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Minimum wage workers cannot afford rent in any U.S. state

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Full-time minimum wage workers cannot afford a two-bedroom rental anywhere in the U.S. and cannot afford a one-bedroom rental in 95% of U.S. counties, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition's annual "Out of Reach" report

In fact, the average minimum wage worker in the U.S. would need to work almost 97 hours per week to afford a fair market rate two-bedroom and 79 hours per week to afford a one-bedroom, NLIHC calculates. That's well over two full-time jobs just to be able to afford a two-bedroom rental.

National Low Income Housing Coalition

The report, released Tuesday, defines "affordable" as spending no more than 30% of monthly income on rent, in line with what most budgeting experts recommend. Nationally, NLIHC puts the "housing wage" for 2020 — or what a full-time worker must make in order to afford a fair market rental without spending more than 30% of his or her income — at $23.96 per hour for a two-bedroom rental and $19.56 per hour for a one-bedroom. 

That means even the average hourly worker who earns $18.22 per hour cannot afford rent, the report says. Many workers deemed essential during the coronavirus pandemic earn even less. "Grocery store cashiers earn a median wage of $11.61 per hour, while building cleaning workers and home health and personal care aides earn $12.94," per NLIHC.

There was a housing crisis even before the pandemic

There was a housing affordability crisis even before the pandemic hit and tens of millions lost their jobs. Last year, the NLIHC's report also found that a two-bedroom was not affordable anywhere in the country, putting the 2019 housing wage at $22.96 for a two-bedroom rental and $18.65 for a one-bedroom.

But the findings are especially relevant now. Coronavirus-related job losses hit the hospitality and service industries particularly hard, and renters make up a disproportionate share of those work forces, according to the Urban Institute. Additionally, it is not likely that the U.S. will make the "V-shaped" recovery economists are hoping for, as states are re-closing large parts of their economies as virus cases spike across the country.

With all of that as the backdrop, housing experts forecast a coming housing "apocalypse" at the end of July: Eviction bans put in place at the start of the pandemic are lifting, just as enhanced unemployment benefits expire. That could lead millions of households to face eviction and potentially homelessness as they choose between covering rent and basics like food and medicine. An estimated 32% of households — almost one-third — missed their housing payments at the beginning of this month.

"Pre-existing structural injustices," like limited housing options, mean people of color already made up a disproportionate share of people experiencing homelessness in the U.S. before the pandemic, the report says. Black Americans comprised 40% of people experiencing homelessness in 2019, even though they are just 13% of the population, according to the report. Hispanic and Latino people were 18% of the population and 22% of those experiencing homelessness. 

NLIHC's report calls for "significant investments" in affordable rental housing and emergency rental assistance "to keep low-income renters stably housed during and after the pandemic."

The House of Representatives has passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions, or HEROES Act, and the Emergency Housing Protections and Relief Act of 2020 to address the crisis. Neither bill is expected to pass the Republican-controlled Senate.

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