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The share of rent-burdened households dropped since 2016, Census Bureau says

For rent sign in front of a house.
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The share of Montana households financially burdened by rent fell slightly over the last five years. That’s according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau released last week.

The federal government defines rent-burdened families and individuals as those spending more than 30% of income on housing expenses. In Montana, 42% of households met that criteria last year — down 1.5% since 2016.

That came as a surprise to economist Megan Lawson with Headwaters Economics in Bozeman, who examined the five-year data.

“Rents increased over that time period across the state, but incomes increased more,” Lawson says.

Lawson says median household income in Montana rose by more than 25% since 2016. She says preliminary evidence from the IRS suggests an influx of wealthy new residents from out-of-state may be contributing to that number’s rise.

The so-called pandemic “Zoom-boom” and the rise of work-from-home jobs may also be playing a part. Missoula economist Bryce Ward says median renter income didn’t increase in most states.

“But the states that saw the big increases were Idaho, Montana, New Hampshire and Vermont,” Ward says. “And, you know, there are a few others, but those states stand out to me as, ‘Oh, hey, those sound like work-from-home places.’ They have all the same kind of stuff.”

Both economists say it will take more time and data to draw any certain conclusions about what’s driving down the number of rent-burdened households in Montana.

Austin graduated from the University of Montana’s journalism program in May 2022. He came to MTPR as an evening newscast intern that summer, and jumped at the chance to join full-time as the station’s morning voice in Fall 2022.