Affordable Housing is Out of Reach in Missouri for Workers With Low Wages

(JEFFERSON CITY, MO)…..In order to afford a modest, two-bedroom apartment at fair market rent in Missouri, full-time workers need to earn $16.07 per hour. This is Missouri’s 2020 Housing Wage, revealed in a national report released Tuesday. The report, Out of Reach, was jointly released by the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), a research and advocacy organization dedicated solely to achieving affordable and decent homes for people with the lowest incomes, and Empower Missouri.

This year, the Out of Reach report is released during a time when the coronavirus has clearly illustrated that housing is healthcare. The mandate to “stay at home” has been echoed by top officials across the country. However, having a stable place to stay was out of reach for millions of people before the pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, more than 7.7 million renters with extremely low-income were spending more than half of their limited incomes on housing costs, sacrificing other necessities to do so. Since the pandemic, high job losses and the lack of access to proper healthcare and resources considerably depleted already limited resources and access.

In the past few months alone, millions of households have dealt with a decline in wages through layoffs, furloughs, or decreased work hours, and many will struggle to afford their rents. There are no states, metropolitan areas, and ZIP codes in the country where renters can afford a home at Fair Market without spending more than 30% of their income on housing costs. The severe shortage of affordable and available rental homes is still prevalent.

“It is common for housing costs to be the largest line item in our family budgets,” said Sarah Owsley, Manager of Public Policy & Organizing for Empower Missouri. “There are not enough jobs in Missouri paying $16.07 an hour or more. We must begin to address this extreme gap between housing affordability and income in our state; eviction and homelessness are the ultimate costs when we don’t.”

The federal minimum wage has remained at $7.25 an hour without an increase since 2009, not keeping pace with the high cost of rental housing. In no state, even those like Missouri where the minimum wage has been set above the federal standard, can a renter working a 40-hour work week at minimum wage afford a modest two-bedroom rental unit at the average fair market rent. Working at the minimum wage of $9.45 per hour in Missouri, a wage earner must have 1.3 full-time jobs or work 54 hours per week to afford a modest one-bedroom apartment and hold 1.7 full-time job(s) or work 68 hours per week to afford a two-bedroom apartment.

“Missouri residents are strong; we know there is value in hard work and are not afraid to stretch ourselves to make ends meet,” Owsley added. “But a 68-hour work week is too much to ask to simply maintain stable housing for your household. Our state made this clear when voters passed an increase to the minimum wage in 2018, but even that increase is not enough to make housing affordable for many.”

The typical renter in Missouri earns $15.28, which is .79 cents less than the hourly wage needed to afford a modest unit. The economic downturn spurred by the coronavirus further increased the risk of housing instability for millions of renters with low wages at a time when stable housing is vital. Millions of renters were one financial shock away from housing instability, and for many the pandemic and economic fallout is that shock.

Additionally, during this global pandemic, each extra hour working may mean increased risk to safety and health.  “It is clear the market alone will not address the housing needs of our neighbors,” Owsley said. “That’s why we are calling on our U.S. Senators to take up and pass emergency housing assistance like that included in the HEROES Act that the U.S. House recently passed.”

“Housing is a basic human need, but millions of people in America can’t afford a safe, stable home.” said Diane Yentel NLIHC president and CEO. “The harm and trauma of this enduring challenge is laid bare during COVID-19, when millions of people in America risk losing their homes during a pandemic. The lack of affordable homes for the people with the lowest incomes is one of our country’s most urgent and solvable challenges, during and after COVID-19; we lack only the political courage to fund the solutions at the scale necessary. It’s time for Congress to act.”

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Empower Missouri ( is a statewide not-for-profit organization working to secure basic human needs and equal justice for every person in our state through coalition-building and advocacy. Founded as the Missouri Conference on Charities and Corrections in 1901, Empower Missouri has operated under four names in its 119-year history, but always with a focus on access to basic human needs and basic fairness.

1 Response
  1. I never knew that the introduction of the Out of Reach study comes at a time when the coronavirus has demonstrated that housing is healthcare. I never thought that it would be like this, I’ll share this with my aunt. Thank you for the information about the bedroom apartment.

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