For low-income workers, housing costs have become a perfect storm of rising rents and stagnant pay.
Today, there are no U.S. states where minimum-wage workers can afford to rent an average one-bedroom apartment, according to a recent study from the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Two-bedroom apartments, which many Americans would consider necessary for families, are even farther out of reach, the study found.
Nationally, the average wage needed to rent a one-bedroom unit is $15.50 per hour, which jumps to $19.25 per hour for a two-bedroom apartment. That's far above the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, creating a dilemma for many workers and their families: bunk up with other renters, find substandard housing at below-market rates, or even become homeless. While the federal baseline wage has remained unchanged since 2009, housing prices have surged in many markets, with RealtyTrac finding that home price appreciation has outpaced wage growth in 76 percent of U.S. housing markets in the last two years.
"A lot of people end up living in substandard housing" because of the gap between rents and pay, Elina Bravve, senior research analyst at the National Low Income Housing Coalition, told CBS MoneyWatch. "It might have issues with mold, or the heating breaking down. A lot of people end up doubling up. The most dire consequence is ending up homeless."
Of course, there are other options open to workers: put in more than 40 hours a week or find a better-paying job, although the latter may be tough for workers who lack education and skills. Renters can also cut back on spending in other categories, such as food or clothing, and spend more than the recommended 30 percent of income on housing.
Then there's the issue of where job growth is coming from in the post-recession years: 44 percent of jobs created during the recovery pay no more than $13.33 per hour, according to the study. That means workers have plenty of low-paying jobs to pick from, but higher-paying positions may be far and few between.
The bigger issue, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, is the dearth of new construction of affordable housing units, with Bravve estimating that the country needs 7 million such units to meet the demand from low-paid workers.
"When residential development happens, it doesn't reflect the need for housing from those making minimum wage or $10 an hour," she said. "It reflects luxury apartments. There are plenty of jobs making $13-something an hour, but there isn't enough housing being built that's affordable in that range."
Some states have especially large gaps between the wage needed to afford a two-bedroom apartment and renter wages, which is the estimated hourly wage by renters in that state, the study found. Many of the most unaffordable states are in the Northeast, where housing has traditionally been higher than other parts of the country, and the West Coast.
The state with the biggest gap, however, is Hawaii. The Aloha State, which is known for its high cost of living, has an average renter wage of $14.49 per hour, yet the average wage needed to rent a two-bedroom apartment is $31.61.
Following Hawaii, the states with the largest gaps between rental prices and wages are: Maryland, Vermont, New Jersey, Connecticut, California, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maine and Rhode Island.
Rents for apartments have increased nationally for 23 consecutive quarters, the report noted. Average rents were 15.2 percent higher last year than at the end of 2009, when the recession ended. At the same time, the American median household income has slipped about 1 percent since the end of the recession, according to research from Sentier Research.