Having a nice place to live is part of the American Dream. Work hard, apply yourself and you’ll make a good life for yourself and your family.
But a far different storyline is playing out in Florida these days. For when it comes to paying the rent, too many Floridians find their paychecks coming up short. In fact, the Great Recession has put rent “out of reach” for a wide swath of workers here, according to a new report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
To rent a two-bedroom Florida apartment, for an average of $965 a month, a family of four must earn $38,607 a year. But census data shows 40 percent of Florida households earn less than $35,000 a year, putting rental housing out of reach.
With all the attention given foreclosures during the housing crisis, it’s time to focus on the widening gap between what hourly workers earn and what apartments cost. Because as it is, too many full-time workers can no longer afford to rent decent housing.
In fact, Florida is now one of the nation’s 10 most expensive states for rental housing, says the report, “Out of Reach: America’s Forgotten Housing Crisis.”
To pay rent and utilities, a Floridian must make an hourly wage of $18.56, compared to the national average of $18.25.
And with more people choosing to rent these days, rents are going up, even as wages remain stagnant.
If you earn Florida’s minimum wage, $7.67 per hour, you’d have to work 97 hours per week, 52 weeks a year, to rent a two-bedroom unit — an impossible task. It would take 2.4 minimum-wage earners working full-time, year-round, to afford it, the report says.
Perhaps you think most minimum-wage workers are teens working part-time jobs after school. In reality, they are adults whose pay is crucial to families. The average minimum-wage worker brings home more than half (54 percent) of his or her family’s weekly earnings, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
Many are women, African-Americans, Hispanics and other minorities. They work in industries that make up a significant portion of our state’s economy — hospitality, retail and tourist attractions. While the average wage of workers in these industries may be higher than the minimum, ranging from $9.20 to $11.05 per hour, it still isn’t sufficient for a two-bedroom unit unless they live with one or more other workers.
Shelter is a basic human need. As our state works to attract businesses, we can’t lose sight of the economic challenges facing the workforce. Incentives should be established to encourage higher wage jobs and affordable housing for those who work full-time.
A decent home is a part of the American Dream that we should not let slip away.
Rick Outzen is the publisher/editor of Pensacola's Independent News.
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