Amid the economic fallout triggered by coronavirus, many residents are struggling to pay rent. While the pandemic has resulted in financial hardship for many Americans, housing affordability has been a persistent issue in several parts of the country due to the rise in rental costs outpacing wage growth. This is especially true in some of the largest U.S. cities, many of which are bearing the brunt of COVID-19.

At the national level, rent increases have only slightly exceeded wage growth over the past decade. According to data from Zillow and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), between 2010 and 2019, the median monthly rent nationwide increased by 20.5 percent, while the median hourly wage only rose by 17.6 percent. New data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) reported fair market rents to be approximately $980 for a one-bedroom and $1,200 for a two-bedroom rental in 2020. Meanwhile, the most recent median hourly wage estimate from the BLS is $19.14. 

The 28 percent rule, a common rule of thumb, suggests that renters should spend no more than 28 percent of their income on housing. Using the 28 percent rule, a person in the U.S. earning the median wage would have to work 42.2 hours per week in order to afford a one-bedroom rental, or 51.8 hours per week to afford a two-bedroom rental. 

In certain states and cities, the gap between wages and rents has skyrocketed, leading to much greater housing affordability issues. Overall, coastal states are the least affordable for renters. In Hawaii, California, New York, and Massachusetts, someone earning the median hourly wage would need to work between 50 and 60 hours a week to afford a one-bedroom rental without being considered cost-burdened. By contrast, states in the Midwest and the South have the most affordable housing. Based on median wages and housing costs, workers in states like Iowa, Ohio, and Kentucky can afford a one-bedroom rental while working fewer than 30 hours per week.

To find the states where residents would need to work the most hours to pay rent, researchers at Self Financial analyzed rental price statistics from HUD and wage data from the BLS. 

The analysis found that residents in Utah need to work 37.8 hours per week to afford rent for a 1-bedroom dwelling and 46.2 hours per week for a 2-bedroom. Here is a summary of the data for Utah:

  • Hours needed to afford rent (1-bedroom): 37.8 hours per week
  • Hours needed to afford rent (2-bedroom): 46.2 hours per week
  • Fair market rent (1-bedroom): $836
  • Fair market rent (2-bedroom): $1,022
  • Median hourly wage: $18.23
  • Median annual wage: $37,910
  • Year-over-year change in rent prices: +8.4%

For reference, here are the statistics for the entire United States:

  • Hours needed to afford rent (1-bedroom): 42.2 hours per week
  • Hours needed to afford rent (2-bedroom): 51.8 hours per week
  • Fair market rent (1-bedroom): $980
  • Fair market rent (2-bedroom): $1,204
  • Median hourly wage: $19.14
  • Median annual wage: $39,810
  • Year-over-year change in rent prices: +3.6%

For more information, a detailed methodology, and complete results for all states, you can find the original report on Self Financial’s website:

Stuart is the founder, writer and wrangler at several sites including Gastronomic SLC, Utah Now and, The Utah Review; Stuart is a former restaurant critic of more than five years, working for the Salt Lake Tribune and has worked extensively with other local publications from Utah Stories through to Salt Lake Magazine and Visit Salt Lake.