Minimum wage workers in U.S. cannot afford rent

NLIHC "Out of Reach" map showing wage requirements to afford rent in U.S. states
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There is no county or city in the United States where someone working full-time for minimum wage can afford a modest two-bedroom apartment.

In its annual Out of Reach report, the National Low-Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) looks at rent and wage information for every state, county and major metropolitan area in the country. 

The 2021 picture remains bleak for low-income renters, with housing costs everywhere more expensive than working families can afford.

Out of Reach determines the “housing wage” for every county and metropolitan area in the United States. The housing wage is how much a worker needs to earn in order to afford a modest apartment. Out of Reach uses the HUD Fair Market Rent (FMR) for one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments as the cost for modest housing.

HUD updates FMRs each year for every county and metropolitan area in the country. The FMR for an area represents rents falling at 40% of the area’s median rent, so these are truly modest homes.

The federal government says that renters should not pay more than 30% of their income for rent and utilities. The housing wage is what it takes for someone working 40 hours per week to afford a Fair Market Rent that is 30% of their monthly income.

Nationally, a low-income full-time worker must earn $24.90 an hour to afford the HUD two-bedroom FMR. They need to earn $20.40 an hour to afford the one-bedroom FMR.

The average renter would have to work 97 hours per week at minimum wage to afford the national two-bedroom FMR. A minimum wage worker still has to work 72 hours per week to afford the lower one-bedroom FMR. 

Some states have bigger gaps between their minimum wage and what it costs to rent modest housing. In some ways, these are the least affordable places to live. Here are the states with the widest gap between their minimum wage and the two-bedroom housing wage:

StateGap Between Min. Wage & 2BR Hsg. Wage
New Jersey-$12.59
New Hampshire-$8.56

The metropolitan areas with the most expensive housing wage are almost all in California. A renter in San Francisco needs to earn $68.33 an hour to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment.

Many states in different regions also have high housing costs in their nonmetropolitan or rural areas. These include Hawaii ($30.41 an hour), Massachusetts ($27.34 an hour), Colorado ($20.65 an hour), Vermont ($18.73 an hour), Oregon ($18.41), and Maryland ($18.23 an hour).

Many renters work in occupations that pay well below the national housing wage. The median wage for food and beverage workers is $11.87 an hour, well below the $24.90 two-bedroom housing wage. Even higher paid positions, like motor vehicle operators ($20.60 an hour) or secretaries ($20.22 an hour) do not earn enough to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment.

The full report includes tables with information for every country and major metro area in the nation. NLIHC also has an interactive national map and metro area search tool to find out how out of reach housing is in your area.

Until more affordable housing is created and the minimum wage is increased, millions of low-income renters will continue to find affordable housing out of reach.

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