The Publication of Habitat for Humanity International | February / March 2002
Fighting Poverty
A World View
Habitat At Work Across The Globe
A Country View
A Regional View
Homeowner Determination Yields Renewed Hope

Habitat in Appalachia:
A Proven Solution
What You Can Do

Affordable Housing 'Out of Reach' for Many
Test your housing knowledge with the following quiz. Answers provided at the bottom of this page.

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1. From a housing point of view, which state is the least affordable?
A. California
B. New Jersey
C. Hawaii
D. Alaska

2. How much money would one need to earn per hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment in Kansas?
A. $8.50
B. $14.00
C. $10.38
D. $15.70

3. How many hours per week would one need to work to afford a two-bedroom apartment at minimum wage in New Jersey?
A. 104
B. 139
C. 79
D. 117

4. From a housing point of view, what is the most affordable state in the continental United States?
A. Kentucky
B. Mississippi
C. Nebraska
D. West Virginia

While many people understand that finding affordable housing can be difficult, few realize the extent of the crisis.

“Out of Reach 2001: America’s Growing Wage-Rent Disparity,” a study released by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, sheds some light on the affordability of rental housing in the United States. Statistics on the least affordable states, counties, and metropolitan and nonmetro areas offer an overview of the country, while county-by-county breakdowns of area median incomes, Fair Market Rents and the income needed to afford housing present
location-specific data.

To read the executive summary of “Out of Reach 2001” online, or to order a copy, visit the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s web site at

Answer key: 1.-A; 2.-C; 3.-B; 4.-D.

Confronting a
Low-Wage Reality

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America–by Barbara Ehrenreich, Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt,
221 pages, $23, ISBN 0-8050-6388-9

Author Barbara Ehrenreich ate “…lots of chopped meat, beans, cheese and noodles” when she had a kitchen. But when someone earns $6 an hour, a kitchen is no guarantee.

It is difficult to appreciate any situation fully without experiencing it, without becoming part of that particular environment. In her book,
Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, Ehrenreich does precisely this, going undercover to experience the challenges that face low-wage workers.

Her conclusion: “Something is wrong, very wrong, when a single person in good health, a person who in addition possesses a working car, can barely support herself by the sweat of her brow.”

Ehrenreich spent time in three U.S. locations–Florida, Maine and Minnesota–working jobs that ranged from waiting tables and cleaning houses to delivering meals and selling clothes at a discount store. She sought work under the pretext of a divorcee returning to the work force, and discovered that while “non-skilled” jobs were in abundance, the opportunities they provided for a strong quality of life were sparse.

“In the rhetorical buildup to welfare reform,” she writes, “it was uniformly assumed that a job was the ticket out of poverty and that the only thing holding back welfare recipients was their reluctance to get out and get one.”

What Ehrenreich learns is that the obstacle to a better way of life is not one’s reluctance to get a job, but rather transportation costs, child care expenses, soaring housing costs and other barriers that surface in the low-wage work world. Millions of low-wage workers–the “working poor”– struggle every day to stretch meager paychecks over the costs of adequate living arrangements, and through her own residence in a low-wage reality, Ehrenreich allows the reader to glimpse the difficulties–in many cases, the impossibilities–shared by so many people across the United States. Toward the end of her book, in her “Evaluation” chapter, Ehrenreich delivers the following assessment:

It is common, among the nonpoor, to think of poverty as a sustainable condition–austere, perhaps, but they get by somehow, don’t they? They are “always with us.” What is harder for the nonpoor to see is poverty as acute distress: The lunch that consists of Doritos or hot dog rolls, leading to faintness before the end of the shift. The “home” that is also a car or a van. The illness or injury that must be “worked through” with gritted teeth because there’s no sick pay or health insurance, and the loss of one day’s pay will mean no groceries for the next. These experiences are not part of a sustainable lifestyle, even a lifestyle of chronic deprivation and relentless low-level punishment. They are, by almost any standard of subsistence, emergency situations. And that is how we should see the poverty of so many millions of low-wage Americans–as a state of emergency.

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