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New Wave of Homeless: The Working Poor

December 19, 2001

Combine the following factors:

  • massive layoffs
  • the newly unemployed taking jobs that would otherwise go to the poor
  • expiring welfare benefits
  • housing prices remaining sky-high
  • drastic reductions since 9/11 in donations to charities which help the poor

and you have an explanation for a surge in homelessness reported across the country.

As the above list makes clear, there are different reasons why various people become homeless.  I want to focus here on the so-called "working homeless," those who work a full-time job but whose wages don't cover the cost of life's necessities.

In a school district in Sacramento, Liane Ramirez, who works with homeless families, said she had already seen twice as many families living in their cars as she had seen in the previous few years combined.

"We feel like we're seeing a lot more first-time scared-to-death homeless," Ms. Ramirez said. "And we're looking at working homeless, not just welfare homeless."

Isn't it an elementary part of society's "social contract" that if you work a full-time job, contributing to the functioning of society, you will be rewarded with enough funds to at least minimally survive?

I already hear Sean Hannity (and those who write comments to this site repeating his words verbatim) pontificating that "These people made choices in life.  They could have gotten a better education and then they'd make more money.  They have no one to blame but themselves."

Perhaps it never occurred to these gentlemen and gentlewomen of the right that if these underachievers had secured higher paying jobs, someone else would then be in the low-income job.  In other words, someone will be doing that low-income work, and whoever is, needs to be paid enough to survive.

Well, Hannity et al will say, the market sets the rules, and if the market wants those jobs to pay only a sub-survival income, then that's what the wage should be.

That Hannity and his ilk have lost not only their  compassion, but their sense of elementary fairness, is borne out by the words of the father of all market-based doctrine, Adam Smith:

It is but equity... that they who feed, clothe and lodge the whole body of the people, should have such a share of the produce of their own labour as to be themselves tolerably well fed, clothed and lodged."

Are we as a society going to do something to correct a level of systemic social injustice in our country that would make even Adam Smith blush with shame?

This was a selection from The Daily Diatribe

More on the Working Poor

More on Economic Injustice

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