Digital Desk

Minimum wage, maximum effort

If you work a minimum wage job in Washington state, you’d need to work about 81 hours a week to pay the average monthly rent in this state. It’s worse in California, where one reportedly has to work 129 hours a week to pay the landlord. This morsel of news comes to us courtesy of a blog post by the AFL-CIO today that’s making the rounds on social media. The post actually cites a study by the National Low Income Housing Coalition (see image below).


After the initial shock of this news set in, I started wondering if that 81 hours a week holds true for all Washingtonians or if the Puget Sound region and its higher cost-of-living drives up the median gross rent for the state.

The answer is yes. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median gross rent for Clark County in 2012 came in at about $912 a month (plus or minus $24 if you account for margin of error). In Washington state, the minimum wage is $9.32 an hour and median gross rent was about $954 in 2012, the figure used in NLIHC’s formula.

Generally, one wants to keep their housing costs to less than 1/3 of their total income. To pull this off earning minimum wage in Clark County, you’d need to work about 73 hours a week (Formula: $912 x 3 divided by $9.32/hour, then divided by 4 weeks). That’s not quite the 81-hour-week that the NLIHC arrived at in its calculations but it’s still far more than any rational human being would want to work in a week.

In King County, the median gross rent is about $1,109. Using the same math above, one would need to make 89 hours a week at minimum wage to pay your rent with the recommended one-third of your monthly income.

It could be worse, though. According to the study, someone earning minimum wage in Hawaii would have to work 177 hours a week to afford “fair market housing” and not pay more than 30% of their income for housing.

There are 168 hours in a week.

John Hill

John is the web editor at The Columbian, where he has worked since 1995 in various roles. A journalist for the past 25 years, he's a fan of good storytelling, data, graphics and still likes to read an actual newspaper. Twitter: @hilljohng