Does Most of Your Paycheck Go to Rent? That May Be Hurting Your Health

New data on health across the U.S. shows that high housing costs are harming Americans’ health – and that some communities are affected more than others.

The 2019 County Health Rankings, an annual collaborative report from the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, shows that 11 percent of U.S. households are severely burdened by housing costs. This means that more than 800,000 households spend at least half of their income on housing.

In communities with high housing costs, residents rate their health as lower, are less likely to be able to purchase enough quality and nutritious foods, and have higher rates of child poverty.

As a health researcher, this is a theme that I have seen in studies over and over again.

The Most Burdened Households

While many communities face high housing costs, these burdens are not universally shared. Renters are more likely than homeowners to spend more than half of their paycheck on housing. The costs of homeownership have improved over the past few years, but housing costs for renters have not.

There are also racial differences. More than 1 in 10 white households spend more than half of their income on housing, with a median income of US$56,000. But among households headed by Blacks, the median income is $33,000 – and about 1 in 4 Black households experience these housing costs burdens.

Another key finding from the County Health Rankings report is that segregated communities with more households headed by Black residents are twice as likely to face severe housing cost burdens than white households.

Why are Black Americans more likely to spend so much of their incomes on housing? One reason is that Black neighborhoods were targeted in a process called redlining, especially between the 1930s and 1965. Banks and other lenders excluded Black communities from favorable loans and…

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