The absurd reality of living on the minimum wage in Loudoun County

By Keya Vakil
May 3, 2019

This is part three in our series examining the minimum wage in Virginia. Check out parts one and two, as well this story documenting an everyday Virginian’s struggle to survive on the minimum wage.

While it might not be a national household name, Loudoun County is one of the wealthiest areas of the United States. The county has had the highest median household income in the country for the past 11 years.

But it also has one of the greatest disparities in the nation when it comes to the minimum wage ($7.25 per hour) versus what a living wage would be ($17.44 per hour) for a single adult without children.

According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Living Wage Calculator, a living wage for a single adult without children in Loudoun County comes out to $36,275. The numbers are worse for a family with children. In 2015, the Huffington Post ranked Loudoun County as having the seventh widest gap between its living wage and minimum wage for a two-spouse, two-child family. Notably, it tied for seventh with three other Virginia counties: Spotsylvania, Fairfax and Prince William.

With this in mind, we decided to estimate if it’s even possible for a full-time worker to survive on the minimum wage in Loudoun County.

Could you survive?

A full-time minimum wage worker in Loudoun County would earn $15,080 per year, before taxes. After taxes, that number would likely fall somewhere between $13,000 to $13,500. But let’s be generous and stick to the $15,080 figure.

Let’s also assume that person has no children, no student loan debt, no credit card debt, no car payments, and no major healthcare conditions that require expensive out-of-pocket costs.

So really, the only thing this unicorn of a person is paying for is rent, utilities, food costs, transportation and medical care.

Would that $15,080 be enough?


The average Virginia resident earning the minimum wage would have to work 92 hours per week to afford a one bedroom apartment, so let’s assume that our minimum wage worker shares a two bedroom apartment with a roommate.

According to, the average two bedroom apartment in Loudoun county costs $1665 per month. Split evenly, that $1665 per month comes out to $832.50 per month for each renter.

Spending $832.50 per month on rent totals $9,990 per year on housing, which eats up nearly ⅔ of the $15,080 our minimum wage worker would earn.

How much would everything else cost?

Everything else

The rule of thumb for apartments is that you should allot $200 per month for utilities. Assuming an even split between roommates, that’s $100 per month, which comes out to $1200 per year.

The average person spends about $220 per month on groceries. Let’s ignore the fact that groceries in Loudoun County are pricier than the nation on average and stick with that $220 figure.

That’s $2,640 per year.

Right now we’re at $9,990 + $1200 + 2640, which equals $13,830.

Next up: Transportation.

Let’s pretend our unicorn Loudoun County resident doesn’t own a car and is lucky enough to have a job that he or she can get to by bus. At $1 each way, assuming a round-trip fare each day of the year (to/from work on work days and to/from errands on non-work days), that’s $730 per year, taking our total spend to $14,560.

That leaves us $520 per year for healthcare costs.

Medical costs are among the toughest to estimate, given the enormous disparity in costs and medical situations from person to person, but the average American spends roughly $10,000 per year on healthcare costs.

Even MIT’s Living Wage Calculator, which features a far more conservative estimate, determined that a single adult in Loudoun County would spend $2,472 on medical care per year as part of their employer-sponsored plan.

So unless our full-time minimum wage worker foregoes virtually all forms of medical care and is one of the healthiest human beings alive, he or she is not going to get by on the minimum wage.

And remember, this was all assuming that our full-time minimum wage worker paid $0 in taxes, has no debt, no children, no car payments, no car insurance or gas payments, no major healthcare conditions, never eats out, never goes to a bar, never goes to a movie theater, never buys clothing or jewelry or make-up or furniture, somehow gets free toiletries and other accessories and suffers no emergencies, ever.

It’s not enough

Simply put, the minimum wage is not enough for a Loudoun County resident to survive.

In fact, to reach the living wage as calculated by MIT, a minimum wage employee in Loudoun County would have to work more than 96 hours per week.

Despite this clear disparity between the minimum wage and the actual cost of what it takes to live in Loudoun County, the county’s Republican state Senators Richard H. Black (R-13) and Jill Vogel (R-27) voted against a minimum wage increase this year.

Democrats and activists across the state are pushing for Virginia to increase its minimum wage to $15 per hour, which is more than double the current minimum wage. But even that might not be enough in a place as expensive as Loudoun County.

Still, it would certainly be a start, and a huge one at that. It might even allow a minimum wage worker to see a movie or be able to afford a car one day.

  • Keya Vakil

    Keya Vakil is the deputy political editor at COURIER. He previously worked as a researcher in the film industry and dabbled in the political world.

CATEGORIES: Uncategorized


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