No Full-Time Worker Can Afford Housing on a Minimum Wage Salary

affordable housing and rents are rising

Credit Image: © John Mccall/South Florida Sun Sentinel via ZUMA Press Wire

A new report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) shows that no full-time worker making minimum wage in the U.S. can afford housing.

Overall, the average wage needed to afford a one-bedroom apartment increased from $20.40 in 2021 to $21.25 in 2022. The average worker needs to earn at least $25.82 to avoid paying more than 30 percent of their monthly income on housing, a nearly $1 per hour increase from last year.

“With rents rising rapidly, homelessness worsening, and millions of families struggling to stay housed, federal investments in expanding proven solutions – like Housing Choice Vouchers, the national Housing Trust Fund, and public housing – are badly needed and long overdue,” Dianne Yentel, president and CEO of NLIHC said.

“As a country, we have the data, partnerships, expertise, solutions, and means to end homelessness and housing poverty – we lack only the political will to fund solutions at the scale necessary,” Yentel continued.

According to the report, nationwide rent increases have made it difficult for low-income earners to keep their homes. This has dramatically increased the risk that these households could experience homelessness.

Out of the 345 counties tracked by the report, all but two saw rent increases throughout 2021. Data from Redfin shows that rents have increased by 14 percent year-over-year, and the median rent in the U.S. is now $2,016 as of June.

Meanwhile, the cost of living continues to climb as inflation pushes up consumer prices, making it more expensive for low-income families to stay in their homes. The latest inflation data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that consumer prices have increased by 9.1 percent, with price increases for groceries, household energy, housing, and transportation all leading the index higher.

“As the [NLIHC]’s annual Out of Reach report highlights, it’s long past time for our country to make meaningful investments in fair and affordable housing,” said Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Chairwoman of the House Committee on Financial Services and author of the report’s preface. “In the report, NLIHC provides a vast amount of data that shows just how urgent and far-reaching our affordable housing crisis has become.”

The report also uncovered racial disparities concerning housing access. 

For example, the report found that the average hourly wage for Black and Latino workers was $6 per hour less than their white counterparts.

Among all renters, more than 55 percent of Black renters are cost-burdened, defined as spending 30 percent or more of one’s monthly income on housing. Meanwhile, 53 percent of Latino households are housing burdened compared to just 43 percent of white households.

The disparities are even starker along gender lines. For instance, 70 percent of Black and Latina women do not earn enough to afford a one-bedroom apartment.

Waters said these disparities are just some reasons she continues to fight for more federal investments in affordable housing. Waters was instrumental in passing a bill that provided more than $46 billion in emergency rental assistance during the pandemic. Now, she is fighting to pass a bill containing more than $150 billion in affordable housing investments as part of President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Act.

“In my state of California alone, there is a shortage of more than 960,000 rental homes that are affordable and available to the state’s lowest-income families,” Waters wrote in the report’s introduction.

“Nationwide, there is a shortage of 7 million of such rental homes. Meanwhile, on any given night in America, more than 580,000 people are without homes, including over 161,000 Californians, many of whom are people of color,” she continued.

The report adds that the pandemic-related supports that local governments put in place were instrumental in preventing a significant increase in homelessness thus far. One example is the eviction moratorium, which prevented as many as seven million evictions during the pandemic.

But more than 11 million low-income households now face significant pressure from rising rents and consumer prices as these supports end. 

NLIHC calls on the federal government to continue expanding emergency rental assistance programs and provide additional funding for the Housing Trust Fund, a significant source of affordable housing investments.

How You Can Help

The pandemic proved that we need to rethink housing in the United States. It also showed that providing additional support and protections for renters is a clear-cut way to reduce future increases in homelessness.

Contact your representatives and tell them you support keeping many of the pandemic-related aid programs in place for future use. They have proven effective at keeping people housed, which is the first step to ending homelessness.

Robert Davis

Robert Davis

Robert is a freelance journalist based in Colorado who covers housing, police, and local government.

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