In 2015, the demand for rental apartments reached its highest level ever since the 1960s. The pinched access to mortgage credit after the Great Recession is one reason why. Another is that many Americans—especially the poor and people of color—haven’t felt the effects of the economic recovery, and may not be able to rustle up the funds for a down payment. A third reason is that Millennials, now the largest generation ever since the baby boomers, are especially loath to buy homes. The supply of rentals, especially at the lower end of the market, has been no match for the skyrocketing demand.
That means it’s getting harder and harder for average Americans to afford a modest rental in the U.S., a new report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition finds. “The lowest-income renters without housing assistance have always struggled to afford housing, but in recent years they have become even more squeezed as more households enter the rental market,” Andrew Aurand, the vice president of research at NLIHC, tells CityLab.
In 2016, a worker would need to make $20.30 per hour to rent a two-bedroom accommodation comfortably—without devoting more than 30 percent of income on housing costs. Last year, NLIHC pegged this “housing wage” at $19.35 an hour. (And we’re not talking about luxury apartments here. The report tallies this average hourly wage against the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Fair Market Rent, an annual estimate of what a family might pay to live in a simple apartment.)
To really understand the weight of 2016’s housing wage, consider this: The average hourly wage for Americans is actually $15.42 per the report, which is not nearly enough to afford a two-bedroom. And the federal minimum wage, at $7.25, is around a third of what’s required. That means minimum-wage workers would have to work three jobs, or 112 hours a week, to be able to afford a decent two-bedroom accommodation. From the report:
If this worker slept for eight hours per night, he or she would have no remaining time during the week for anything other than working and sleeping.
Of course, both the rental-housing market and hourly wages vary by state. The map below illustrates the differences in “housing wages” by state. Among the states, Hawaii has the highest hourly wage requirement ($34.22) for a two-bedroom. Among U.S. metros, San Francisco is at the top with $44.02.