If you work in the fastest-growing occupation in the United States–as a personal care aide assisting elderly and disabled people–you probably earn a little more than minimum wage. But that’s not enough to afford a two-bedroom rental anywhere in the country. In more than 99% of American counties, it’s not even enough to make a one-bedroom affordable.
A new report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition maps out the wage a full-time worker needs to make for a modest apartment or rental house to be affordable in each county in the U.S. (“affordable” is defined as spending less than 30% of your income on housing costs). On average, you’d need to make $21.21 per hour to rent a two-bedroom and $17.14 for a one-bedroom. The mean American wage is $16.38 an hour. The federal minimum wage is $7.25.
While the cost of rent has risen, wages haven’t kept pace. Between 2007 and 2015, the median rent rose 6%, adjusted for inflation; the median income for renter households rose 1%. The situation is worse in some cities. In San Francisco, for example, as the city phases in a $15-an-hour minimum wage (currently at $13, set to rise to $14 on July 1), someone would need to earn $58.04 an hour to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment at fair market rent. In California overall, the “housing wage” needed to afford a two-bedroom is $30.92 an hour; at minimum wage, that would translate into working 118 hours a week.
Federal housing assistance programs are underfunded, but the report makes the point that we don’t lack the resources–the country spends around $200 billion each year on housing subsidies. It’s just that the majority of this goes to the rich in the form of tax deductions on mortgage payments. 83% of the money the government spends on housing goes to households making more than $100,000 a year, and more than three-quarters goes to families making more than $200,000. One proposal now in Congress: reduce the deductions for those earning the most, and use the savings to help the 55 million households that earn less than $50,000 a year afford a place to live–particularly the 20 million Americans who now live in “housing poverty,” meaning they can’t afford to buy enough food, pay medical bills, or meet other basic needs after they pay for housing costs.