Perhaps you’ve just gotten a job offer and you’re wondering if it’s enough. Or maybe you simply want to see if you’re on the right track financially.
Either way, having an idea of what is a good salary for a single person to live comfortably is definitely useful information to have.
Paycheck-to-paycheck living is, unfortunately, very common in the US. More than 51 million Americans filed for unemployment within 17 weeks in 2020 at the onset of the pandemic. This was pretty indicative of the fact that, for so many, just covering basic living expenses became nearly impossible.
So what is a decent, livable wage for a single person? And are you getting it? Let’s see!
What is a good salary for a single person?
While what is a good salary for a single person will depend largely on where you live, the US Census Bureau reports that the median household income is $70,784. Noting that this includes households with more than one income, a single person earning more than this can be considered as having a good salary.
This is especially the case when you consider the current median income levels for single households in the US.
For “family households”, which the US Census Bureau defines as having two or more individuals who are related by birth, marriage, or adoption, although they also may include other unrelated people, the median income is $91,162. A further breakdown of this figure consists of the following though:
- Married couple: $106,921
- Female householder with no spouse present: $51,168
- Male householder with no spouse present: $70,525
“Nonfamily households” consist of people who live alone or who share their residence with unrelated individuals. The median income of these is $41,797, with the following gender split:
- Female householder: $35,737
- Male householder: $49,466
An argument can definitely be made that a single person earning over the median income for their circumstances is on a good salary, especially for women when you take into consideration the stark difference between male and female median income levels.
But as an overall benchmark (and noting that we’re looking for good here, not just above average), the median household income of $70,784 is certainly something to strive for as a good salary for a single person.
What’s a good salary for a single person in my state?
What’s a good salary for a single person in one state is definitely going to be different in another state. For example, the US Census Bureau reports that the median income in Alabama is $56,929 whereas in California it’s $81,575.
This means that if you live in Alabama and earn the national median household income of $70,784, you’re going to be doing really well and will more than meet the criteria of it being a good income for a single person.
On the other hand, earning that same amount won’t hit the target for what is a good salary for a single person in California, as you’re going to struggle.
This suggests that the easiest way to figure out if you’re on a good annual salary for a single person is to check the median income of your state – as listed below. If your earnings are higher than the median income where you are, then you’re probably on a decent income for a single person in your part of the country.
Median income by state
|State||Median income (US$)|
|District of Columbia||$90,640|
What is a living wage for a single person?
The living wage for a single person with no children will vary depending on where you live. For example, in Arkansas, it’s $15.25 per hour which equates to $31,720 per year. In New York, however, the living wage for a single person is $21.46 an hour or $44,636.80.
You can see the full breakdown by state below:
|State||Living wage for a single person (US$)|
|District of Columbia||$22.15|
It’s also worth mentioning that there are dozens of different definitions for what a living wage is (sometimes called a “livable wage”).
In general, a living wage refers to the amount of money needed to maintain adequate housing, utilities, food, healthcare, and other necessities. That is, a living wage is not the same as the minimum wage in each state, which is commonly much less (and, often, impossible to live off on its own).
(It also means that the question of what is a livable wage in the US for one person is going to vary widely depending on where you live.)
Instead, the minimum wage is the lowest amount that a worker can be paid in a legal sense. The minimum living wage is typically considerably higher than the minimum wage – as you can see from the examples above. For example, the minimum wage in Arkansas is $11 and, in New York, it’s between $14.20 and $15.00 depending on where in the state you are.
Related: Is $15 a Living Wage?
What’s the average salary for a single person?
According to the US Census Bureau, the average annual salary in the US is $102,316, equating to $1,967.62 per week. In comparison, the median annual salary in the US is $70,784 or $1,361.23 per week.
You can see the full breakdown by household status, gender, race and more on the US Census Bureau site.
But so does this means that you can expect an average of four figures in money per week? That may sound a bit off for you, especially if you find yourself only taking home three figures a week at the moment. So should you go and demand a raise right now?
Well, not necessarily. But if that six-figure average salary doesn’t sound right to you based on your own earnings or what you roughly know friends and family to earn, let me explain why it may seem unreasonable.
The issue is in the use of “average” vs “median”. To get the average, you simply add up all the values in a list and divide the total amount by the number of entries.
However, a median is a value in the middle position of a list, meaning half the entries are above it, and the other half are below it.
This means that a few people earning high salaries can push the average up, with the result being that it makes it look like everyone is earning more – even if, in reality, only some people are. The same also applies when you have a few very low income earners who may push the average down.
Here, the situation in the US is that some people are on astronomically large salaries, which push the average annual salary way up.
This is why it’s generally better to look at median earnings rather than average earnings to get an idea of the true situation, as the median amount isn’t affected by any outliers.
What’s the average retirement income for a single person?
The US Census Bureau reports that the average annual income for retirees (adults aged 65 and over) is $75,254. However, the median annual income of those in the same age bracket is $47,620.
Comparatively, the median income for retirees in 2019 was $47,357, showing that there hasn’t been any meaningful increase in the last few years. That’s perhaps not surprising, given the economic situation in 2020 and 2021, but it is concerning when this clearly doesn’t keep up with inflation.
It also shows just how you might want to consider different data points when determining if you’re in a good financial position or not.
So how much money does a single person need to live comfortably?
The American Dream is based on the concept that all Americans should be able to work hard, live comfortably, and be rewarded with a sustainable retirement in their elderly years.
In the face of various financial landscape changes over decades, it’s fair to say that questions have been asked as to whether the United States remains as the Land of Opportunity it has always been thought to be – especially when you look at some of the data points on this issue.
Many sources show, for example, that earnings increases among top executives continue to far outpace earnings increases of workers. Between 1978 and 2017, CEO compensation increased more than one-thousand percent compared to an 11% increase for employees.
For many of us, it’s sort of difficult to live that “American Dream” with such disparate income levels!
So, what’s a good salary for a single person to live comfortably in the US today? It depends on your lifestyle, money-related goals, and long-term life and personal financial plans. Consider your unique needs for:
- Health and fitness
- Vehicle payment
- Charitable gifting
- Emergency funds
- Credit card payments
- Student loan repayment
- 401K or other investments
- Vacation and travel expenses
- Rent or mortgage payments
- Health, auto and life insurance
- Electricity, natural gas or other utilities
- (One of the most important) Where you live
What does living comfortably mean to you? Do you plan on starting a family in the future? There are numerous variables to consider.
For that reason, you’ll need to clearly define your current needs and future goals to determine the best salary for you.
What is a good salary increase per year?
A good annual salary increase is relative to the worker receiving it. However, most companies tend to offer a raise of between 3% to 5% to qualified employees each year and so 5% and up can be considered a good salary increase per year.
However, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual inflation rate last year was 6.5%.
So, if inflation is hovering near the 7% mark and your annual salary increase is, say, 4%, then you’re losing money and living leaner when everything is factored in.
With that in mind, keeping a close eye on your financial situation is always a good idea – and that includes your salary levels. It’s worth noting that it’s been found that the average salary increase when changing jobs is 14.8%, almost three times as high as the upper average salary increase when you stay at your job.
As such, if you’re starting to get the idea that maybe you’re not actually on a good salary – or even if you think that you could do better elsewhere – considering a job change can be a great idea for your finances.
Final thoughts on what’s a good salary for a single person to live comfortably
As you can see, there’s no one set figure that will tell you whether or not you’re on a comfortable salary for a single person. Instead, you need to consider all of the variables at play here.
Undoubtedly, one of the biggest factors in determining what is a decent income for a single person is where you live given how much cost of living can fluctuate from place to place.
A good annual salary for one person in a certain state or even in a particular city could see you struggle financially somewhere else, meaning the question of what’s a livable wage in the US for one person isn’t really the right one to ask. Instead, it’s important to take into consideration where exactly you live when looking into your own personal circumstances.
In general, I’d suggest looking at the median household income where you are and in line with your circumstances to see if you’re on a good salary or not. As a household is often considered as consisting of more than one person, if your salary is higher than that on your own, you’re doing pretty well.
One thing we didn’t touch upon above as well is where in your life you are. If you’re just starting out in your career, it’s completely normal to expect to have a lower salary. However, if you have several years of experience, it’s natural to expect to receive more money. On that basis, whether you have a good salary for a single person also depends a lot on age and career progression.
It’s always annoying when the advice is “it depends” – but that’s really the case here, unfortunately!