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University of Wisconsin–Madison

Increasing Rent and the Struggle to Afford Rental Housing

A recent article from The Atlantic‘s City Lab discusses a report on the increasing difficulties that many American hourly workers face in affording rental housing. According to the article, demand for apartments in 2015 was at its “highest level ever since the 1960s,” with a myriad of factors contributing to this high demand and subsequent increases in rent, making affordable housing a nearly impossible reality for many Americans.

In order to spend only thirty percent of his or her income on rent, the American worker would need to make $20.30 per hour to rent a (modest/simple) two-bedroom apartment “comfortably” in 2016, according to the article. One of the largest issues in this situation is that the average hourly wage for American workers is $15.42, with the federal minimum wage still sitting at $7.25. The article states that “minimum-wage workers would have to work three jobs, or 112 hours a week, to be able to afford a decent two-bedroom accommodation…’If [an average] worker slept for eight hours per night, he or she would have no remaining time during the week for anything other than working and sleeping.'”

One-bedroom apartments are also not financially attainable for minimum wage workers who put in a 40 hour work week. The article provides maps and graphs showing the hourly wages workers would need to receive in each state in order to afford one and two-bedroom apartments, as well as how many hours they would need to work at minimum wage to afford one-bedroom apartments.

Hours worked at minimum wage needed to afford a one-bedroom unit. Photo from the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

Hours needed at minimum wage to afford a one-bedroom unit. Photo from the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

In Wisconsin, where Matthew Desmond’s Evicted takes place, minimum wage workers would need to work 69 hours per week in order to comfortably afford (a.k.a. rent does not exceed 30 percent of income) a one-bedroom apartment. As seen in Evicted, it is difficult to work that many hours per week at a minimum-wage job (workers usually are not scheduled for that many hours), not to mention juggling any children, school, or family obligations that the worker might have. This article illustrates on a larger scale the issues of eviction, rent, and poverty that Desmond examines in Evicted and shows how these issues are at play across the country.

You can read the full article, entitled “The Hourly Wage Needed to Rent a 2-Bedroom Apartment Is Rising,” here.