Are you middle class? Use this cost-of-living calculator and map to find out

By Christopher Zara

March 11, 2022

Are you middle class? Use this cost-of-living calculator and map to find out

It’s not just gas.

With inflation worse than it’s been in four decades, the price of just about everything is going up these days. That means even if you’re one of the lucky Americans who got a raise last year, your total income may not be going as far as it once did. 

Long before our recent inflation woes, many Americans who would consider themselves part of the middle class were already feeling pinched. In a Fast Company-Harris Poll from last August, roughly half of Americans said they did not think the definition of “middle class” was changing for the better, even as 60% of respondents described their households as fitting that definition. 

Given our current economic trajectory, you may find yourself wondering if your household is even in the middle class. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a nonprofit think tank that focuses on middle-income earners, has two tools that can help answer the question for you.

The first is a family budget calculator, which is pretty self-explanatory. You just enter your county and state and select the number of adults and children in your household. The tool then produces an itemized list of necessities—food, housing, healthcare, childcare, etc.—and shows you how much you would need to earn for a “modest yet adequate standard of living” in that area. It also helpfully calculates these costs by month or year, so you can compare them to your own monthly or annual income.

The second tool from EPI is a family budget map, which lets you see how your area stacks up against other areas in the country. Here again, you can plug in your county and state to see an itemized list of moderate expenses based on various household types. But the color-coded map visualization is especially useful, with more expensive areas notated in darker blue and less expensive areas noted in lighter blue.

Even better, you can see different versions of the map based on specific expenses, which shows a great deal of regional variation for each expense. For instance, the map shows that higher-than-average childcare costs are especially prevalent in the Northeast, while transportation costs seem worse on the West Coast. High housing costs, meanwhile, tend to be concentrated around large metro areas.

EPI’s calculator includes estimates for more than 3,000 U.S. counties and sources data from a number of federal agencies and nonprofit groups. You can check out the full methodology here.