You Need Three Minimum Wage Jobs to Afford a One-Bedroom in Boston
Even the newly instituted $15 minimum wage in Massachusetts doesn't close the gap.
Boston’s unaffordable housing costs are no secret. It’s bad enough out there for people with high-paying salaries, nevermind those making an hourly wage. But Massachusetts’ new $15 minimum wage kicked into effect on Jan. 1, 2023, making it one of the highest-paying states in the nation. Can such an increase combat the affordability crisis in Boston?
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The situation remains bleak, according to numbers crunched by Boston. Zumper reports that as of February 2023, the median one-bedroom price is $3,040. Someone working for $15 an hour, 40 hours a week, four weeks a month, would be bringing in about $2,400 a month pre-tax, falling about $600 short of what they’d need to just make rent. Even if two minimum-wage workers split a one-bedroom, they’d be putting 63 percent of their income towards an average-priced apartment and would be considered housing burdened (meaning they spend over 30 percent of their income on housing costs). In fact, even someone working three minimum wage jobs (somehow, some way) would still be considered housing-burdened trying to pay these rates.
Now many of us in Greater Boston know that, considering the prices here, living alone is a luxury, not a given. Instead, most renters opt to get roommates. But when you have more people, you need more space—unless you’re willing to share a bedroom—and more space equals more money. Zumper reports that the median rent for a two-bedroom in Boston is $3,430. Splitting that 50/50 would mean each tenant would pay $1,715 a month—so someone making minimum wage and working full time could likely cover the base cost. But still, the bulk of their paycheck would be going towards rent.
The situation does improve slightly as you increase the number of roommates: Zumper also collects weekly data looking at rent prices, which shows that in Boston, the median three-bedroom rent is $3,750 a month and a four-bedroom typically goes for $4,800. Splitting rent evenly among three and four roommates, respectively, would mean each roommate would be paying $1,250 a month, more than 50 percent of what a minimum-wage worker makes in a month.
Looking outside Boston proper may help, but only slightly. Cambridge, Zumper reports, is actually more expensive than Boston with one-bedrooms going for $3,110 a month. Newton, Brookline, Somerville, and Medford are slightly cheaper, but the median one-bedroom price is over $2,500. Even Waltham’s units go for $2,610 on average.
Yet, despite this grim reality, the minimum wage here (and its recent bump) no doubt helps workers, even in a city that’s considered one of the most expensive in the country. A recent study by Zillow found it takes 3.8 full-time, minimum wage salaries to afford a two-bedroom rental nationally, since the national minimum wage is only $7.25. Residents of states with lower minimum wages fare far worse, even in more affordable cities. Like in Austin, where rents are generally lower than Boston, five full-time minimum-wage salaries would be needed to afford one two-bedroom apartment.
Meanwhile, according to Zillow’s national analysis, Boston is the 24th least affordable city for minimum-wage workers, making it more affordable than cities like El Paso and Omaha—places with lower costs of living that adhere to the national minimum wage. So while it could be infinitely better, for once we are able to look at our rental situation and think, “Maybe it could be worse.”
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