WASHINGTON—There are currently 53 million millennial workers in the US labor force, and millennials will comprise a growing share of workers in the years to come. While the number of working millennials is growing, the paychecks of many are insufficient to afford housing in their area, resulting in more instances of housing cost burden and challenges to building wealth for the future. The 2015 installment of Paycheck to Paycheck from the Center for Housing Policy at the National Housing Conference explores ways in which millennials are different from common perceptions and looks at workers in five occupations filled by many millennials workers and the housing affordability challenges they face.
Who are millennials?
“Millennials are often painted in broad brush strokes as struggling to find jobs while living in their parents’ basement and hoping to move into trendy micro-units in large cities” said report coauthor and NHC senior research associate Janet Viveiros. “Despite these stereotypes, the majority of millennials live independently or with roommates and partners, and many are starting families, and aspire to become homeowners.”
Despite their higher education levels compared to older generations, the economic downturn and slow recovery have limited job opportunities for many millennials, leaving many with lower-paying jobs and lower incomes. The median income for millennial workers is just $22,000, about half of the median income for all workers. Lower incomes make it difficult for millennials to find housing they can afford and as a result, many are forced to spend a disproportionately high share of their income on housing with little left over for other expenses or savings.
Paycheck to Paycheck explores housing affordability challenges in 208 metro areas nationwide for workers in five occupations that are commonly held by millennials: administrative assistants, retail cashiers, e-commerce customer service representatives, food service managers, and cardiac technicians. The report finds that of the occupations included in the analysis, retail cashiers experience the most severe affordable housing challenges nationwide. With a median salary of just $20,432, these workers typically cannot afford to rent a median-priced two-bedroom home in any of the 208 metro areas. Renting in the Los Angeles area would require over 75 percent of a retail cashier’s paycheck just to cover housing costs. Retail cashiers are also priced out of homebuying in all metro areas. For example, the monthly cost of buying a home in Washington, DC amounts to almost 120 percent of a retail cashier’s monthly paycheck.
Food service managers fare better, earning a national median annual salary of $60,923.This moderate income enables food service managers to rent a typical one- or two-bedroom home in most metro areas, though five of the most expensive metro areas are still priced too high for them to afford. For example, in San Francisco, where the median salary of a food service manager exceeds the national median for this occupation, the fair-market rent for a two-bedroom home would consume nearly 34 percent of a food service manager’s salary. Rent and utilities are considered affordable if they do not exceed 30 percent of a worker’s income.
Implications of unaffordable housing
While many millennials are prime prospective first-time homebuyers, they are buying homes at lower rates compared to previous generations despite widespread desire to become homeowners. A recent survey by the Urban Land Institute found that over 65 percent of millennials want to become homeowners within five years.
“Many factors contribute to the delay in homeownership among millennials,” said report coauthor and NHC research associate Mindy Ault. “Limited job opportunities, slow wage growth, high rents, and inadequate access to credit are just some of the major factors that hinder the ability to save for a down payment.”
Homeownership delays among millennials contributes to higher demand for rental housing, which drives rent increases in many major metro areas around the country. Lack of affordable housing—both ownership and rental—can have a negative impact on overall economic growth as rising housing costs can make it increasingly difficult for cities to attract millennial workers.
The full report, a database of wages and housing costs for 81 occupations in 208 metro areas, and report methodology, are available here.
About the National Housing Conference:
The National Housing Conference represents a diverse membership of housing stakeholders including tenant advocates, mortgage bankers, nonprofit and for-profit home builders, property managers, policy practitioners, Realtors®, equity investors, and more, all of whom share a commitment to safe, decent and affordable housing for all in America. We are the nation’s oldest housing advocacy organization, dedicated to the affordable housing mission since our founding in 1931. We are a nonpartisan, 501(c)3 nonprofit that brings together our broad-based membership to advocate on housing issues. Learn more at nhc.org.
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