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More Than 19 Million Renters Are Burdened By Housing Costs

Over 19 million of renter households in the country spent more than 30% of their income on housing costs during the 2017-2021 period, according to data from the new American Community Survey five-year estimates released today by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Households spending more than 30% on housing costs, including rent or mortgage payments, utilities, and other fees, are considered cost burdened according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s definition of affordable housing.

At the county level, 239 or 7.6% of the nation’s 3,143 counties had a median housing cost ratio for renters above 30%. More than half of households with income and paying rent faced housing cost burdens in these counties. Nearly a third of all renters in the nation lived in these counties.

In 18 counties, homeowners with a mortgage had a median housing cost ratio above that of renters. That means the median household with a mortgage had higher financial burden than the median household that paid rent in these counties. The hardship caused by the rise in housing costs persisted despite increases in median household income.

“We’ve heard for a while now that incomes were not keeping up with the increased cost of housing,” said Molly Cromwell, a demographer in the Census Bureau’s Housing Statistics Branch. “With the most recent data, we can see just how many households were burdened by the cost of their housing.”

The U.S. median household income for the American Community Survey’s 2017-2021 five-year period was $69,021. Median household income, adjusted for inflation to 2021 dollars, in the United States increased 10.5% from $62,460 in 2012-2016, the most recent nonoverlapping five-year period. The rise in median income was not proportionate across all counties, however.

Between 2012-2016 and 2017-2021, nearly half (1,374) of all counties experienced an increase in median household income, while more than half (1,699) of all counties did not have a statistically significant change. Most (74.1%) counties had a median household income lower than the national median, while 13.2% of counties had a median household income higher than the national median.

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