The Market

Proof: New York really was WAY cheaper in the 1980s

By Virginia K. Smith  | June 29, 2016 - 9:59AM

Everyone knows that New York used to be cheaper back in the 80s, but without adjusting for inflation, it can be hard to get a sense of the historical savings as anything other than abstract.

But if you'd like your relative rent burden thrown into harsher perspective, Apartment List compiled a report on how median rents versus renter income have changed in American cities since 1980, and the numbers are just as stark as you might have guessed.

The site crunched census numbers in major cities going all the way back to 1960, and found that nationwide, inflation-adjusted rents went up by a whopping 64 percent, while "real household incomes" rose by just 18 percent. As such, in 2014, 49 percent of US renters were considered rent-burdened, compared to 24 percent in 1960. (For further proof that rent burden is rampant, here's a map of its effects on NYC neighborhoods.)

There are also these graphs Apartment List put together of how median rent and renter income have changed since 1980, both in NYC and in the U.S. at large:



    "Inflation-adjusted renter incomes in New York City have increased around 22 percent since 1980, compared to a decline of 2 percent for the U.S. as a whole," Andrew Woo, Apartment List director of data science & growth, tells us via email. "Rents in NYC have skyrocketed, however, jumping more than 70 percent over that time period (vs a 34 percent jump for the US), making the city an unaffordable place to live overall."

    Woo also notes that NYC is one of a "handful of expensive coastal cities"—San Francisco, Washington D.C., and Boston are a few others—that have seen significant income growth still outpaced by rising rents. "[This suggests] that the challenge there is more one of insufficient housing supply than employment and wage growth," says Woo. 

    In fact, while other parts of the country face struggles tied to stagnant wages, one metropolis fared surprisingly well in this study: According to Apartment List's data, while rental prices in Austin have increased at a rapid clip, incomes have grown even faster, making it a relatively affordable bet compared to other major U.S. cities.

    Perhaps time we all packed our bags, headed south, and made our best efforts to keep things weird?


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