“Being homeless is often defined as sleeping on the streets. Although this is the most visible and severe form of homelessness, there are many other types of acute housing need. These include living in temporary accommodation, poor or overcrowded conditions, or being in mortgage arrears and under threat of re-possession. ” (Hope 1986) It is a symptom of many complex problems: mental illness, emotional instability, illiteracy, chronic substance abuse, unemployment, and, most basic of all, breakdown of the family structure.
Anyone can become homeless and the reasons that force people into homelessness are many and varied. The leading cause, however, of homelessness in the United States is the inability of poor people to afford housing. “Housing costs have risen significantly over the last decade, while the incomes of poor and middle-class Americans have stagnated. ” (Erickson 1991) The millions of Americans who are unemployed or work in low-paying jobs are among the most vulnerable to becoming homeless. Therefore, homelessness, housing and income are inextricably linked.
Low-income people are frequently unable to pay for housing, food, child-care, health care, and education. Difficult choices must be made when limited resources cover only some of these necessities. Often it is housing, which takes a high proportion of income that must be dropped. Two major sources of income are from employment and public assistance. A decrease in either one of them would certainly put poor people at risk of homelessness.
Additionally, minimum wage earnings no longer lift families above the poverty line. “More than 3 million poor Americans spend more than half of their total income on housing, yet the Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates families should spend no more than 30%. ” (Gilbert 1993) Although many homeless adults are employed, they work in day-labor jobs that do not meet basic needs, while technological acceleration excludes others from a competitive job market. Many factors have contributed to declining work opportunities for large segments of the workforce, including the loss of well-paying manufacturing jobs.
The decline in relatively secure and well-paying jobs in manufacturing, which have been replaced by less secure and poorly-paid jobs in the service sector, has greatly limited the opportunities for poorly-educated and low-skilled segments of the population. This transformation has led to an unprecedented incidence of chronic unemployment and underemployment. (Hardin 1996) “Underemployment is an especially useful measure of the decline in secure jobs since, unlike the unemployment rate, measures of underemployment reflect not only individuals who are unemployed, but also involuntary part-timers and those who have given up seeking work. ” (Hardin 1996) In addition to increasing underemployment, “an estimated 29. 4% of the workforce are employed in nonstandard work arrangements” (Economic Policy Institute, 1997) — for example, independent contracting, working for a temporary help agency, day labor, and regular part-time employment.
These kinds of work arrangements typically offer lower wages, fewer benefits, and less job security. “As recently as 1967, a year-round worker earning the minimum wage was paid enough to raise a family of three above the poverty line” (Sklar, 1995). From 1981-1990, however, “the minimum wage was frozen at $3. 35 an hour, while the cost of living increased 48% over the same period. Congress raised the minimum wage to $5.
15 per hour in 1996. This increase made up only slightly more than half of the ground lost to inflation in the 1980s” (Shapiro, 1995b). Thus, full-time year-round minimum-wage earnings currently not equal to the estimated poverty line for a family of three. Unsurprisingly, the decline in the value of the minimum wage has been accompanied by an increase in the number of people earning poverty-level wages and the declining wages have put housing out of reach for many workers: in every state. Slashed public assistance has also left many people homeless or at risk of homelessness.
“Replacement of the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) entitlement program– a program that was already inadequate in meeting the needs of families — with the non-entitlement block rant program will significantly increased the risk of homelessness for many Americans.” (Foscarinas 1996) Furthermore, earned income and asset limitations discourage individuals and families from breaking the cycle of homelessness and extreme poverty.Several states have terminated or reduced public assistance and food stamps for .