Full-time minimum wage workers can’t comfortably afford a 1-bedroom apartment anywhere in America

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Just spend 50-70% of your income on rent.
Then subtract bills, food, taxes, the odd emergency aaand… you owe us $12,000.


Hey, free rent in debtor’s prison.


Austerity apologist in 3, 2, 1…

The line of argument may include the following.

  • This expectation that a minimum wage earner should work only 40 hours per week is nonsense.
  • If they can’t afford a one bedroom apartment, they need to move down to an efficiency and double up.

Note: the above is not an exhaustive list.


the problem here seems to be the false premise that a minimum wage job should be the minimum standard by which the cost of living is measured. it isn’t. God forbid someone who doesn’t learn an actual skill should be expected to live in a studio apartment, or -gasp- with roommates, both of which many many people do. Even those with college degrees and good salaried pay.

the issue here isn’t with how we price our real estate, or how we compensate our unskilled laborers, it’s with how we don’t make learning a skill more accessible to them.

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Let’s get a few more out of the way:

  • If we raised the minimum wage it wouldn’t really the working poor because then they’d just have to pay more for everything anyway
  • If minimum wage was enough to support oneself on then there wouldn’t be any incentive to be more productive/get an education/find a better job
  • The government shouldn’t interfere with the sacred hand of the Free Market (all blessings be upon it)

(Edit: Damn! Not quite fast enough.)


Where are people getting this nutty notion that a “minimum wage” is meant to be the wages of a decent living?

Oh yeah:


Right, let’s lower the expectations for everyone so we can feel better about shitting on the poor.


I absolutely think our minimum wage should be increased.

However, I’ve been repeatedly annoyed by the sensationalism of this headline. It uses state averages and then claims that a minimum wage worker can’t afford a 1-bedroom “anywhere” in the country. This is easily contradicted by a quick search on Craigslist. Obviously, since the data comes from state averages, there are places in the state that are lower, potentially much lower, and so there ARE places where a full time minimum wage worker can afford a 1-bedroom apartment with 30% or less of their income. In fact, near me there are even 2-bedroom apartments that meet that price level.

By overselling the problems with easily falsifiable claims, we dilute the statement as opponents spend time just poking holes in the obviously overblown headline.

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But statistically, adults aren’t able to find places to live alone. That’s not misleading, especially with the word, “comfortably” in the headline.


Sorry, I actually meant the Vox headline, not Boing Boing specifically.

“A full-time minimum-wage job won’t get you a 1-bedroom apartment anywhere in America”


I think one thing that is missing is that the difference comes from somewhere. Employers pay a las than living wage so their profits can be higher. In return either:
Government picks up the difference in termed of EIC, subsidized housing, SNAP, etc (in enlightened areas)
Charity picks up difference (food banks, thrift stores, etc - all that money coming from the subset of people who contribute.
Crime makes up the difference (suspect this is much lower than thought)
Nobody picks up the difference and misery ensues - people go hungry, health suffers, and the overall welfare of what is supposed to be the richest country in history gets lower.

TL:DR If employer (and by extension their customers) doesn’t pay a living wage the difference is picked up elsewhere. Privatizing profits, socializing the risks again


So if you’re making minimum wage in Hawaii and want to rent a 1 BR apartment, your week is something like:

Sleep six hours a night. (6*7 = 42)
Have one hour free. (1)
Work the rest of the time, nearly eighteen hours a day. (17 6/7 * 7 = 125)

42 + 1 + 125 = 168 = 24*7

Better hope your apartment is close to your workplace, otherwise your 1 hour of free time will be consumed by travel to/from work. Alternately you could cut down to 5 hours of sleep a night to get to 8 hours free to give you a travel allowance.

OK, it’s possible to find exceptions, but the headline is still essentially true.

Faulting the headline is like arguing against “$500 won’t get you a decent sports car anywhere in America” because a handful of people might have a rich uncle who is willing to give them a steal on his old Miata.


I see that “comfortably afford” unpacks to mean “spend less than 30% of one’s pay”.

Further explanation that this is a “standard measure of housing affordability” gives some reason to respect this metric; it’s a fairly random choice that allows global (or at least national) comparison of housing affordability within categories of worker. But without knowing how much one need spend on other subsistence costs like food, non-leisure transportation and work clothing these numbers aren’t particularly useful for purposes other than such comparison.

Inefficiency also makes up the difference. As I always say: Pay me minimum wage, then you deserve my minimum effort.

Ever notice that most people getting paid nothing are kind of less motivated?

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That’s pretty much my point though. Selling something that’s usually true as always true, as the Vox headline definitely does, just leaves it open for people to refute the low-hanging fruit without bothering to consider or debate any further. The chart of averages and supporting data is horrible enough to stand alone without writing a headline that tries to make it sound like it’s universally true.

Basically, stop the ridiculous sensationalizing and just tell it like it is.

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Or, we can live in reality and try to solve these problems.


I agree with ActionAbe. I found the headline to be fair as it indicates “comfortably,” which uses the 30% threshold that economists, bankers, and loan providers use everyday.

This problem isn’t affecting only minimum wage earners, either. I bet that most people who consider themselves middle class (whatever that is) are not able to save a significant amount money for emergencies because they are spending more than 30% on housing.