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Housing Inequality Is Costing Americans Their Health, Study Shows

Insufficient affordable housing in the U.S. is causing a public health issue, new data shows. According to a new study by the County Health Rankings database, severe housing burdens in the U.S. have been linked to poor health.

In collaboration with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, researchers examined county-level data on issues influencing American health such as jobs and health care access.

Researchers found that counties where Americans struggle with severe housing costs experience worse health measures compared to those that don’t. Rural areas, in particular, and expensive cities are impacted the most

Stagnant wages and higher housing costs have made housing more difficult to afford in the post-recession economy, the study reports. While 25% of renters say they are renters by choice, one in four renters in the U.S. spends more than half their income on housing costs.

This is especially true of black Americans and people of color who pay a larger share of their income toward housing because they typically earn lower incomes than white workers.

“In every county, there are households that spend more than half of their income on housing,” said Marjory Givens, the deputy director of data and science at the County Health Rankings. “When too much of the income goes to paying the rent or mortgage, people need to make these difficult tradeoffs, like paying for food and medication.”

Givens also says that while the U.S. has an unemployment rate of 4% that percentage is misleading. Many Americans are working multiple part-time jobs and even full-time jobs to pay for basic needs such as housing, food, and medical care. Up to 47% of foreclosed properties are still occupied.

What’s more, when Americans can afford housing it isn’t always in the best properties. One-third of Americans are currently dealing with pest problems such as rats and geese, which can cause damage to turf grass and other surfaces.

“I think there is a misnomer that the recession has passed and that we are on an upward trajectory with jobs and the unemployment rate, but many are left behind,” Givens said. “The living wage is not something that is the reality in many communities.”

Researchers found that, with every 10% increase in the number of Americans facing severe housing burdens, another 84,000 people suffer from poor health, 86,000 people suffer from food insecurity, and another 29,000 children live in poverty.

When people pay 50% or more on their housing, they spend less paying for other necessary resources. In 2015, U.S. households that were under stress by housing costs spent 53% less on health care, food, and transportation combined compared to those who didn’t spend 50% of their income on their housing.