How Long Would You Have To Work To Buy A Burger In NYC?

The income of people in five major American cities has finally been measured in a currency we can all understand: hamburgers.

How long would you have to work a minimum wage job to buy a car? Rent an apartment in San Francisco? Pay for daycare? Retire at 65? The relative value of a city’s average wage is expressed in all sorts of metrics, most of which are weighted towards big purchases, big payments, and length.


These comparisons can often show shocking class divides, but does the picture look any different when you measure a city’s average wages against something much smaller than a house or a college education? How about something small, like a hamburger? NPR’s Planet Money decided to find out.

Using data from Food Genius about average burger prices for Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., Planet Money was able to figure out the average number of minutes a person would have to work per city to buy themselves a burger.

The income data come from the census and include only people with full-time, year-round jobs, which ultimately skews the data pretty aggressively Even so, there are some takeaways:

• Average income varies more than the average price of a burger. Even in expensive neighborhoods, burgers tend to be proportionately less expensive than things like rent when compared to a less pricy part of town.

• The average burger cost is determined largely by factors that don’t vary much from one neighborhood to another, like costs to pay workers and buy ingredients. However, real estate prices do influence the price of burgers.

• Some neighborhoods, like New York’s Lower East Side, have a lot of residents who report low incomes but are still surrounded by fancy restaurants that sell expensive burgers.

What’s the takeaway? Most employed people in all five cities have to work as long as 15 minutes, on average, to buy a burger. That might not seem like a lot, but considering the fact that this data is skewed towards the wealthy, I find it depressing. If even relatively wealthy people have to work for at least 15 minutes to buy a burger, what about the low-income families, for whom fast food burgers are one of the cheapest meals they can buy? How many hours do they need to work?