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Source: Manhattan Institute
Published: February 2020

Cost-of-Thriving Index

Circulated: March 10, 2020

The median male* full-time U.S. worker earned $314 per week in 1979, while his counterpart at the median in 2018 earned $1,026. Who was better off?

The “Cost-of-Thriving Index” (COTI) tracks the cost of a basket of major items that a family of four would likely seek to buy. A comparison over time between the cost of that basket and a median weekly wage indicates whether economic trends are easing or compounding the challenge of making ends meet.

In 1985, it would require 30 weeks of the median weekly wage to afford the basket of goods below. By 2018, the COTI had increased to 53 weeks.

1985 2018 Change
Annual operation of a vehicle 3,484 8,849 154%
Annual rent for three-bedroom residence 5,560 15,924 186%
One semester in public college 1,841 10,025 445%
Annual family health-insurance premium 2,343 19,616 737%

* If interested in why the study chose to study male workers only, see Section III.

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