Affordability Crisis: Low-Income Workers Can't Afford A 2-Bedroom Rental Anywhere In America

The National Low Income Housing Coalition’s (NLIHC) annual report, Out of Reach, reveals the striking gap between wages and the price of housing across the United States. The report’s ‘Housing Wage’ is an estimate of what a full-time worker on a state by state basis must make to afford a one or two-bedroom rental home at the Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) fair market rent without exceeding 30 percent of income on housing expenses.

With decades of declining wages and widening wealth inequality via the financialization of corporate America, and thanks to the Federal Reserve's disastrous policies (whose direct outcome is the ascent of Trump), the recent insignificant countertrend in wage growth for low-income workers has not been enough to boost their standard of living.

The report finds that a full-time minimum wage worker, or the average American stuck in the gig economy, cannot afford to rent a two-bedroom apartment anywhere in the U.S.

According to the report, the 2018 national Housing Wage is $22.10 for a two-bedroom rental home and $17.90 for a one-bedroom rental. Across the country, the two-bedroom Housing Wage ranges from $13.84 in Arkansas to $36.13 in Hawaii.

The five cities with the highest two-bedroom Housing Wages are Stamford-Norwalk, CT ($38.19), Honolulu, HI ($39.06), Oakland-Fremont, CA ($44.79), San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA ($48.50), and San Francisco, CA ($60.02).

For people earning minimum wage, which could be most millennials stuck in the gig economy, the situation is beyond dire. At $7.25 per hour, these hopeless souls would need to work 122 hours per week, or approximately three full-time jobs, to afford a two-bedroom rental at HUD’s fair market rent; for a one-bedroom, these individuals would need to work 99 hours per week, or hold at least two full-time jobs.

The disturbing reality is that many will work until they die to only rent a roof over their head.

The report warns: “in no state, metropolitan area, or county can a worker earning the federal minimum wage or prevailing state minimum wage afford a two-bedroom rental home at fair market rent by working a standard 40-hour week.”

The quest to afford rental homes is not limited to minimum-wage workers. NLIHC calculates that the average renter’s hourly wage is $16.88. The average renter in each county across the U.S. makes enough to afford a two-bedroom in only 11 percent of counties, and a one-bedroom, in just 43% .

FIGURE 1: States With The Largest Shortfall Between Average Renter Wage And Two-Bedroom Housing Wage

Low wages and widespread wage inequality contribute to the widening gap between what people earn and mandatory outlays, in the price of their housing. The national Housing Wage in 2018 is $22.10 for a two-bedroom rental home and $17.90 for a one-bedroom, the report found.

FIGURE 3: Hourly Wages By Percentile VS. One And Two-Bedroom Housing Wages 


Here is how much it costs to rent a two-bedroom in your state:

Case Shiller House Prices have continued to surge to bubble levels with growing demand for rental housing in the decade post the Great Recession.

The report indicates that new rental construction has shifted toward the luxury market because it is more profitable for homebuilders. The number of rentals for $2000 or more per month has more than doubled between 2005 and 2015.

Here are the Most Expensive Jurisdictions for Housing Wage for Two-Bedroom Rentals

Here is how your state’s ranks regarding Housing Wage: 

“While the housing market may have recovered for many, we are nonetheless experiencing an affordable housing crisis, especially for very low-income families,” said Bernie Sanders quoted in the report.

The fact is, the low-wage workforce is projected to soar over the next decade, particularly in unproductive service-sector jobs and odd jobs in the gig economy, as increasingly more menial jobs are replaced by automation/robots. This is not sustainable for a fragile economy where many are heavily indebted with limited savings; this should be a warning, as many Americans do not understand their living standards are in decline. American exceptionalism is dying.

Housing Wage And Median Wages For Occupations With Highest Projected Growth 

The bad news is that for the government to combat the unaffordability crisis, deficits would have to explode because even more Americans would demand housing subsidies, setting the US debt on an even more unsustainable trajectory. Even though Congress marginally increased the 2018 HUD budget, the change in funding levels for some housing programs have declined.

Changes In Funding Levels For Key HUD Programs (FY10 Enacted To F18 Enacted) 

But wait a minute, something does not quite add up: consider President Trump’s cheerleading on Twitter calling today’s economy the “greatest economy in History of America and the best time EVER to look for a job.”

He may be right, of course, if you are looking for a low skill/wage job in the gig economy as there are plenty (from which you will be promptly fired), but even if you keep it, you will not be able to cover even the cost of rent.