Can You Afford A One Bedroom On Minimum Wage?

by Emma Cueto

The minimum wage has been a subject of much debate recently, with many claiming it needs to be substantially increased. And based on this map of the hours of minimum wage work you need in order to afford a one bedroom at fair market rent, it seems that those who want to raise the wage have a point. In no state in the country can you afford a one bedroom apartment working at minimum wage for 40 hours a week without paying more than the recommended one third of your income on rent.

According to a new report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition, things are pretty bleak for minimum wage workers who would like some place to live. "There simply isn’t enough reasonably priced, decently maintained housing to meet the demand, and rapidly rising rents outpace wages," Governor Kate Brown writes of her state of Oregon in the preface to the report. "As a result, one out of four households spends more than half their income on housing costs. People with low or fixed incomes face even bleaker situations."

Even more alarming, the report finds that the Housing Wage (the hourly rate needed to afford a particular type of housing working 40 hours per week) for a two bedroom apartment is $19.35, more than three times the current federally mandated minimum wage, which is $7.25. For a one bedroom, the Housing wage is $15.50, which is above even the most ambitious minimum wage hikes happening in the country.

Several cities and states have set their own minimum wage above the federal wage. In fact, both Seattle and Los Angeles are in the process of raising their wages to $15 per hour, more than twice the federal minimum wage, by 2017 and 2020 respectively. Over half the states in the country also have their own minimum wages, though none are above $10 as of now. And many large companies, including Wal-Mart and Target, have effectively imposed their own minimum wage upon themselves by making it policy not to pay employees less than $10 per hour and $9 per hour respectively. Many politicians have also spoken about the importance of raising the minimum wage, while others have actively opposed any wage increases.

In other words, progress on the minimum wage is slow — entirely too slow given the observation in this report that "the gap between what people earn and the price of decent housing continues to grow."

Here's how many hours you would need to work at the federal minimum wage to afford a one bedroom at fair market rent in eight states without spending more than one third of your income on rent; you can read the full report here.

1. Georgia: 72 hours

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If you worked at minimum wage for 10 hours a day, seven days a week in Georgia, your rent would still be more than one third your income. The Housing Wage for a two bedroom in Georgia is $15.71.

2. California: 92

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Since California is home to one of the most expensive housing markets in the country (San Francisco), maybe it isn't surprising that it's hard to afford housing here. But still, having to work 13 hours a day, seven days a week to responsibly afford rent seems excessive. At least the state has it's own minimum wage, but $9 an hour still isn't quite enough to make this reasonable. The Housing Wage for a two bedroom in California is $26.65.

3. Kentucky: 57

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Kentucky gets off a lot better than most states, but still, someone would have to work eight hour shifts everyday, never getting a weekend, in order to afford just a one bedroom. Fortunately, Kentucky lawmakers seem to want to fix this. The Housing Wage for a two bedroom in Kentucky is $13.14

4. New York: 98

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New York City rents are notoriously terrible, and so it's no wonder the state as a whole suffers. You would have to work 14 hours a day, every day, in order to afford an apartment in New York on the federal minimum wage — though fortunately, the state minimum wage is a bit higher at $8.75 an hour. The Housing Wage for a two bedroom in New York is $25.67.

5. Ohio: 54

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Ohio residents don't fare too terribly when it comes to finding housing, not that the bar is set very high. If you live in Ohio, you could get by working 11 hour shifts during the week at the federal minimum wage and still be able to spend weekends in your one bedroom apartment. And luckily, Ohio sets their minimum wage slightly higher, at $8.10 an hour, so their residents are doing OK, relatively. The Housing Wage for a two bedroom in Ohio is $14.13

6. Maryland: 101

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Maryland is the most expensive state for housing in the continental United States. They are fortunately in the process of increasing the state's minimum wage in 2015, but until recently, it was the same as the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, which would require the average Maryland resident to work over 100 hours a week in order to afford rent. That's more than 14 hours a day, every day. That's more than half the total time there is in a week. The Housing Wage for a two bedroom in Maryland is $24.64

7. South Dakota: 49

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South Dakota is the state whose residents are best able to afford housing under the federal minimum wage — which is good, considering the state doesn't have it's own. Only Puerto Rico fares better (where you only need to work 48 hours a week at the federal minimum wage to afford a one bedroom). Still, residents would have to work almost ten hours a shift during the week in order to afford just a one bedroom. Basically good luck if you're a single parent, or if your partner is laid off or becomes unable to work. If this is the best we can do, we need to do better. The Housing Wage for a two bedroom in South Dakota is $13.41.

8. Hawaii: 125


If you're a minimum wage worker in Hawaii, the federal minimum wage is a farce, but unfortunately the state wage, $7.75 an hour, isn't much better. Still at least residents don't have to work fully 125 hours a week to afford a one bedroom (more like 116). There are only 168 hours in the week, people. The Housing Wage for a two bedroom in Hawaii is $31.61.

Basically, we need to either make housing cheaper, or make sure that people are earning more. You can check out the full map below.

Images: Getty (8); National Low Income Housing Coalition