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13th September
written by Pete Witte

This post is part of a series of blogs from the Alliance staff. Each day a different expert will take the reins of our blog, Facebook and twitter accounts to share with you their perspectives and knowledge on ending homelessness. For more information, see this introductory post. Today’s post comes from Peter Witte, Research Associate at the Alliance.

In unsteady economic times, the release of a data report on income, poverty, and health insurance coverage are sure to bring forward predictable news on the poor conditions so many Americans are faced with in today’s economy.

Today, the Census Bureau released its annual report, “Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2010,” and the major findings present data that show that, yes in fact, conditions are worsening.

For example, here are the major findings for each of the three categories examined (income, poverty, and health insurance):

  • Real median household income declined 2.3 percent to $49,445,
  • The official poverty rate increased for the third consecutive year to 15.1 percent, and
  • The rate of health insurance coverage stayed flat, with 16.3 percent of the population lacking coverage.

Perhaps, though, most dire of all the findings: 46.2 million people are in poverty, the highest number recorded in the 50-plus years that poverty numbers have been published. This is the fourth consecutive year that the number of people in poverty has increased. And, as this group of readers knows, at the same time that poverty has increased, so too has homelessness (see the bar charts attached for the numbers).

What’s most disconcerting about the increase in poverty is that homelessness is a lagging indicator. In other words, with the level of real income decreasing, the number of uninsured staying high (nearly 50 million people), and poverty growing, many people who do fall into hard times (a loss of a job or continued unemployment, a huge hospital bill, etc.) will use up all of their few resources just to maintain a roof over their heads. If they lose the roof over their heads, as a last resort people will often go to live with family, friends, or in a hotel. What the lagging indicator means is that there is a real concern that homelessness will continue to increase in the coming years.
But it doesn’t have to.

While the economic times are pushing more and more people into vulnerable positions, we also know that there are policies we should prioritize and solutions we should implement. For example, to name just a couple, we can prioritize McKinney Appropriations so that services are available for families and individuals when needed (in particular, we should ensure that there are enough funds to implement the HEARTH Act). We can also lower costs of health care with strategic use of community resources.

And there is more we can do.

Let’s not let the damper of a news day keep us from fighting the good fight. Let’s keep advocating for what we know works. Let’s keep fighting to end homelessness. Together. Get the word out there that even during these economic times, we can and should prioritize ending homelessness in our communities. Thanks to all of you advocates out there for all you do. Keep looking up!

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