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Seattle—and Washington—minimum wage doesn’t come close to housing affordability

You need more than $50,000 in income just to afford a typical Seattle studio

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Washington State has one of the highest minimum wages in the country, but it’s still not nearly enough to afford the escalating cost of housing. Although Seattle’s lowest earners make a few dollars more an hour, the story is even more grim, according to the 2018 Out of Reach report by the National Low-Income Housing Coalition.

In the Seattle and Bellevue area, it takes a $54,520-a-year salary just to be able to afford a studio. Within the Seattle city limits, a full-time, minimum wage job will net between $23,920 for the smallest, benefit-paying employers, who aren’t yet required to pay $15 an hour, and $31,200 for larger businesses. At $11.50 an hour in the Seattle area, one would have to work 91 hours a week just to afford a studio; at $15, one would have to work 70 hours a week just to afford a studio close to the city.

To afford a typical one-bedroom apartment in Washington State $11.50 an hour—the minimum wage in Washington State and for some Seattle employers—one would have to work 75 hours per week. That’s at the state fair-market value for a one-bedroom, at $1,121 per month; closer to the city, that jumps to $1,529.

The report acknowledges that not everyone is making minimum wage. The typical renter in the Seattle and Bellevue area makes around $24 an hour. But at that wage, it’s still barely enough to afford a studio apartment, even working more than 40 hours a week. To afford a one- or two-bedroom in the Seattle and Bellevue, one would have to work 50 to 60 hours a week.

With margins that close, it doesn’t leave much room for emergencies or savings—so while long hours may make paying just a third of your income on housing (a commonly-accepted standard for affordability) feasible, there’s not a lot of wiggle-room or time to come up with a backup plan after job loss or a medical emergency.

And in many households, those margins are even thinner; data from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies found that in the Seattle metro area, which includes Tacoma and Everett, almost half of renter households, or 45.9 percent spend more than a third of their income on rent. 22 percent spend more than half their income on rent.

All this is to say something that most Seattleites already know: It’s rough out there. And we’re not alone; while Washington is among the more expensive states in the nation, it’s hard to find anywhere in the United States where wages keep up with housing costs.