Although rent prices are down slightly from their peaks, Americans still need to make more than ever to afford a roof over their heads.

According to a new report by Zillow, the typical American needs to earn nearly $80,000 a year to avoid being “rent-burdened.” That’s up from less than $60,000 a year before the pandemic.

A person is “rent-burdened” when they spend 30% or more of their income on shelter. The Department of Housing and Urban Development says this is a dangerous threshold that can cause families to fall behind on other bills.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, rents have increased by 31.4%,” though this number is as high as 38.3% for single-family units, wrote Zillow chief economist Skylar Olsen.

Since 2019, rents have outpaced wages by 1.5 times, making it harder for families to keep up with the rising cost of shelter. The income needed to comfortably afford rent has increased by 3.7% over the past year alone.

One problem is that the typical American family makes under $75,000 a year, so by definition, a large share of the population is already considered rent-burdened.

Economists worry that this problem will get worse before it gets better.

The growing burden

The New York Fed’s latest study on household finances found that a whopping 19% of renters reported being behind on their rent payments at some point in 2023.

According to the report, this is primarily because of a mix of rising consumer prices and soaring housing costs in the wake of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, a separate study by Harvard University found that a record-high 22.4 million renter households are spending more than 30% of their income on shelter costs.

“Among cost-burdened households, 12.1 million had housing costs that consumed more than half of their income, an all-time high for severe burdens,” the report said.

According to Sarah Saadian, the senior vice president of public policy at the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, a growing share of the renter population is one financial emergency away from not being able to afford rent at all.

“More and more households that are struggling to pay rent are living just one sort of financial shock away from facing evictions and, in worst cases, homelessness,” she said.

At the heart of the problem is a growing gap in affordable rental units. According to Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, the market has lost more than 6.1 million affordable rental units since 2012.

Over the same period, it gained 8.4 million high-end units that cost upward of $1,400 a month.