Rents Vs. Minimum Wage

Sobering Facts from the National Low Income Housing Coalition

Rents Vs. Minimum Wage
November 5, 2015

Minimum-wage workers have always struggled to find affordable housing, but the housing predicament for low-wage workers has intensified in recent years. For families that need the space of a two-bedroom apartment, affordable housing simply does not exist. That's the disturbing finding of a new report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC).

Using the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) standard of affordable housing as paying no more than 30% of income toward housing costs, NLIHC developed a "Housing Wage" that shows what a family breadwinner's salary must be to be able to afford rental housing at HUD's estimated Fair Market Rent for the area. As a national average, the 2015 Housing Wage is $19.35 per hour for a two-bedroom unit and $15.50 for a one-bedroom unit. The $15 minimum wage goal being advocated — and in some places, imposed — still does not meet either threshold. Even average renter wages fail to meet the two-bedroom affordability criteria; minimum wages fall far short.

The picture looks equally grim at the state and local level. There are only a few counties in Washington and Oregon where the minimum wage is over the threshold Housing Wage even for a one-bedroom apartment. Everywhere else, minimum wages are below the threshold Housing Wage, and in many cases, the median renter's wage also falls below the affordability threshold.

As an example, the largest gap between the average renter wage ($14.49) and the two-bedroom Housing Wage ($31.61) is in Hawaii at $17.12 per hour. That gap itself is larger than twice the minimum wage of $7.75. A minimum-wage worker there would have to work a staggering 125 hours per week just to afford a one-bedroom unit.

Areas with lower Housing Wage thresholds have corresponding lower median wages. Consider Arkansas as an example. Arkansas has the lowest two-bedroom Housing Wage, and is therefore the most affordable, but it also has one of the lowest median wages at $53,187 per year. A minimum-wage employee in Arkansas would have to hold 1.7 full-time minimum-wage jobs to afford a two-bedroom apartment, and would have to work 54 hours at one minimum wage job to afford a one-bedroom unit.

The expansion of this problem has its roots in The Great Recession and the housing crisis. Rental markets tightened up as some homeowners lost their homes and others were forced to downsize. In addition, millennials were (and are) waiting longer to buy their first home, either by choice or by an inability to save sufficient down-payment money. This in turn takes up more valuable space in the rental market and forces some higher-income families into the more affordable rental units. The supply problem cascaded throughout the rental market, eventually raising rental costs and making housing unaffordable for the lowest-income families. By 2013, for every hundred renter households defined as having extremely low income, only 31 affordable units were available to accommodate them.

The report points out that this issue must be addressed from both ends of the spectrum in order to find a solution. To meet the demand and bring rents down to a more reasonable level, the minimum wage would need to be raised even more and a larger number of affordable housing units built, which is not likely in our current economic climate.

The full NLIHC report can show you how the situation in your area stacks up by state and county. It contains all of the relevant area-specific data on housing costs, median income, and renter statistics. The report tells a grim story for the nearly 21 million people in America earning minimum wage.


Photo ©iStock.com/Susan Chiang

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Erin | 11.05.15 @ 18:00
Sadly, minimum wage doesn't seem to be much of a living wage anymore.
Steffanie | 11.05.15 @ 18:01
Not a great report for those who earn minimum wage.
Carla Truett | 11.05.15 @ 18:02
Aperson can barely eat on minimum wage, much less pay rent.
Owen | 11.05.15 @ 18:02
Not a living wage at all.
Sarah | 11.05.15 @ 18:03
it's a sad state of life for many
Nancy | 11.05.15 @ 18:06
Sobering statistics to be sure. Sad.
Elaine | 11.05.15 @ 18:06
Sad, doesn't matter if the wages goes up bc the cost of living keeps going up.
Sara | 11.05.15 @ 18:06
I fear if minimum wage goes up more jobs are lost and prices go up. But that seems to be happening anyways.
Bobbie | 11.05.15 @ 18:08
Minimum wage was never meant to be living wage. It was supposed to be meant as starter jobs to learn how to develop work skills and ethics, then to move on to bigger and better things.
Kamie | 11.05.15 @ 18:13
This is something I was just talking about this morning. People can not survive on minimum wage, but the problem with minimum wage going up is then the cost of living will then go up again,. It is a vicious circle.
Amanda | 11.05.15 @ 18:14
Not at all surprised by this, in our area many people are struggling.
Irene | 11.05.15 @ 18:15
Rents in my area of RI are very high for some reason. Even people who make twice the minimum wage struggle here
Amanda | 11.05.15 @ 18:17
I agree with you Bobbie, but now days, companies are firing full time help to hire part time to keep from having to provide insurance, so many more people are having to make a living on minimum wage because of this. So people are having to work 2-3 jobs to support a family that 2 years ago was doing just fine, It's sad really, insurance for all but now people can't afford to live.
$commenter.renderDisplayableName() | 12.07.16 @ 18:38
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