How Much Rent Can Americans Afford on Minimum Wage?
What Kind of Housing the Minimum Wage Will Get You in Each State
The minimum wage is the lowest legal wage companies can pay workers. The U.S. current national minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. For a full-time job, that equates to $15,080 a year. That is more than the federal poverty level for a single person.
Congress established the minimum wage to stop employers from exploiting desperate workers. In 2016, the Pew Research Center found 2.7 percent of working Americans earn minimum wage or less. More than half of them are between 16 and 24, and the majority work in the hotel and restaurant business.
Many argue that the minimum wage should provide a living wage. That's enough to cover food, clothing, and shelter. The common budgeting standard says you should spend no more than 30 percent of income on housing. The minimum wage gives you a housing budget of $4,525 a year. That means you could only afford rent of $377 a month.
Where You Could Live on the Minimum Wage
Where can you live for $377 a month? You are confined to rural areas, older areas in some cities, college towns, and states with a low cost of living.
There are affordable housing options in rural small towns across America. For example, a search on Apartments.com found Lane Stone Apartments in Lawton, Oklahoma. It offers a 555-square-foot one-bedroom for $320 a month.
You won't find these options in expensive states, like California or Virginia. There, you'd have to sublet an apartment or townhome. These are few and far between, and you won't be near a major city. Or you would have to get a roommate or rent a room in someone's house.
Some cities still have low-cost options in the older parts of town. These tend to be in areas with a low standard of living. For example, Garfield Commons in Phoenix, Arizona, offers a 478-square-foot studio for $380 a month. But it is located in an unsafe area near downtown.
College towns in smaller cities offer affordable student housing. For example, The Ledges in Tucson, Arizona, offers a 400-square-foot one-bedroom for $350 a month. Most student housing options operate like hostels. You rent the bedroom in a three or four-bedroom apartment. For example, West Run Apartments in Morgantown, West Virginia, would rent you a room in a 1,226 square-foot four-bedroom unit for $382 per person.
You can find apartments in your price range in the five least expensive states: South Dakota, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Kentucky, or West Virginia. Most of these states have the lowest income in the country. Here's an example from each of these states.
- Driftwood Estates in Rapid City, South Dakota, would rent you a studio for $400 a month.
- Pleasant Point in Springdale, Arkansas would rent you a 525-square-foot one-bedroom for $400.
- The Polos in Starkville, Mississippi, would rent you a 1,200-square-foot town home with two bedrooms for $399 a month.
- In Birmingham, Alabama, you could live in a 1,206-square-foot two-bedroom for $375 a month at Norwood Oaks Apartments.
- You could live in Richmond, Kentucky, by renting a 425-square-foot one-bedroom at Shade Tree Apartments for $399 a month.
- In Wheeling, West Virginia, you could rent a two-bedroom condo at La Belle Green for $395 a month.
States with Higher Minimum Wages
In 2018, there are 29 states plus the District of Columbia with rates above the federal level. In those states, you can afford a higher rent. Here's what you could rent if you made the minimum wage in each of those states.
D.C. has the highest minimum wage of $13.25 an hour. You could afford rent of $689 a month. You'd have to commute in from College Park, where you could rent a studio for $685 a month. This is also the fourth-richest city in the country.
Washington state's minimum wage pays $11.50, affording you rent of $598 a month. For that, you could live in a 300-square-foot studio in Yakima, Washington.
You could afford $572 a month in California and Massachusetts based their minimum wage of $11.00 an hour. You could rent a 275-foot studio in Bakersfield, California, for $515 a month. You'd have to find roommates to live anywhere in Massachusetts.
Oregon pays $10.75 an hour, while Vermont and Arizona pay $10.50 an hour. You could afford a monthly rent of $546 to $559. Alderstreet Apartments in Eugene, Oregon, would rent you a studio for $505 a month. You'd have to find a roommate to live in Vermont. There are many choices in Arizona in the major cities, Phoenix and Tucson. In Phoenix, you could rent a 335-square-foot studio with pool access in Biltmore on the Lake for $555 a month.
New York pays $10.40 an hour and Colorado pays $10.20 an hour. Rents between $530 and $541 would fall within your budget. The Overlook in Ithaca, New York, would rent you a 690-square-foot one-bedroom for $419 a month. In Denver, Colorado, you could get a 404-square-foot studio at Welton Park for $472 a month.
Four states pay $10.10 an hour, allowing you an apartment of $525 a month. Those states are Hawaii, Maryland, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. Maine pays $10 an hour, allowing a rental payment of $520 a month. You'd need a roommate to live in any of those states.
Four states pay more than $9 an hour: Alaska at $9.84, Minnesota at $9.65, Michigan at $9.25, and Nebraska at $9.00. You could afford rents from $468 to $512 a month. You'd need roommates to live in Alaska. Slater Square Apartments would rent you a 256-square-foot studio for $474 a month in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In Detroit, Michigan, you'd find a 350-square-foot studio for $425 a month. In Omaha, Nebraska, you could live in a 425-square-foot apartment at Marion Apartments for $435 a month.
Four states pay more than $8.50 an hour: South Dakota at $8.85, West Virginia at $8.75, New Jersey at $8.60, and Arkansas at $8.50. You could afford rents from $442 to $460 a month. In Mitchell, South Dakota, you could live in a 420-square-foot one-bedroom at Meadowlawn Plaza for $457 a month. In West Virginia, your best bet is the condo in Wheeling mentioned earlier. In New Jersey, the higher minimum wage wouldn't help you get your own place. But it does help you in Arkansas, where you could rent a 580-square-foot one-bedroom at Meadowcrest Apartments in Little Rock for $425 a month.
Ohio and Montana pay $8.30 an hour, allowing you affordable rent at $432 a month. You could live in a 288-square-foot studio at Pine Grove Apartments in Columbus, Ohio, for $430 a month. Montana has nothing in that price range.
Four states pay $8.25 an hour: Delaware, Illinois, Nevada, and Florida. You could afford $429 a month there. There is nothing available in that price range in Delaware. For $420 a month, you could rent a 700-square-foot one-bedroom at the Madison Renaissance in Chicago, Illinois. In Las Vegas, Nevada, you could rent a 600-square-foot studio at Kyle House Apartments. You could live in a 720-square-foot one-bedroom at Taylor Pointe Apartments in Vero Beach, Florida, for $333 a month.
Missouri pays $7.85, so you could afford $408 a month. In St. Louis, Missouri, you could rent a 550-square-foot one-bedroom for $400 a month. New Mexico pays $7.50 an hour, allowing a rent of $390 a month. In Las Cruces, New Mexico, you could rent a 398-square-foot one-bedroom for $379 a month at Desert Palms Apartments.