More than a quarter of America's working renter households now spend a majority of their income on rent.

As a general rule of thumb, you don't want to devote more than a third of your pay to housing. Spend much more than that, and your mortgage payment or rent check starts to cut into your grocery bills, or your car payment (or transit fare), your student loans or your children's education. Spend more than half of your income on the roof over your head, and you're really starting to get in trouble.

Housing wonks refer to this last group of people as having a "severe housing cost burden," and their numbers offer a good indication of the twin problems of rising rent costs and falling incomes. Today, more than one in four working renter households in the U.S. (defined as households that work at least 20 hours a week, with an income below 120 percent of the median in the area) meets this criteria. And that share (now at 26.4 percent) has been inching up every year since the start of the recession. These figures come from a new report from the Center for Housing Policy looking specifically at housing affordability for working households. There were about 44.5 million such working households in the U.S. in 2011 (slightly more renters than homeowners).

This map from the report shows where those households are devoting a majority of their income to housing, by state:

Housing Landscape 2013 study, from the Center for Housing Policy

At the metropolitan level, that percentage is the highest in Miami and the lowest in Pittsburgh.

There are a lot of different ways to measure the problem of housing affordability (or the lack thereof), and this particular metric obviously tells us nothing about those households that are unemployed entirely. But this is a helpful snapshot of the troubling trend that even workers making above-median incomes may be spending a dangerous amount of it just to have a home.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. a photo of a highway
    Transportation

    Americans Are Spending Billions on Bad Highway Expansions

    PIRG’s annual list of “highway boondoggles” includes nine transportation projects that will cost a total of $25 billion while driving up emissions.

  2. Transportation

    CityLab University: Induced Demand

    When traffic-clogged highways are expanded, new drivers quickly materialize to fill them. What gives? Here’s how “induced demand” works.

  3. Design

    What Cities Can Do to Help Birds and Bees Survive

    Pollinators—the wildlife that shuffle pollen between flowers—are being decimated. But they may still thrive with enough help from urban humans.

  4. Four young adults exercise in a dark, neon-lit gym.
    Life

    Luxury Gyms Invite You to Work Out, Hang Out, Or Just Work

    With their invite-only policies and coworking spaces, high-end urban gyms aspire to be fitness studio, social club, and office rolled into one.

  5. a photo of a woman covering her ears on a noisy NYC subway platform
    Life

    My Quixotic Quest for Quiet in New York City

    In a booming city, the din of new construction and traffic can be intolerable. Enter Hush City, an app to map the sounds of silence.   

×