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Some find rents ‘out of reach’


When we talk about how to keep young people in Greater Des Moines and induce more of them to move here, the emphasis is always on entertainment and culture. But there’s at least one other essential factor to consider: affordable housing.

The 2004 “Out of Reach” report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition suggests that rental rates all over America are a challenge for young workers who aren’t on the corporate fast track. The good news is that Iowa ranks 12th best on the affordability list for two-bedroom apartments.

But that’s just good news, not great news.

According to the report, which is based on U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development statistics, a worker in the Des Moines area must earn $12.63 per hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment priced at the fair market rate. (The numbers assume that renters should spend no more than 30 percent of their income on rent and utilities.)

In the country as a whole, the median hourly wage is about $14. One-quarter of U.S. workers are paid less than $10 an hour, the report said.

Anyone earning at or above the estimated median annual income for renters here — $32,363 — is in good shape. However, the report contends that we have several thousand residents who earn less than half the median figure and are unable to afford rent.

Down at the bottom end of the pay spectrum, the situation is particularly dire. A worker who earns the minimum wage of $5.15 per hour can afford to pay a monthly rent of $268. The fair market rent of a one-bedroom apartment in Des Moines is $539.

Even at higher income levels, it’s getting tougher for the working class to make ends meet. The report quoted federal Bureau of Labor Statistics data that showed hourly wages rose about 2.6 percent over the past year. Meanwhile, the Consumer Price Index recorded a 2.9 percent increase in rents.

Employers should keep this subject in mind as they establish starting wages and determine raises. If you want employees who will stick around and be able to focus on the job, you can’t have them worried about how they’re going to pay for their most basic needs.

By the way, Alaska, California, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington have enacted laws that establish a minimum wage exceeding the federal figure. Maybe it’s time for Iowans to have a serious discussion about doing the same.

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