A new report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition shows just how hard it can be to afford rent while making the minimum wage—even in states like Washington, where our minimum wage is higher than the federal minimum.
The annual "Out of Reach" report compares the minimum wage to housing costs in each county in America. This year, Washington ranks 10th in the nation for high housing costs. According to the report, a renter in Washington would have to make $23.13 an hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment and $18.39 to afford a one-bedroom. In King County, that's even higher: $29.29 and $23.56. Those wages are significantly higher than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, Washington's minimum wage of $9.47, and even Seattle's minimum wage, which will eventually be $15 an hour.
Here's how Washington compares to other states:
A couple notes on methodology: The report defines "affordable" as "spending no more than 30 percent of gross income on rent and utilities," which is the generally accepted standard. Today, more and more Americans are spending more than half of their income on rent, making them "severely rent-burdened." And, as CityLab pointed out, the NLIHC isn't looking at luxury apartments here. They use the feds' measure of "fair market rent," which includes rents in the 40th percentile. In the Seattle area, for example, the fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $1,523, according to the report, which is lower than what plenty of one-bedroom apartments are going for.
Nationwide, according to the report, there is no state where a minimum wage worker working a 40-hour week can afford a one-bedroom apartment at fair market rent without paying more than 30 percent of their income. In Washington, where 37 percent of households rent, a minimum wage worker making $9.47 would have to work 78 hours a week to afford a one-bedroom or 98 hours a week to afford a two-bedroom apartment. (Or 100 and 124 hours, respectively, in King County.)
As states and presidential candidates debate whether to raise the minimum wage—and how high—the report's link between wages and housing is particularly timely. The Washington Low Income Housing Alliance used the report as an opportunity to advocate for Initiative 1433, a measure to raise Washington's minimum wage and give workers paid sick days.
"Raising the minimum wage to $13.50, which Initiative 1433 would do statewide," the WLIHA said in a statement, "would make housing more affordable for a significant number of people in our state."