This Map Shows Just How Many Hours You Have to Work to Pay Your Mortgage

published Oct 18, 2017
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(Image credit: Trinette Reed/Stocksy)

In some expensive cities, it can feel like every dollar you earn goes straight toward housing. It turns out, it may not be your imagination.

A new data visualization by shows how many hours the average household in 98 U.S. cities would need to work each month just to afford the median mortgage payment in their city. If you’ve ever felt like you’re climbing Mount Mortgage, you’ll appreciate the visual:

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In New York, Los Angeles, Miami, and San Francisco, a household earning the area’s median income over a 40-hour workweek would have to spend more than 100 hours at the office just to cover the mortgage payment on a median-priced home. That’s more than two and a half weeks each month — greater than half of their income — devoted entirely to housing.

While the figures are based on a single person earning the median household income, many of those households actually have two earners, of course. That means one partner’s job could be entirely devoted to putting a roof over the family’s head.

And in that case, moving to a different place could mean that partner wouldn’t have to work… at all. In cities like Toledo, Ohio, Memphis, Tenn., Cleveland, and Buffalo, N.Y., where the median home price doesn’t even crack $100,000, a median wage earner would have their mortgage paid off before the whistle blows on their first Wednesday at work. That’s astounding.

What’s more, average commute times tend to be longer in these big metro areas as well, meaning it probably takes even more time each month to pay off the median mortgage.

Of course, as anyone who has paid far too much money to stuff themselves into an overcrowded, big-city apartment will tell you, you’re not just paying for your home in a place like New York. You’re paying for economic opportunity, and also for what urbanists call “third spaces” — the coffee shops, restaurants, museums, libraries, and parks that make living in a bustling city worth the immense cost and many headaches.

I mean, I have some serious love for Upstate New York. But I’ve been to Buffalo, and it was weirdly difficult to find even one other human being after 5pm. (This is apparently changing, which is great to hear. But I still don’t expect they’ll need to name a ‘Night Mayor’ anytime soon.)

Still, it’s hard to argue with the concept that your time on Earth is perhaps your most valuable currency. (Would you rather have no time left, or no money? I’ll take dead broke over just plain dead, thanks very much.) And if you have to spend four or five times as much of it working each month just to make your mortgage, it does make you wonder: Could that time be better spent?

Now if you’ll excuse me, I live in Boston, so I have to write like 35 more of these posts before I can think about going grocery shopping this month.