It’s possible for someone to pay the rent while making minimum wage—as long as they have enough roommates.
Someone working 40 hours a week for minimum wage would need to room with three other minimum-wage earners in order to afford a typical a two-bedroom apartment in the U.S., an analysis published Tuesday by real estate data company Zillow found.
The average number of people needed, working full-time at the local minimum wage rate, varied significantly between metro areas, ranging from 1.6 in Fresno, California to 5.1 in Austin, Texas.
The analysis underscores how difficult it is to afford rent in many parts of the country, and how the federal minimum wage falls well short of covering basic living expenses. In most of the cities studied, getting a bedroom to oneself was financially out of reach for those making minimum wage.
Perhaps surprisingly, some of the more expensive cities were also the most affordable to minimum-wage renters, Zillow found in their report, which used rental data for 2021 from the Census Bureau. It would take an average of 2.6 people to afford a two-bedroom flat in Seattle, putting it in the middle of the pack of cities studied despite being the fifth-most expensive overall. The local minimum wage of $18.69 an hour there helped keep renting on the affordable side despite the sky-high rents.
Southern cities with no minimum wage of their own fared the worst, since employers there can pay the federal minimum of just $7.25 an hour. Austin had the worst of both worlds, with bottom-of-the-barrel minimum wage, and rent above average at $1,764.