In only four of the nation's 3,066 counties can someone working full time and earning federal minimum wage afford to pay rent and utilities on a one-bedroom apartment, an advocacy...

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WASHINGTON — In only four of the nation’s 3,066 counties can someone working full time and earning federal minimum wage afford to pay rent and utilities on a one-bedroom apartment, an advocacy group on low-income housing reported yesterday.

A two-bedroom rental is even more of a burden: The typical worker must earn at least $15.37 an hour to pay rent and utilities, the National Low Income Housing Coalition said in its annual “Out of Reach” report. That’s nearly three times the federal minimum wage of $5.15 an hour.

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“You get pushed into a situation where some necessities don’t get paid for” because more income must be devoted to housing, said Sheila Crowley, coalition executive director. “For people on low-wage fixed incomes, that’s a chronic way of life.”

About 36 million homes in the United States are rented. Roughly 80 percent of rental homes are in counties where a family must work more than 80 hours a week — or more than two full-time jobs — at minimum wage to afford the typical two-bedroom apartment, the coalition said.

The coalition’s “housing wage” assumes that a family spends no more than 30 percent of its gross income on rent and utilities, since the government generally considers anything more than that unaffordable.

The report quoted federal Bureau of Labor Statistics data that showed hourly wages rising about 2.6 percent over the past year, slower than the 2.9 percent rise in rents recorded in the Consumer Price Index. To close the gap, the government must pour money into programs that help poor people pay rent, and must preserve and build more affordable-housing units, Crowley said.

Data from the Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development were analyzed to derive housing-wage figures. The report also factored in areas in which state minimum wages are, or may soon be, higher than the federal standard.

A one-bedroom apartment was considered affordable for minimum-wage workers in Crawford, Lawrence and Wayne counties in Illinois; and in Washington County, Fla.

Least affordable was the San Francisco metropolitan area; rent and utilities for a one-bedroom apartment in Marin, San Francisco or San Mateo counties in California required a wage of least $22.63 an hour, tops in the nation.

The same three counties also led in the wage needed to afford a two-bedroom rental, at $29.60 an hour.

California topped all states — although the District of Columbia was higher — in the hourly wage needed to afford a two-bedroom apartment, at $21.24, followed by Massachusetts, New Jersey, Maryland and New York.

In Washington state, an hourly wage of $14.32 was needed to afford a two-bedroom apartment. Minimum wage in the state is set to rise to $7.35 on Jan. 1.

States with more residents in rural areas were generally the most affordable, although no state’s housing wage was lower than the federal hourly minimum wage of $5.15, which has not changed since 1997.

West Virginia was the lowest, at $9.31 an hour for a two-bedroom rental, followed by North Dakota, Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama.

The coalition said its 2004 data could not be compared with that from previous years because of changes in the way HUD calculated fair-market rents, which is the cost of rent and most utilities for a typical apartment.

The fair-market rent varies widely by metropolitan area.