Full-Time Minimum Wage Workers Can't Even Afford Basic Housing, And We Need To Fix This

by Wendy Wisner

We have a housing crisis in America, folks. And it’s a lack of homes out there for rent or for sale. The problem is that many Americans don’t earn enough to afford them — especially Americans who are working minimum wage jobs.

These are hardworking Americans doing difficult, often grueling work in industries like health care, childcare, and food preparation/service. They are working their tails off and doing their best, but many are not able to make enough money to provide clean, safe housing for their families.

This is unconscionable.

According to a report recently released by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, no one in this country working a full-time minimum wage job can afford to rent a two-bedroom apartment. (Yep, you read that right.)


And no, we’re not talking about mansions here, but apartments — in other words, basic living conditions for families. Minimum wage should guarantee that someone could work and afford the basic tenants in life, like food and shelter, but that isn’t even within their reach.

As of now, the federal minimum way is $7.25 an hour (though some states have instituted higher minimum wages for their citizens, thankfully). The report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition explains that renters would need to earn an average of $21.21 per hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment, which is quite a bit more than the federal minimum wage.

That means many minimum-wage-earning families cram themselves into even smaller spaces than that. But even then, many of these units are not within their income. Most workers earning minimum wage would basically need to work several jobs at once to just scrape by (and many do).

Here’s how the report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition lays it out: “A renter earning the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour would need to work 117 hours per week to afford a two-bedroom rental home at the Fair Market Rent and 94.5 hours per week to afford a one-bedroom.”

117 hours a week.

That sucks, you might say — but come on, who really only gets paid minimum-wage-type earnings?

Well, I’m glad you asked! It turns out that about 2.6 million workers get paid minimum wage (or below), according to a report released in 2015 from the United States Department of Labor. And while that might only be 3.3% of the American population, that still translates into an awful lot of people — families — who are struggling to find affordable housing for their families.

Let’s not forget that the families struggling the most are often single-parent families, the vast majority of which are headed by mothers (badass, strong mothers who often work more than one job to keep their kids well-fed and safe). But even among renters who make higher hourly wages, there are still ginormous gaps between their incomes and abilities to pay their rent. As the Washington Post points out, renters in America make an average of $16.38 per hour. This means that in certain areas, a two-bedroom apartment is (somewhat) within reach of the average worker, but this is not the case in many areas in our country.

As The Washington Post explains, affordability of housing really depends on the state. In some counties in Georgia for example, an hourly rate of $11.46 can secure a family a two-bedroom apartment. But in certain other states, you would need to make about three times as much as that to rent a similar-sized home.

What’s the result of all of this? 11.2 million families end up spending more than half of their income on rent, which means that they have little left, and things like health care and even food get put on the back-burner.

The bleakest part of all of this is that things aren’t expected to get better anytime soon because housing income has not kept up with inflation. In other words, rent has skyrocketed over the past bunch of years, but incomes have not kept up with that trend, which results in hardworking folks not being able to pay their rent.

Our current president, unsurprisingly, doesn’t seem to give a shit about any of this. Trump’s 2018 budget proposal includes $6.2 billion in slashed funds to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which the Washington Post calls “the most dramatic reduction to the agency since President Ronald Reagan slashed its funding by 50 percent in the early 1980s.”

As a renter who has struggled at times to make ends meet (and lived with my family in a one-bedroom apartment for several years because it was all we could afford), this sort of thing touches a nerve, for sure. I absolutely struggle with what to do with my level of rage and helplessness about issues like these, especially given the mess our country seems to be in lately.

But then I remind myself that America is a democracy, and our voices count, especially when we are united. So if issues like this bother you, don’t just sit there — do something about it. Call your representatives, email them, fax them, show up at their town halls.

Affordable housing is a humanitarian issue. All Americans should be able to have access to the basics, including the ability to have a safe, comfortable roof over their heads. And no one should have to work three jobs or 117 hours per week in order to achieve that.