New Wave of Homeless: The Working
December 19, 2001
Combine the following
- massive layoffs
- the newly unemployed
taking jobs that would otherwise go to the poor
- expiring welfare benefits
- housing prices remaining
- 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
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
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
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
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?