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The burden of housing

Population density means higher living costs

The map shows, for each U.S. county, the percentage of households that are “burdened.” That seems to be a rather vague term, but in this case it has a precise definition from the U.S. Bureau of the Census: A household is considered burdened if it has to dedicate at least 30 percent of its income to rent or mortgage payments. Clearly, there are two components that can make a household burdened: low income and high housing costs. You could probably conceive of stories for the reasons that various parts of the country are more or less burdened. (On the map, the darker the color, the more burdened the county.) Consider that major population basins have higher housing costs, the South is generally poorer, and Florida has a lot of retirees on fixed income. Of course, one shouldn’t be surprised that housing costs are higher where there are more public amenities—which is where population tends to be denser. And, of course, some households may simply choose to spend more on their homes.

But why is 30 percent used as a threshold for burden? This is the maximum that is considered by rental assistance programs as well as guidance by mortgage providers. The concern is that households should have 70 percent available for other necessities. This problem tends to apply only to poorer households, although this map covers all households.

How this map was created: The original post referenced an interactive map from our now discontinued GeoFRED site. The revised post provides a replacement map from FRED’s new mapping tool. To create FRED maps, go to the data series page in question and look for the green “VIEW MAP” button at the top right of the graph. See this post for instructions to edit a FRED map. Only series with a green map button can be mapped.

Suggested by Christian Zimmermann.

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