Paying for housing is usually the most expensive fixed cost that people have, and rightly so. Advisers recommend that to maintain a healthy budget, you should spend no more than one-third of net income on housing, whether you rent or own your home. But since costs differ dramatically based on location, the amount you need to earn to afford a decent home depends entirely on where you live.
We created the data behind our map thanks to the research tools at Zillow. We calculated the average price of a rental property (including multifamily units) for every state. Next, we figured out how much money a household would need to make to be able to afford that rental price. We simply used the rule of thumb that housing costs should be no more than 30% of net income, that is, your income before taxes, retirement contributions or anything else is taken out. We then created an intuitive and color-coded map of the results.
These are the ten states (including Washington, DC) where you need to earn the most money to afford the average home as a renter.
1. Washington DC: $8,487
2. California: $8,313
3. Hawaii: $7,806
4. New York: $7,223
5. Massachusetts: $7,193
6. New Jersey: $6,717
7. Colorado: $6,197
8. Washington: $5,993
9. Maryland: $5,863
10. Connecticut: $5,590
There are a few interesting trends in our map worth calling out. There is a decent-sized cluster of states in the middle part of the country across the South where relatively modest incomes afford an average sized rental—from Iowa to Alabama, households only need to make less than $3,500 each month, or less than $42,000 a year. Compare that to the group of red states in the Northeast like New York, Massachusetts and New Jersey, where workers need upwards of $80,000 – $90,000 a year. In other words, based on the rule of applying no more than one-third of income to housing, people living in the Northeast must earn at least twice as much as those living in the South just to afford rent for what each market considers an average home.
Our map also highlights the problems of affordable housing in another way. Consider California, where the average household needs to bring in $8,313 to afford a typical rental, just shy of $100,000 a year. And in fact, median household income numbers are relatively high in California compared to the rest of the country, standing at about $67,000 a year. But pause for a moment and consider what that means: even in a comparatively well-off state, over half the population is considered unable to adequately afford an average rental. There is indeed a real problem with affordable housing when most people can’t actually afford it.
Data: Table 1.1
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