesn’t disadvantage those childcare workers either.”

The costs do also vary throughout the region. In the District, the average income a family of four needs to make is higher than the metro region at $123,975. In Prince George’s County, the figure is $90,824 and in Arlington County, the figure is $113,915.

Entered Date: 
8 May 2019
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