Study: No One Can Afford To Live Anywhere Anymore

It's been nearly 10 years since workers across the country first started organizing and demanding a minimum wage of $15 an hour. But despite the fact that $15 an hour is worth over two dollars less than it was in 2012, politicians and talking heads still act as if $15 is ridiculous. And while many Democrats have come around, some still think it is laughable that people think they deserve that much.

The federal minimum wage in the United States is $7.25 an hour. The average wage is $18.78. The median wage is $15.35. And anyone making any of those wages actually cannot afford the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the United States. This is information coming out of the National Low Income Housing Coalition's annual Out of Reach study ... but it's also information we all pretty much know by now. Things have been this way for a while, and they just keep getting worse.

According to the study, in order to reasonably afford a two-bedroom apartment, one would need to earn $24.90 an hour / $49,800 a year; in order to afford a modestly priced one-bedroom, one would need to earn $20.40 an hour / $42,432 a year. This is abiding by the rule of only 30 percent of one's income going towards rent.

However, even if a full-time minimum wage worker were to devote 100 percent of their income towards rent ($15,080 a year), they would still not be able to afford the current "fair market rent" for a two bedroom apartment ($1,295 a month or $15,540 a year) in the US. They couldn't even afford it in West Virginia, the country's least expensive state to live in. In order to afford a two-bedroom there, one would have to make $14.83 an hour, according to this study. The living wage for an adult with zero children in West Virginia, according to the MIT living wage calculator, is $13.38, which you will notice is also much higher than both the federal minimum wage and their state minimum wage of $8.75 an hour.

And quelle surprise — Black and Latinx people are much less likely than white people to be able to afford rent.

This is not new information to anyone with enough compassion to actually give a shit.

Many Americans tend to consider people who base their beliefs about how things ought to be on compassion and empathy to be hopelessly naïve and really quite stupid and ignorant of the way the world really works. Alas, the ones in this case who happen to be "hopelessly naïve" and "ignorant of the way the world really works" are the people who thought that this shit was actually sustainable in the long run and thought this could go on forever without any problems.

The problem is, we need a whole lot of people to do the kind of jobs that employers don't think deserve a living wage, which is why 44 percent of Americans are now low wage workers. At the same time, most landlords want to charge people tons of money to live in their buildings, especially if those buildings are located in areas where there are jobs, meaning that all of those people cannot afford rent. At the same time, many Americans don't want their tax money going towards welfare, social services, and affordable housing. Senate Democrats may be passing $200 billion for affordable housing in their reconciliation bill. It would be ... a start!

Henry Ford was a despicable Nazi, but he did understand one thing — if you want people to be able to buy your cars, you have to pay them enough to buy your cars,. That wasn't compassion, that was cold, hard logic. If you pay people to mass produce cars that no one can afford, you're going to be out a lot of money. Unfortunately, Ford made a much more lasting impression on our high school gym classes than he did on anyone's paycheck.

The only way things ever change is when the comfortable are inconvenienced, and they are starting to be inconvenienced. Not only is there a labor shortage due to people just literally not wanting to work at jobs where they are not paid enough to live on, there is increasingly a labor shortage in areas where poor people cannot afford to live, which then impacts the rich people who live there.

Last week, Vanity Fair published an article about how rich people in the Hamptons are suffering this summer because they have no servants, as rental prices have been skyrocketing and the servants have no place to live. They can't get their nails done, they can't get blowouts, service is slow at restaurants because barely anyone is working there and they can't even find anyone to iron their sheets.

"You can't get your nails done either," one East Hampton resident said. "Everyone's going for the natural look this year. If you see unpainted nails, you know they just can't get an appointment. I watch them at the nail salons with walk-ins and they just laugh." [...]

For the one East Hampton resident, the absolute worst has happened. "I had to buy a lawn mower and cut my own lawn. I wanted flowers planted behind the pool. The landscaper didn't show up. I had to do it myself," this person said. "My brother just showed me how to use the thing that trims the weeds. Yesterday, I finally did that. I had to take my $800 sneakers off first, but it was actually satisfying."

As for workers, it's a name-your-price situation. The überwealthy have snatched up a lot of staffers, but even money can't fill every job. One superrich homeowner's house manager was recently scrambling to find a laundress. What's a laundress, you ask? "Someone to iron the sheets," said the person doing the hiring.

Now, the Hamptons residents currently believe that the reason they can't find anyone to do this work for them is because everyone who should be waiting on them is a lazy jerk staying home and collecting COVID unemployment, but that excuse isn't going to last for long. If people can't afford to live near you, they can't afford to do your lawn or your nails at the rate you think you should be able to pay them.

The workers are not the problem, the system is the problem, and the system is not sustainable. If every single low wage worker in this country somehow did pull themselves up by their bootstraps, took "personal responsibility" and got a job that did pay a living wage, that would not eliminate the need for the work they do now. So if we want people to do that work, they need to be paid enough and the rent needs to be low enough so that they can live wherever it is they need to work. No one needs a bleeding heart to come to that very obvious conclusion.


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Robyn Pennacchia

Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse


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