Workers in prime earning years are struggling to pay rent: Survey

Greater percentage of older Americans can pay rent because they have accumulated wealth, fewer dependents

National Insights /
Nov.November 20, 2020 11:30 AM
(Simone Golob/Getty)

(Simone Golob/Getty)

The coronavirus has taken a devastating toll on older Americans, but it’s people in their prime earning years who are struggling most to pay the rent.

That’s according to a recent survey from rental management platform Avail and Urban Institute — a Washington-based nonpartisan think tank. Only 51 percent of renters 30 to 49 years old paid full rent in September, according to the findings. The survey polled 2,452 tenants and landlords.

Those above and below that age range fared far better. Of the renters 29 years old and under, 68 percent paid their full rent in September. Meanwhile, of those 50 and above, 73 percent paid their full rent, the survey found.

More older Americans can afford to pay rent because they have accumulated wealth over the years and have fewer dependents, the report found. The data showed that even older Americans with lower incomes paid rent at higher rates than younger Americans who earned more. “Renters hit the hardest are in the prime age range for supporting dependent children,” the survey noted.

Predictably, lower-income households had a harder time paying rent. Nearly half of households with annual incomes below $25,000 said they weren’t able to pay full rent in September, compared to just 9 percent of households with annual incomes of $125,000 and above.

The survey also found that renters in smaller multifamily buildings owned by individual landlords struggled to pay rent more than renters in larger, corporate-owned multifamily complexes. About 13 percent of renters in small multifamily buildings owned by individual landlords said they couldn’t pay September rent. That compared to just 5 percent of renters in big multifamily complexes owned by institutional investors. Those renters tend to make more money, the survey found.

Missed rent payments are also translating into distress for small landlords, many of whom are struggling to pay mortgages and property taxes. The survey found that many small landlords are increasingly feeling pressure to sell their properties.

The survey highlighted the role federal assistance programs play in helping Americans pay rent. Nearly a third of survey respondents said they were able to pay their September thanks to federal unemployment assistance, and 29 percent said government assistance had helped them through the pandemic.

Seventy percent of survey respondents who couldn’t pay rent blamed loss of unemployment and income. Those numbers could rise in the near future as Covid lockdowns and restrictions increase to counter the latest wave of infections spreading across the U.S.


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