NLIHC released Out of Reach: The High Cost of Housing 2021 on July 14. The annual report highlights the mismatch between wages people earn and the price of decent rental housing in every state, metropolitan area, and county in the U.S. The report calculates the “Housing Wage” a full-time worker must earn to afford a rental home without spending more than 30% of their income on housing costs. This year’s national Housing Wage is $24.90 per hour for a modest two-bedroom home at fair market rent and $20.40 per hour for a modest one-bedroom rental home. Out of Reach 2021 finds that in no state, metropolitan area, or county can a full-time minimum-wage worker afford a modest two-bedroom rental home.
The federal minimum wage is $17.65 less than the two-bedroom Housing Wage. Even taking higher state and county minimum wages into account, the average full-time minimum wage earner would have to work approximately 97 hours per week for 52 weeks a year to afford a two-bedroom apartment, or 79 hours per week to afford a one-bedroom apartment at fair market rent. In no state, metropolitan area, or county can a worker earning the federal minimum wage or prevailing state minimum wage afford a decent two-bedroom rental home at fair market rent by working a standard 40-hour week. In only 7% of counties nationwide can a full-time minimum-wage worker afford a one-bedroom apartment at fair market rent.
The lowest-income renters have the greatest challenge finding affordable housing. The national average fair market rent for a one-bedroom home is $1,061 per month and $1,295 for a two-bedroom home, far higher than the maximum $663 per month that family with income at the poverty level can afford. Seventy percent of extremely low-income renter households are severely housing cost-burdened, meaning they spend more than half of their incomes on housing, leaving few resources for other necessities and putting them at risk of losing their homes.
The problem is not confined to minimum-wage workers. A household must have an annual income of at least $51,789 to afford a two-bedroom rental home at HUD’s average fair market rent of $1,295 per month. The average hourly wage of renters in the U.S. is $18.78, $6.12 less than the two-bedroom Housing Wage.
Racial and ethnic income inequality contributes to disparities in housing affordability. While the median white worker earns enough to afford a one-bedroom apartment at fair market rent, the median Black worker and the median Latino worker do not. This income inequality partly explains why 43% of Black households and 41% of Latino households spend more than 30% of their incomes on housing, compared to 25% of white households.
The report concludes that millions of low-wage renters struggled to afford their homes before the pandemic and will remain in an economically precarious position without significant congressional action. Throughout the pandemic, millions of renters were at grave risk of contracting and spreading the virus as they struggled to pay their bills and stay in their homes, and many accumulated rental debts. One reason the pandemic was also an economic catastrophe for so many households is because, even before the pandemic, they could not afford their homes. Out of Reach 2021 shows the extent to which the pre-pandemic status quo was deeply inadequate for many low-wage workers and low-income renters.
The Out of Reach 2021 interactive website, which includes an easy-to-use search function for data by metropolitan-area ZIP code, is at: https://reports.nlihc.org/oor