Homelessness is a topic of discussion in nearly every city with a population of over ten thousand, and maybe a few smaller towns.
Citizens rail about tent cities and go bananas at the suggestion of safe-injection sites. They want the homeless out of sight and out of mind, and they don’t want to pay the taxes required to try to round them up and rehabilitate the homeless because, well frankly, they don’t really care all that much; they just want them gone.
This isn’t total callousness on most people's part, though I suspect that is a part of this attitude. It can also be because most people have enough crap going on in their lives with their jobs, family, and all the intrusions that being an adult forces into your life to set aside the time to address issues like this.
Combine that with a lack of understanding how anyone can fall that low in society because it has never happened to any of them, and you have a lot of people not looking for longterm solutions but a quick fix that lets them go back to their lives.
What if. What if, as a society in any city struggling with a significant homeless problem, we start fixing at least some of the stuff that may lead these folks to the street, what is usually called the root cause of a problem. Here are some ideas.
Education: The following information comes from www.proliteracy.org
▪ Children of parents with low literacy skills have a 72 percent chance of being at the lowest reading levels themselves.
▪ Of adults with the lowest literacy levels, 43 percent live in poverty, and 70% of adult welfare recipients have low literacy levels. There is a clear correlation between more education and higher earnings and between higher educational scores and higher incomes.
▪ An excess of $230 billion a year in health care costs is linked to low adult literacy. Nearly half of American adults have difficulty understanding and using health information.
▪ Individuals at the lowest literacy and numeracy levels have a higher rate of unemployment and earn lower wages than the national average. Low literacy costs the U.S. at least $225 billion each year in non-productivity in the workforce, crime, and loss of tax revenue due to unemployment.
It seems pretty clear to me that a lack of education increases the chances that you will be unemployed and living in poverty if not living on the streets. We need to find a way to educate everyone in this country through at least 12 years and preferably 14 years for more and not saddle them with a lifetime of debt to get an education. Per studenloanhero.com, "Among the Class of 2018, 69% of college students took out student loans, and they graduated with an average debt of $29,800, including both private and federal debt. Meanwhile, 14% of their parents took out an average of $35,600 in federal Parent PLUS loans."
Jobs & Pay: Stagnant and eroding wages coupled with an unlivable minimum wage is a significant factor. This from various sources;
▪ A living wage is defined as “a wage sufficient to provide the necessities essential to an acceptable standard of living, and provides it with some ability to deal with emergencies, without resorting to welfare or other public assistance.”
▪ Unfortunately, in most states, the “Minimum” wage is far lower than a living wage. This disparity is one of the leading causes of homelessness among young adults in America today. Despite having a job, many do not make enough money to pay the bills.
Seattle has moved to lead the way in raising the minimum wage, and while the politicians got a lot of mileage out of that, a lot of workers are still in a bind. With a minimum wage of $15/hour, we tend to relax and think the problem is solved; it is not.
Studies have been done in Seattle to look at the impact of the new wage, and it has found that contrary to all the horror stories that opposed the increase, jobs are still plentiful. Studies also point out that experienced workers employed at the time of the increase did see an increase in their overall income of around $250 per quarter; this is not exactly going out and buying yacht money.
It is also important to note that the population analyzed in these studies worked very few hours per week. On average, the sample worked 18 hours per week, and 93 percent worked fewer than 40 hours per week. Therein lies part of the problem. At 18 hours per week, you will have to find and work 2.22 jobs to earn $600/week before taxes which is still not a liveable wage in Seattle.
Many employers limit employee hours to avoid having to pay their employees benefits as defined by federal law. Zenefits helps explain that Applicable Large Employers (ALEs) have to provide health insurance for full-time employees. To avoid that cost, employers limit the hours of many minimum wage employees.
The average rent in Seattle (varies with the neighborhood) ranges from just over $1,300 a month to a little over $1,500. Let’s assume you can find a 30/hour per week job at $15. You will gross $450 a week or $1,800 per month. Allow 10% for taxes, and you’re down to $1,620. If your employer is providing some health insurance, you almost certainly have a copay.
The Committee for Economic Development reports that “The average employer-group family health-insurance premium in the United States is now almost $15,500 (shared between employer and employee). If that is divided 50/50 between the employer and worker, that’s another $7,500 a year or $625/month from the worker’s paycheck, leaving about $1,000 for rent, food, transportation to and from work, miscellaneous expensed like toiletries, haircuts, etc.
You don’t have to be an economist to see this just isn’t sustainable by any stretch of the imagination. This post is about homelessness, not economics, but this little bookkeeping journey shows you how difficult it is for people, especially people with few skills and lacking education to pull themselves out of homelessness which is what a lot of people keep demanding of the homeless; you know, the "pull yourself up by your boostraps" bullshit.
There are other issues behind homelessness like drug addiction and alcoholism, some of which may find their basis in the hopelessness and downward spiral of not finding a job that pays a livable wage.
PTSD is of course well known and requires a solution of its own as do many other form of mental illness.
In summary, what I’m suggesting is we have to find a solution to getting everyone the best education possible so they can qualify for good paying jobs and we might need to peg the minimum wage to some formula the takes into account a livable wage as it varies from city to city based on the necessities of life in those cities.
It's not easy; if it was we would have fixed the problem years - make that centuries ago. If we’re not willing to take these steps as a society, then we need to stop whining and learn to live with homelessness like many of the third-world countries have had to do.
I think and write and talk and then do it all over again.