The stats are in, and they confirm what we already knew: the rent is still too damn high, and people are working too damn hard to (ahem) “live the dream” — or just make ends meet.
According to new research, there’s not a single state, county, or metro area in which a simple two-bedroom rental is affordable to a person working 40 hours per week, 52 weeks per year, at the local statutory minimum wage. And in states with particularly in-demand urban housing markets, the shortfall between rent and housing costs is particularly staggering.
While the national political debate about what constitutes a “living wage” rages on, there are 17 of 50 states with housing costs that require a minimum $20 an hour wage in order to afford a 2-bedroom apartment. That’s nearly three times the federal minimum wage of $7.25, and roughly 30 percent more than the $16.38 hourly wage the average U.S. renter brings home, according to the recently released Out of Reach report.
To put this in real terms: the average American minimum wage worker needs to clock 80 hours per week to afford a modest home in most cities. Think about that: that’s two full-time jobs. In California, the nation’s most populous state, it would take 92 hours per week of work to reasonably afford even a one-bedroom unit. In Virginia, it would take 109.
Wondering what kind of work people do who make below $20 an hour, on average? That would include customer service professionals, nursing assistants (and some registered nurses), home health aides, retail associates, and pretty much everyone who prepares and serves your food — or, in other words, the seven fastest growing job categories in this economy, according to the 2016 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates survey.
For nearly a decade, journalists have been trying to inspire empathy by putting real faces to the stories of minimum wage workers, including the seminal, award-winning and best-selling 1998 work by Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. Ehrenreich went undercover from Florida to Maine to Minnesota, where she lived and worked as a waitress, a hotel maid, a cleaning woman, a nursing-home aide, and a Wal-Mart sales clerk.
If you truly want to know what it’s like to live on minimum wage in America, pick up a copy — as Publisher’s Weekly once wrote, “You will never see anything — from a motel bathroom to a restaurant meal — in quite the same way again.”