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Paycheck to Paycheck

NHC’s annual release of Paycheck to Paycheck provides insights into the ability of working households to afford typical housing in metropolitan areas across the country. The published report highlights the housing affordability challenges of workers within the construction industry across 259 metropolitan areas. See our methodology for more information on how we come up with our numbers (or use the same methodology to do your own analysis).

The full Paycheck to Paycheck data tool includes:

  • Graphs that compare wages and housing costs in 259 metro areas and the nation
  • Median incomes for 81 occupations
  • Median home prices and the income needed to afford them
  • Fair market rents and the income needed to afford them

Metropolitan Areas

Select one of 258 metropolitan areas

- OR -


Select one of 81 occupations


Data Sources

Paycheck to Paycheck is based on three sets of data from FY 2018: median home sale prices, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Fair Market Rent (FMR) calculations, and salary data from For the median home sale prices, we primarily rely on data from the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). When NAHB data are missing for a particular metropolitan area, we use data from the National Association of Realtors.

24 metro areas use HUD’s Small Area Fair Market Rents (SAFMRs) to set rents by zip codes. For these regions the metro-wide FMR was calculated by averaging out all SAFMRs in the metro area.

The data from is proprietary and not publicly available. The other data are available at the following links:

NAHB (first link to NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index)

National Association of Realtors

HUD FMR look-up tool


For homeownership, we calculate the income required to qualify for a mortgage on the median-priced home. Our calculations are based on a 90-percent loan-to-value ratio and 97-percent loan-to-value ratio (that is, a 10-percent down payment or 3 percent down payment plus the use of private mortgage insurance) and monthly payments that include loan principal and interest as well as estimated taxes and insurance. The monthly mortgage payments are annualized and assumed to comprise no more than 28 percent of gross annual income in accordance with conventional underwriting guidelines

For rental housing, we calculate the annual income that must be earned so that gross rent does not exceed 30 percent of gross income, a commonly accepted standard of affordability.


This analysis is done for 81 occupations in 259 metropolitan areas. The metropolitan areas are matched as well as possible between the sales data metro areas, HUD’s FMR area definitions, and the existing definitions of Core Based Statistical Areas (CBSAs) and metropolitan divisions by the Office of Management and Budget.

Frequently Asked Questions

For the metro area I checked, homeownership seems to be affordable for most occupations. What does this mean?

In markets where low- and moderate-income workers can afford the mortgage for a median-priced home, workers may still face barriers to homeownership.  Amassing a down payment (we assume 10 percent down), getting access to credit, and affording the bills for utilities, maintenance, and repairs can be substantial additional burdens, especially for working families.

Why do you calculate affordability based on just one income?

Job loss, household composition changes, and other factors mean that many households find themselves relying on just one income to get by.  In recent years, single-wage-earner households account for just under 40 percent of all U.S. households.  The median number of workers per household is typically around 1.5. For many lower-wage jobs, even two earners would not have enough income to afford housing in moderate or high-cost markets.


Paycheck to Paycheck 2018 uses total cash compensation data for workers’ salaries instead of base pay data used in versions prior to 2013. Total cash compensation includes base pay, tips, and short-term performance bonuses but not overtime or holiday pay, or hiring and retention bonuses. As a result, Paycheck to Paycheck 2018 is only comparable to Paycheck to Paycheck 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017.

The total number of metropolitan areas for which data are available is not always 203, as complete data on home sales were not available for all years.


The National Housing Conference gratefully acknowledges the support of the Fannie Mae and Wells Fargo for “Paycheck to Paycheck 2018.”