Some pundits call Millennials "Generation Renters," the point being that this is a generation that rents and has no clear path to homeownership. But just maybe it is actually high rents that have transformed this generation into Generation Ramen, because that may be about all they can afford to eat.
That is a takeaway from recent research by RadPad, an apartment search and rent payment provider, that claimed many Millennials are paying dramatically more than the 30% of income for housing that advisors traditionally recommended. In fact some are paying 2 times that amount. Sometimes more.
In Manhattan, for instance, RadPad pegged the average rent for a one bedroom in its system at $3,000 per month. It put the typical entry level salary at $47,000. That Millennial is paying 77% of income for rent.
In San Francisco, a Millennial is paying a jaw dropping 79% of salary for rent. In Los Angeles it is 61%. In Boston, 56%. In Seattle, 51%.
To find cities around the 30% maximum, go to Texas where in Austin it is 36%, per RadPad, and in Houston it is 29%.
"Millennials want to be in the heart of the city," said RadPad CEO Jonathan Eppers. "And cities aren't building enough housing to meet the demand." That's why he sees no end in sight to the high rents Millennials are burdened with.
28-year-old Millennial Amy Ridings in Dallas explains her own frustrations with exorbitant rent and a stagnant salary. "I can confirm that about 45% of my salary goes to rent," she said. "I always count on being completely broke from the first of the month through the 15th, because the entirety of that paycheck goes to rent. When I get paid on the 15th of each month, I go grocery shopping, pay all of my other bills, and then spend whatever is left on eating out."
Nick D'Urso, 27, said that he recently moved to Brooklyn where his rent is $1,600, carping "that is 50% of my entire month's pay." There are many more and similar stories. Rent is strangling the personal budgets of millions of Millennials.
Take a deep breath now and realize that the numbers may not be quite as awful as they appear. Benjamin K. Glaser, features editor with DealNews, said that "this report bases rent estimates on a one-bedroom -- and most Millennials and new grads in major cities are not living by themselves in one-bedrooms."
That is fact. Freelance personal finance writer Louis DeNicola, 27, said he lives in a house in West Oakland, Calif. where the rent is $2,500, but he splits that with two roommates. "I pay $833.33," said DeNicola, and that amounts to about "24% of my post-tax income."
Other Millennials go in as a couple into a one bedroom and that halves the RadPad numbers. When two are paying, San Francisco comes in at 39.5% - more than the recommended percentage but not paralyzing.
Many other Millennials, said multiple sources, still live in their parent's home and pay little or no rent.
Eppers, at RadPad, agreed about shared living spaces: "People are getting roommates - the percentage of people with roommates keeps increasing." He added that, per RadPad's research, 66% said they live with someone.
But that does not mean the generation is out of the financial woods. Add in student loans - 42% of Millennials told Harvard Kennedy School researchers that they or someone in their household owes student loan debt - and personal budgets become very constrained.
Rebecca Schreiber, a certified financial planner, said she has been advising Millennials for some years and she empathizes. "After rent, debt payments, eating out and traveling, there is no money left for savings," Schreiber said. "They put on a brave face, but most Millennials are terrified of a financial setback, since they have no savings to fall back on. It takes a significant effort to change this lifestyle, especially when trying to keep up with your peers who have already given up on saving."
Andy Young, who owns Young Wealth Advisors in Virginia, said he works with many Millennials and for them he has a tough love message. "Millennials have to get the stiff wake up call that they don't need the loft apartment in downtown if all they can afford is the cramped apartment on the outskirts of town," he said. "We can't live the lifestyle of charge it and pay later......later catches up way too soon."
The advice may be good, but is anyone listening?
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held TK positions in the stocks mentioned.