Texas’s population boom over the past 10 years or so is well-known and well-documented, as is that of the Austin-Round Rock metro area (which is centered around the city of Austin but encompasses parts of five counties). Many experts, including Texas state demographer at the University of Texas San Antonio Lloyd Potter, attribute the influx of new residents to the state’s “resilient economy and relatively affordable housing.” The Austin Business Journal’s Will Anderson similarly credits local growth to factors ranging from the city’s “lower cost of living compared with the East and West coasts to its bustling jobs market.”
When it comes to minimum-wage workers, however, the picture is a little less rosy. (Minimum wage throughout the state, you might remember, is $7.25/hour.) According to a 2018 Out of Reach report by the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, the annual income needed to afford a studio apartment at fair market rent in the Austin-Round Rock metro area is $34,400.
A person the earning minimum hourly wage would need to work 91 hours per week to afford that space; a one-bedroom home (at $812/month) would require working 109 hours/week, and a two-bedroom would require 133 hours per week (an average of 19 hours per day in a seven-day week, so we’re getting into the realm of the theoretical here).
The mean wage for renters in the metro area, $19.14 per hour, is of course much higher than the state’s minimum; nevertheless, that rate requires working more than 40 hours per week for anything larger than a studio, according to the report. (The study also finds that residents receiving Social Security payments, around $750/month, can afford to pay only $225/month in rent.)
For the typical renter, then, paying to live in a home larger than a studio requires either working more hours or spending more than a third of their incomes on housing (a commonly accepted standard for affordability). While feasible, that doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room for unexpected expenditures or income loss.
All of this data adds up to something Austinites already know: It’s rough out there—especially if you make less than $20 per hour and/or receive no job benefits. If it’s any comfort, though, we’re not alone: It’s hard to find anywhere in the United States where wages keep up with housing costs.
• Texas Has Nation’s Largest Annual State Population Growth [Texas Data Center, United States Census Bureau, August 2017]
• Austin’s population keeps popping; Here’s how many people are added each day [Austin Business Journal]
• There Is No Affordable Housing in America [Splinter]