The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

How much a decent apartment costs you in every county

Magnum Real Estate Group's new condominium tower at 389 East 89th Street in New York. At the Upper East Side property, two-bedroom apartments start at $1.58 million for a unit with 1,098 square feet. (Michael Nagle/Bloomberg)

A decent two-bedroom rental today will cost you on average more than you could afford working full time on the local minimum wage everywhere in America — in every state, every county, every metropolitan area. No matter how you draw the geography. Whether you live in Sioux Falls or San Francisco.

What the government considers to be a local "fair market rent" for a two-bedroom would eat up more than 30 percent of a minimum-wage worker's earnings. This fact, from updated data annually compiled by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, addresses a small number of scenarios. Most renters make more than the minimum wage. And many workers who do may not need two bedrooms or rely on just one income.

But the national pattern — the minimum wage isn't really a "housing wage" anywhere in America, even at 40 hours a week — hints at the difficulty of being a poor single parent. And it's just the most dire expression of an affordable housing crunch affecting renters much farther up the income spectrum, too.

Most renter households making 30 percent of the local median income couldn't afford a fair-market two bedroom, either. And even median-income renter households can't in much of the country.

In the District of Columbia, the median renter household makes about $47,000 a year. Fair market rent for a two bedroom (including utilities) would gobble up about 41 percent of those gross earnings — above what economists would consider "affordable."

In Philadelphia, a decent two bedroom would take up 53 percent of the median renter income. In the Bronx, it would take up 66 percent. Median incomes and local rents vary dramatically across the country. But in most of the United States outside the Great Plains, the former isn't enough to afford the latter.

On that map, green counties offer two-bedroom fair-market rents that would be affordable on the median renter household income in that area. Purple counties are unaffordable — dark purple even more so. In those places, a household making the median renter income would have to spend more than 30 percent of its earnings to afford a decent two bedroom.

Of course, people find a way to get by despite this map. Families crowd into smaller, cheaper units than what they really need. Or they wind up paying far more than 30 percent of their income on housing, curbing other expenses like health care, food and transportation. Or they settle for substandard housing that costs well below what HUD would consider "fair market." (The federal agency sets these rates each year to help determine subsidy levels of programs like housing vouchers.)

Increasingly, lower-income renters in particular are having to make such concessions, as rents have risen and wages have stagnated, and as the rental market has grown ever more crowded. The above map, though, shows that even a median income isn't protection against high housing costs in many parts of the country.