An enduring image of urban American 20-somethings is one of carefree living with friends in spacious apartments, as depicted in shows like “Friends” or “How I Met Your Mother.” That portrayal, never really all that close to reality, is growing further from it in part because of one factor: high rent.
For years, we’ve been told that what you pay for housing shouldn’t exceed 30 percent of your monthly income. I knew that sticking to that maxim was getting harder for many people because housing costs have soared in the past few years, which I’ve written about as a reporter for The Times’s Real Estate section. Still, I was struck by a recent report that found that a median-income American household would need to break the 30 percent rule just to afford an average-priced apartment. If that was the case, how realistic was this principle?
Not very, especially for many Gen Z adults who have recently moved into their first homes and are early in their careers. My colleague Karen Hanley and I spoke with dozens of them across the country for a story that recently published about how they’re living with high housing costs. Many were setting aside the pursuit of certain passions or career paths, migrating out of big cities or moving back home with their parents. Most said they couldn’t imagine a future in which they owned a home; some even laughed at the prospect.
One 24-year-old, Ives Williams, who lives in Baltimore and spends half of his monthly income on rent, said the only way he could see himself owning a home one day was if he bought one with friends. It’d be like “one big sleepover,” he joked.
We also wanted to learn what it feels like to be spending such a large chunk of income on rent. Is this how young people imagined adult life?
Savannah Scott, a 23-year-old renter in Reno, Nev., told us that she spends about 75 percent of her monthly income on rent. She limits her driving to once a week and buys only basics at the grocery store (“brown rice and beans”). Kellie Beck, 25, in Brooklyn, spends around 40 percent of her income on rent. She shares a room with her partner in an apartment with two other roommates and said she turns down opportunities to spend time with friends. “One night at a restaurant wipes out my spending for the week,” she explained.
Most of the conversations we had carried an air of hopelessness about homeownership. For many Gen Z adults, it is a dying part of the American dream.
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TALK | FROM THE TIMES MAGAZINE
The Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard, a best-selling author and former interpreter for the Dalai Lama, has been called “the world’s happiest man.” I spoke to him about compassion.
How are we supposed to deal gracefully with our polar opposites in a world that feels increasingly about polarities? I mean, the Dalai Lama could talk to Vladimir Putin all he wants, but Putin’s not going to say, “Your compassion has changed me.”
When we speak of compassion, you want everybody to find happiness. It has to be universal. You may say that Putin and Bashar al-Assad are the scum of humanity and rightly so. But compassion is about remedying the suffering and its cause. You can wish that the system that allowed someone like that to emerge is changed.
But why does compassion have to be universal?
Because this is different from moral judgment. It doesn’t prevent you from saying those are walking psychopaths. But compassion is to remedy suffering wherever it is, whatever form it takes, and whomever causes it. If someone beats you with a stick, you don’t get angry with the stick, you get angry with the person. These people we are talking about are like sticks in the hands of ignorance and hatred.
Is there a thought that you can suggest to people that they can carry in their minds that might be helpful to them as they go through life’s challenges?
If you can cultivate that quality of human warmth, wanting genuinely for other people to be happy; that’s the best way to fulfill your own happiness. This is also the most gratifying state of mind. If we try humbly to enhance our benevolence, that will be the best way to have a good life.