So You Think You're Poor: The States Ranked By Rent Prices
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So You Think You're Poor: The States Ranked By Rent Prices

Rachel Bell
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At the end of 2017, a headline circulated that blew people’s minds: $84,000 a year was now considered low-income in Orange County, California. We even made a meme about it. The news prompted us to do some research, and what we found was horrifying:

Out of the more than 3,000 counties in the United States, there are only twelve where a person earning minimum wage can afford to rent a one-bedroom apartment. Over 75% of renters live in a county where a person earning minimum wage must work over sixty hours a week to afford the standard one bedroom apartment.

Reading through the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s exhaustive report on rental costs in the United States revealed even more, and illuminated the fact that low-income housing is incredibly difficult to access.

The report, published every year, analyzes statistics from every county, city and state in the country. Before we get into the details, we have to explain where some of these numbers come from. When the government decides how much money they’ll offer as rent assistance to families participating in the Section 8 program, they determine the Fair Market Rent, or FMR, in an area. FMR is decided by researching how much rent and utilities cost for medium-quality apartments of different sizes in a certain area. For example, the FMR for a studio apartment in Alabama is $580 a month, while the FMR for a studio apartment in California is $1,068 a month.

The report also calculates a housing wage for every area. The housing wage is the hourly rate a person would need to earn to afford a two-bedroom rental unit at the FMR for that area without spending more than 30% of their income on rent. The NLIHC uses this number to rank areas from most to least expensive. For example, the housing wage in California is $30.92 while the housing wage in Arkansas is $13.72.

The standard across the board for budgeting is that you should spend around 30% of your monthly income on rent. By comparing each state’s minimum wage with the FMR for the state, you can start to understand just how out of reach affordable housing is for low-income people.

The Most Expensive States For Renters

1. Hawaii

Hawaii is the most expensive state for renting housing in the country. To afford a standard two-bedroom rental in Hawaii, a person working minimum wage would need to work 152 hours a week. Assuming they commute an hour each day, that leaves less than two hours a day to do anything beyond working, like sleeping or eating.

The Fair Market Rent for a one bedroom in Hawaii is $1,427. The Fair Market Rent for a two bedroom in Hawaii is $1,879.

2. Washington, D.C.

Washington D.C. is not quite a state, but it’s the second most expensive area for renting housing in the country. The minimum wage is $12.50, one of the highest in the nation, which helps offset the high cost of housing. To afford a standard two-bedroom rental in D.C., a person working minimum wage would need to work 107 hours a week. Assuming they commute an hour each day, that leaves about seven hours a day to do anything beyond working, like sleeping or eating.

The Fair Market Rent for a one bedroom in Washington, D.C. is $1,561. The Fair Market Rent for a two bedroom in Washington, D.C. is $1,793.

3. California

California is the third most expensive state for renting housing in the country. To afford a standard two-bedroom rental in California, a person working minimum wage would need to work 118 hours a week. Assuming they commute an hour each day, that leaves about six hours a day to do anything beyond working, like sleeping or eating.

San Francisco is the most expensive city for renting housing in the country. The minimum wage in San Francisco is $14 an hour as of last year. That’s one of the highest minimum wages in the country. Unfortunately, the average two-bedroom rental in San Francisco is over $3,000 a month, meaning that you’d have to earn almost $60 an hour to comfortably afford it.

The minimum wage in Los Angeles is either $10.50 or $12, depending on how many people your company employs. More than half of the households in Los Angeles are occupied by renters, compared to the state of California as a whole, where only 46% of residents are renters. The standard studio apartment in Los Angeles costs just under $1000 a month and the standard two-bedroom is $1500 a month. To afford a studio comfortably, you’d have to earn $19 an hour. To make rent on a two-bedroom, you’ll need to earn $30 an hour.

The Fair Market Rent for a one bedroom in California is $1,335. The Fair Market Rent for a two bedroom in California is $1,699.

4. Maryland

Maryland is the fourth most expensive state for renting housing in the country. To afford a standard two-bedroom rental in Maryland, a person working minimum wage would need to work 122 hours a week. Assuming they commute an hour each day, that leaves about five and a half hours a day to do anything beyond working, like sleeping or eating.

The Fair Market Rent for a one bedroom in Maryland is $1,256. The Fair Market Rent for a two bedroom in $1,510.

5. New York

New York is the fifth most expensive state for renting housing in the country. To afford a standard two-bedroom rental in New York, a person working minimum wage would need to work 116 hours a week. Assuming they commute an hour each day (half an hour to work and half an hour home), that leaves about seven and a half hours a day to do anything beyond work, like sleeping or eating.

The counties including the fanciest parts of Long Island are the most expensive for renters in the state, followed by the New York City area.

The minimum wage in New York City is either $12 or $13 an hour, depending on the number of employees in your company. The average two-bedroom rents for $1,600, meaning you’d have to earn just over $30 an hour to afford the rent. Two-thirds of households in the city are renters compared to the state of New York, where only 46% of households rent.

The Fair Market Rent for a one bedroom in New York is $1,334. The Fair Market Rent for a two bedroom in New York is $1,561.

6. Massachusetts

Massachusetts is the sixth most expensive state for renting housing in the country. To afford a standard two-bedroom rental in Massachusetts, a person working minimum wage would need to work 100 hours a week. Assuming they commute an hour each day, that leaves about nine hours a day to do anything beyond working, like sleeping or eating. That doesn’t sound too bad; it’s because the minimum wage in Massachusetts is relatively high at $11 an hour.

The Fair Market Rent for a one bedroom in Massachusetts is $1,204. The Fair Market Rent for a two bedroom in Massachusetts is $1,489.

7. New Jersey

New Jersey is the seventh most expensive state for renting housing in the country. To afford a standard two-bedroom rental in New Jersey, a person working minimum wage would need to work 129 hours a week. Assuming they commute an hour each day, that leaves about four and a half hours a day to do anything beyond working, like sleeping or eating.

The Fair Market rent for a one bedroom in New Jersey is $1,199. The Fair Market rent for a two bedroom in $1,465.

8. Connecticut

Connecticut is the eighth most expensive state for renting housing in the country. To afford a standard two-bedroom rental in Connecticut, a person working minimum wage would need to work ninety-eight hours a week. Assuming they commute an hour each day, that leaves nine hours a day to do anything beyond working, like sleeping or eating.

The Fair Market rent for a one bedroom in Connecticut is $1,040. The Fair Market rent for a two bedroom in Connecticut is $1,295.

9. Alaska

Alaska is the ninth most expensive state for renting housing in the country. To afford a standard two-bedroom rental in Alaska, a person working minimum wage would need to work ninety-nine hours a week. Assuming they commute an hour each day, that leaves almost nine hours a day to do anything beyond working, like sleeping or eating.

The Fair Market rent for a one bedroom in Alaska is $999. The Fair Market rent for a two bedroom in Alaska is $1,289.

10. Washington

Washington is the tenth most expensive state for renting housing in the country. At $11 an hour, the minimum wage is high compared to other states. To afford a standard two-bedroom rental in Washington, a person working minimum wage would need to work eighty-six hours a week. Assuming they commute an hour each day, that leaves about ten and a half hours a day to do anything beyond working, like sleeping or eating.

The Fair Market rent for a one bedroom in Washington is $1,121. The Fair Market rent for a two bedroom in Washington is $1,397.

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