More American workers are returning to their jobs and earning a regular paycheck again. But that doesn’t change the fact that for many of them, the rent is still too damn high.
A new report by the National Low Income House Coalition shows that a two-bedroom home is out of reach of all full-time minimum wage earners in this country, even those in states and jurisdictions making $15 an hour. And workers in 93 percent of U.S. counties in the same financial boat can’t afford the rent on a one bedroom apartment either.
The struggle to cover rental housing costs, however, is not confined to minimum-wage workers. The report states that the average renter’s hourly wage of $18.78 is $6.12 less than the national two-bedroom housing wage and $1.62 less than the one-bedroom housing wage if they spend no more than 30 percent of their income on housing. As a result, the average renter must work 53 hours per week to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment.
“The average monthly fair market rent for a one-bedroom or two-bedroom rental home is $1,061 or $1,295, respectively— much higher than what many renters can afford,” the document says. “A family of four with poverty-level income in most areas of the U.S. can afford a monthly rent of no more than $663, assuming they can manage to spend as much as 30% of their income on housing.”
Rental costs, of course, exceed those averages in many of the most populated states. For example, in Hawaii, a minimum wage worker would need to work 149 hours a week to afford a two-bedroom apartment on their own, an impossible task. That’s followed by New Hampshire and 136 hours and Texas and 121 hours.
The coronavirus pandemic has only made the problem worse. A survey by the U.S. Census Bureau last year found 26.5 percent of Americans were housing insecure, meaning they either couldn’t pay their rent or mortgage last month or have no confidence they will be able to next month. This nation faces a crisis of having millions of newly homeless families if a permanent fix is not put into place.
America didn’t become the nation it is by turning its own out on the streets. Addressing the long-term housing affordability crisis in this country requires increasing rental assistance to all who need it, as well as expanding and preserving the affordable housing stock. Working families deserve that dignity and respect.