Rising rents and stubborn stagnant wages do not a winning combination make — especially for American families feeling squeezed by the cost of keeping a roof over their heads.
In its annual “Out of Reach” report, the National Low-Income Housing Coalition has broken down exactly how many hours a household would need to work and how much they would need to earn per hour to afford a basic rental today.
A worker would need to earn $19.35 per hour — nearly three times the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 — to be able to afford a basic two-bedroom unit. A one-bedroom unit is only slightly less costly, requiring a wage of at least $15.50 an hour. The average renter nationwide makes $15.16 an hour, which might explain why so many adults are leaning on roommates these days. (The report, which uses Fair Market Rent figures determined by Department of Housing and Urban Development, sets one-bedroom units at $806 and two-bedrooms at $1,006.)
Not surprisingly, some states have it worse than others. Hawaii, Washington, D.C., California, New York and New Jersey have the highest rents, each requiring workers to earn more than $25 per hour and, in Hawaii’s case, nearly $32 per hour.
We are ready to officially retire the old personal finance adage about spending less than 30% of your income on housing.
In terms of hours on the job, it's next to impossible to afford a one-bedroom rental on one minimum wage income without spending more than 30% on rent. For the majority of the country, workers need to clock between 61 and 79 hours a week to stay within that threshold.
Nearly half of U.S. renter households are spending more than 30% of their income on housing, per the report. One in four renter households spend more than half their income on housing. The Coalition's findings are based on a combination of research from the U.S. Census, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, among other federal agencies.
Explaining why housing costs are so high is the easy part — too much demand, too little supply. The rental housing vacancy rate was 7% in the first quarter of 2015, continuing a steady decline since the financial crisis sent many families fleeing the busted housing market in search of rentals.
Since the “official” end of the Great Recession in 2009, rents have risen by 15.2%. Meanwhile, household wages have fallen 5% since 1979.
The story is bleaker for lower-income families, whose housing options are limited by middle-income families who elbow their way into an already tight rental market.
For every 100 poor renter households (those earning less than 30% of the average middle income salary of $67,857), there are only 31 available units they could afford, according to the report.
In the forward to the report, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown calls the data sobering.
“Those who put more than half their income towards rent are forced to choose which bills they can pay, which necessities, food or healthcare, they will forgo to avoid getting evicted or becoming homeless,” she says. “More must be done to ensure families have the option to live in decent, affordable homes located near their jobs.”
After a year marked by minimum wage rallies and cries for states and the federal government alike to increase the minimum wage, some progress has been made. In January, 20 states raised their minimum wage. However, in the 29 states and D.C., where the minimum wage is higher than the federal level, none is higher than $9.50 an hour. President Obama also called on Congress to boost the federal wage level to $10.10, although nothing has been done yet.
To see how much it costs to live in your area, check out the Coalition's housing calculator here.
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