State by State: How Much You Must Earn to Pay the Rent

Prepare to work a lot of hours if you hope to afford a decent apartment on a low wage. Find out how your state rates.

The gap between wages and rents continues to grow in America, making it difficult for low-income workers to afford a modest apartment, according to the latest annual “Out of Reach” report.

The 2015 report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, which promotes affordable housing, shows that renters need to earn anywhere from $12.95 an hour to $31.51 an hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment, depending on the state in which they live.

In 13 states and the District of Columbia, workers need to earn more than $20 an hour to rent a two-bedroom apartment.

The federal minimum wage, by comparison, has remained at $7.25 an hour since July 2009, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Several California cities have adopted higher minimum wages in recent years, with the latest, Los Angeles, raising it to $15 an hour by 2020.

Other places that have adopted higher minimum wage levels include Seattle, Chicago and a couple of cities in New Mexico. (See “The ‘New Norm’? Los Angeles Ups Minimum Wage to $15” to learn more.)

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s study, which has been conducted since 1989, California and Washington are among the 10 most expensive states in which to rent a two-bedroom apartment. Illinois is No. 17 and New Mexico is No. 32.

The states where affording a two-bedroom apartment currently requires the highest wages, and the wages earned by the average renter in those states, are:

  1. Hawaii: $31.61/hour (average renter earns $14.49/hour)
  2. Washington, D.C.: $28.04 (average renter earns $26.08)
  3. California: $26.65 (average renter earns $18.96)
  4. New York: $25.67 (average renter earns $22.21)
  5. New Jersey: $25.17 (average renter earns $16.92)
  6. Massachusetts: $24.64 (average renter earns $18.20)
  7. Maryland: $24.64 (average renter earns $15.71)
  8. Connecticut: $24.29 (average renter earns $16.16)
  9. Alaska: $22.55 (average renter earns $17.47)
  10. Washington: $21.69 (average renter earns $16.30)

The states where a two-bedroom apartment requires the lowest income, and the average renter’s wages, are:

  1. Iowa: $13.46 (average renter earns $10.98/hour)
  2. South Dakota: $13.41 (average renter earns $10.67)
  3. West Virginia: $13.21 (average renter earns $10.46)
  4. Kentucky: $13.14 (average renter earns $11.38)
  5. Arkansas: $12.95 (average renter earns $11.68)

The National Low Income Housing Coalition’s findings are similar to those of Forbes’ 2015 rental rankings, which show that the most expensive cities for renters are:

  1. San Francisco
  2. Oakland, California
  3. San Jose, California
  4. Manhattan
  5. Los Angeles

Check out “Where Being a Renter Really, Really Stinks” to learn more about Forbes’ rankings.

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Stacy Johnson

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