It is in the news everyday that poverty is getting worse in this country. Many Americans live below the poverty level and along with poverty, homelessness is soon to follow. People in this country due to limited resources are making the hard choice everyday. They are frequently unable to pay for housing, food, child care, health care, and education. In most families it is housing, which absorbs a high proportion of income. So when there is little money it is the housing that has to be abandoned.
Since there are so many Americans are living at or below poverty level, many families are a paycheck away from living on the streets. All it takes is an unforeseen illness or accident and it starts a domino effect. First the person no longer has a job, then is unable to meet their monthly obligations reducing the family to homelessness. Two factors help account for increasing poverty and homelessness: eroding employment opportunities for large segments of the workforce, and the declining value and availability of public assistance. Low-wage workers have been particularly hard hit by wage trends.
Factors contributing to wage declines include a steep drop in the number and bargaining power of unionized workers, erosion in the value of the minimum wage, a decline in manufacturing jobs and the corresponding expansion of lower-paying service-sector employment. In addition, globalization has played an important role. Many manufacturing companies have moved their manufacturing sites to Mexico because of cheaper labor. Corporations do have a responsibility to the American people to provide jobs to the very people that they expect to purchase their products and buy their stock.
Peter Singer describes this as taking care of ones own. 1 Although, he was describing this in the terms of overseas aid, it fits well in this situation. If corporations expect the citizens of the United States to buy their products and their stock, then it only stands to reason that the corporations provide employment to the same population. Declining wages, in turn, have put housing out of reach for many workers. Reading the classifieds in the Detroit Free Press it was easy to see that persons trying to make a living on a minimum wage job and have a family could not afford a one- or two-bedroom apartment.
The only way they would be able to live is that they would need some kind of public assistance and according to the media; public assistance has declined over the last few years Lack of public assistance in part has driven many American families to poverty and homelessness. Until its repeal in the mid 1990s, the largest cash assistance program for poor families with children was the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program. This program gave families whom were out of work a way to avoid homelessness.
The current welfare benefits and Food Stamps combined are below the poverty level. This makes it hard for families to afford suitable housing. Proving further the reduction of public assistance is the fact that the welfare caseloads have dropped sharply. This is due to the passage and implementation of welfare reform legislation. Early findings suggest that although more families are moving from welfare to workfare, many of them are faring poorly due to low wages and inadequate work supports.
This program designed to aid the poor actually lowers their standard of living. Only a small fraction of welfare recipients’ new jobs pay above-poverty wages because the government is sending people out to work with limited skills. Since they have only limited skills, they end up in the lower paid service sector instead of the higher paying manufacturing sector. This is especially true in female-headed and working families. 3 Women are the hardest hit. They comprise the overwhelming majority of welfare recipients in this case and extreme poverty is growing more common for children and they are not getting the supervision they need because their mothers are try to make a living for their families.
As a result of loss of benefits, low wages, and unstable employment, many female headed families leaving welfare due to legislation struggle to get medical care, food, and housing. Once they have lost their job, they lose their health insurance. As a result of the federal welfare reform legislation, housing is rarely affordable for families leaving welfare for the low wages of workfare. Yet subsidized housing is so limited that few families on welfare lives in public housing or receives a housing voucher to help them rent a simple one room apartment. For most families leaving the welfare rolls, housing subsidies are not an option.
In some communities, former welfare families appear to be experiencing homelessness in increasing numbers. 3 A lack of affordable housing and the limited scale of housing assistance programs have contributed to the current housing crisis and to homelessness. The gap between the number of affordable housing units and the number of people needing them has created a housing crisis for poor people. According to the media, despite an improving economy, the affordable housing gap has increased. Affordable housing is scarce everywhere and for those who haven’t left welfare, housing problems can be even worse.
In almost all of America, the maximum monthly public assistance cash grant is less than the monthly rent on a moderate two-bedroom apartment. This forces many families to live in substandard housing, share housing with other families, move frequently or become homeless. Housing costs are not just a problem for the welfare or working poor. In more than 70% of America’s 400 largest metropolitan areas, one-third of all renters cannot afford the local market rent for decent rental housing and have enough money left for even the most basic needs.
That staggering statistic includes economically diverse places from Northern Michigan to Florida, and New York to almost anywhere else. 4 Government guidelines define “affordable housing”, as costing less than 30 percent of your gross household income. That leaves 70% for food, clothing, health care, child care, traveling to work, utilities and other basics. But because of high housing costs, millions of Americans are forced to make tradeoffs and go without necessities.
Lower income tenants faced with any kind of emergency typically fall behind in their rent, are evicted and move; some of them several times a year. Self esteem suffers, as do the children, who must continually readjust and make new friends. 4 Poverty and homelessness result from a complex set of circumstances which require people to choose between food, shelter, and other basic needs. Only a concerted effort to ensure jobs that pay a living wage, adequate support for those who cannot work, affordable housing, and access to health care will bring a reduction to poverty and homelessness.