Economic indicators released this week lend support to some D.C.-area residents’ complaints about unaffordable rents and wages that just can’t keep up with them, especially among retail workers and (you guessed it) millennials.

According to a September report from the National Housing Conference and Center for Housing Policy, many Gen-Y’ers “spend a burdensome share of their paycheck on housing, leaving little for other expenses, including student debt repayments, savings for a mortgage down payment, and childcare.” In the D.C. metro area, a tool designed by the groups shows that only one of the “top five” occupations for area millennials (food service manager) makes enough money not to spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent—in other words, they aren’t “burdened” by it.

The report, based in part on U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development data, illustrates that the income needed to affordably rent a one- or two-bedroom apartment in the D.C. area is $49,200 and $58,320, respectively. The median wages for other jobs popular among millennials, including eCommerce customer service representative ($37,986), administrative assistant ($48,927), cashier ($22,332), and cardiac technician ($44,258), don’t make the cut for either type of apartment. Meanwhile, none of these occupations bring in the income needed to affordably own a home in the metro area: $94,023, a statistic derived from the 2015 median home price of $345,000, which is based on National Association of Home Builders data. This is despite the fact that the jobs singled out in the report each pay a few thousand dollars more annually in the D.C. area than they do on average across the United States.


Retail employees, in particular, are bleeding income, data compiled by the D.C. Office of Revenue Analysis shows. While District retailers are hiring peak levels of workers (22,500 as of March 2015—up 33 percent from 1998), those workers are earning stagnant wages. Adjusting for inflation, ORA explains that “in 1997, a retail worker in the District took home what would have been the equivalent of $25,642 today. In 2012, earnings were up by only about $1,000 compared to 1998, but down from earnings from 2007, which stood at $28,913.” Retail employees make up roughly three percent of District workers, much less than the nine and 11 percent of workers they compose in the metro area and the U.S., respectively; their wages may not be rising due to bigger trends and the fact that they may be “younger, less experienced, or less qualified” than in the past, ORA says.

“As a side note: Nearly half of District’s retail workers do not live in the District,” explains ORA, part of the Office of the Chief Financial Officer. “In 2013, about 47 percent of retail workers in the District were District residents.”

The rest live in Maryland and Virginia (38 and 15 percent). But as the housing report shows, rent’s not necessarily affordable for millennials there, either.

Screenshots via National Housing Conference/Center for Housing Policy