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A new study shows that a worker earning minimum wage in the U.S. cannot afford a modest two-bedroom apartment in any state, metropolitan area, or county in the United States. (Photo: Caelie_Frampton/flickr/cc)

'A National Disgrace': Minimum Wage Workers Can't Afford Two-Bedroom Apartment In Any State or City in the US

"So long as there is a national housing shortage," says Rep. Ayanna Pressley, "the American Dream remains largely deferred."

Julia Conley

For a decade, U.S. lawmakers have kept the federal minimum wage at a level which increasingly leaves workers unable to afford housing.

That's according to a report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC). The group's 30th annual study of housing affordability found that a worker earning the federal minimum wage of $7.25—which is unchanged since 2009—cannot afford to rent a modest two-bedroom apartment in any state, metropolitan area, or county in the United States.

The report, entitled "Out of Reach," details how a worker would need to maintain three full-time jobs involving 127 hours of work per week to afford such a housing situation, without spending more than 30 percent of his or her income on housing.

"Our rental housing needs have worsened considerably over the past 30 years," wrote Diane Yentel, president and CEO of NLIHC, noting that housing assistance reaches fewer Americans than in 1989, when the group first compiled housing data. "Wage inequality has worsened between black and white workers at all wage levels, exacerbating the racial housing inequities that have long plagued the nation. Affordable rental housing for low-income people is significantly further out of reach now than in 1989, despite a massive increase in wealth for higher-income households."

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who has worked alongside the national grassroots campaign Fight for $15 to push for a $15 minimum wage, called the report's findings "a national disgrace."

According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) own data, Americans who pay more than 30 percent of their income on rent or a mortgage payment are considered "cost-burdened," and those who pay more than 50 percent of their compensation on housing are "severely cost-burdened."

Yet while the federal government stipulates that households should pay no more than 30 percent on housing, another recent study by Harvard University found thatlawmakers have allowed the number of cost-burdened families to rise rapidly over the past two decades. From 2001 to 2016, 3.6 million more households spent more than half their income on housing.

"Despite clear and urgent needs, the Trump administration continues to starve communities of the resources needed to tackle this crisis. In the richest nation on earth, how is it that three out of every four families eligible for housing assistance are turned away?"
Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.)
"Seventy-one percent of extremely low-income renters are severely housing cost-burdened," reads the NLIHC's report, "which forces them to cut-back on other basic necessities like adequate food, healthcare, and transportation and also puts them at risk of housing instability."

The NLIHC found that even if a minimum-wage earner with a family were to squeeze his or her household into a one-bedroom apartment, that housing arrangement would hardly be more affordable than a slightly larger home. The worker would need to work 103 hours per week to afford the apartment without paying more than 30 percent of his or her income.

Corporations and lawmakers aligned with corporate interests have in recent years railed against proposals to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour, which have gained momentum thanks to Fight for $15 and progressives in Congress including Sanders.

Yet NLIHC's report found that even this modest proposal would still leave many workers unable to afford a rental apartment in many parts of the country. A worker would need to earn an average of $22.96 to rent a modest two-bedroom apartment in the U.S. and more than $18 to rent a one-bedroom apartment.

Even in the most affordable states in the country, a minimum wage job leaves workers unable to rent a small apartment. In Arkansas, where the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $742, a renter would need to earn more than $14 per hour to afford it—putting those homes out of reach for workers who earn the state's minimum wage of $9.25.

The report also noted that rents are too high and wages are too low even for workers who earn more than the minimum wage.

"Nationally, the average renter's hourly wage is $17.57, which is $5.39 below the national two-bedroom Housing Wage and $1.08 below the national one-bedroom Housing Wage," the report reads.

In her preface to the report, Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) slammed the Trump administration for worsening the housing crisis through direct attacks on anti-segregation rules, subsidies for low-income Americans, and undocumented immigrants who live in public housing.   

"Despite clear and urgent needs, the Trump administration continues to starve communities of the resources needed to tackle this crisis," wrote Pressley. "In the richest nation on earth, how is it that three out of every four families eligible for housing assistance are turned away? This administration's callous attempts to rollback funding for affordable housing and homelessness assistance programs has left more than half a million people without shelter on any given night."

In light of the Trump administration's neglect and exacerbation of housing access issues, Pressley called on Congress to pass legislation to invest in affordable housing, including the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, which would pour resources into the National Housing Trust Fund and give special consideration to areas affected by redlining in the 20th century.

"This isn't just a devastating trend, but rather a national public health crisis," Pressley wrote. "So long as there is a national housing shortage, the American Dream remains largely deferred."

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