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NHC Beyond 4 Walls Podcast

U.S. incomes increasing, but school workers still struggle to afford housing

Paycheck to Paycheck 2016: A Snapshot of Housing Affordability for School Workers” focuses on five school-related occupations: bus drivers, social workers, daycare teachers, groundskeepers and high school teachers. These workers and other members of a school’s staff collaborate to create a safe and nurturing environment for students. Through this work, these individuals become part of the fabric of the community, whether they are bus drivers, groundskeepers or teachers. However, in many metropolitan areas across the country, the salaries of these workers do not allow them to live in the communities that they serve.

Our analysis comes at a time when the economy is giving strong indications of recovery. Most telling are the data recently released by the U.S. Census Bureau. They show that median household incomes grew 5.2 percent between 2014 and 2015. While this recovery is something to celebrate, housing costs are still unmanageable for many households. This includes many of those described in the “Paycheck to Paycheck” report. Housing costs can force difficult choices on households when they begin to encroach on other elements of a household’s budget like food and healthcare. Can a child care teacher move to a more affordable neighborhood and spend more time and money on transportation? Should a groundskeeper absorb the higher housing costs required to live near work and spend less on other items, like healthcare and food? The ability to live affordably near work is a key element in retaining workers. Unaffordable housing can drive away skilled workers, or cause them emotional and physical stress.

The data in the 2016 analysis suggest that housing affordability is a struggle for workers across the income range. None of the occupations highlighted in this report earned salaries that were high enough to guarantee either renting or owning in all 210 metropolitan areas, and the discrepancies between the earnings of several occupations and the housing costs in certain metropolitan areas were massive.

For example, in the super-heated real estate market of California’s Bay Area, the typical rent for a two-bedroom home would consume almost 75 percent of a child care teacher’s median income. Even more striking is the qualifying income for ownership in the San Francisco metropolitan area, which is $298,238. This is over eight times more than the median income for a child care teacher. The disparity between salary and housing costs is certainly extreme in such a high-cost market, but child care teachers can only afford to rent in five percent and own in six percent of the 210 metropolitan areas included in the report.

The implications of the data in the 2016 report go beyond the education sector, as many of the occupations in the full Paycheck to Paycheck data earn salaries that are comparable to the ones highlighted in the report. They were chosen to represent the broad range of both teachers and non-instructional school workers, as well as the diversity of occupations across the country. With this in mind, the report also discusses the range of policies and programs that are designed to improve access to affordable housing. Expanding support for these would benefit not just education workers but workers in every sector in communities across the country.

The full report, a database of wages and housing costs for 81 occupations in 210 metro areas, an explanation of our methodology and a supplemental research brief are available here.  

Since the September 14th release of “Paycheck to Paycheck” and the online tool, NHC has discovered that final checks of the data were insufficient to detect miscalculations. Upon review of the analysis, NHC discovered errors in the graphs in the online tool and incorrect data in “Paycheck to Paycheck.” 

As a result of the errors in “Paycheck to Paycheck”, we underestimated the magnitude of the housing affordability challenges facing school bus drivers and child care workers in Greenville, S.C., as well as the housing affordability challenges of households across the country earning the area median incomes who want to purchase a home. We have corrected these issues, recommend you review the updated report if you used this information and re-run any data you may have previously obtained from the online Paycheck database. If you have any questions regarding the changes to “Paycheck to Paycheck” or the online tool, please contact Janet Viveiros at

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