We had practically no homelessness in this country until the 1970’s. Then we closed our mental health facilities, and our inexpensive rooming houses with single room occupancy were changed to costly apartments. Single people appeared on the street. Now we have fewer unskilled jobs compared to the increase in our population, and our minimum wage is far from a living wage. Also most jobs for unskilled workers are part-time with very few regular hours. Millions of adults, children and young people experience homelessness.
(1) If an individual or parent works for minimum federal wage, of $7.50 per hour, for an average of 30 hours weekly for 52 weeks a year, s/he earns $11,700 per year. If both parents work they may be able to earn $23,400, which is within 100% of the federal poverty level for two parents and two children or a family of 4. About half of our states already pay higher than minimum wage and are considering $10 or more per hour.
For instance, In California, the minimum wage is $10 per hour! Several other states including Massachusetts are considering an increase to $10 or $10.50. The latter increase could bring the annual income to $16,380 for an individual worker and $32,760 if two parents are wage earners. These earnings bring the family to a little over 133% of the federal poverty level. These wages allow for a more stable life, but are still require subsidized housing and food stamps to avoid homelessness.
(2) Permanent rent subsidies, that subsidize half or two thirds of the market rent, and vary with the income of the recipients to allow for the normal ups and downs in the job market today, can prevent homelessness. Federal and local programs such as the federal Section 8 or local programs such as in rem housing in New York City provide access to the necessary permanent housing that prevents homelessness.
Temporary housing subsidies or limited outright grants help only for a short time, according to data reported in a October 28th New Yorker article, Hidden City. One such program is called Advantage in New York City and has been severely cut, and there is HomeBASE in Massachusetts.
Unless there are on-going rent subsidies or affordable housing available minimum wage earners are bound to experience homelessness. Promise the Children supports the ballot initiative in Massachusetts to increase the minimum wage to $10.50 by 2015. I am out asking for signatures to pass this initiative. Please join me here in Massachusetts or advocate for a higher minimum wage and funding for affordable housing in your own state!