Our post today comes from Alliance research apprentice, Shambhavi Manglik.
As we all know, the largest takeaway from The State of Homelessness in American is that homelessness is up—and the increase is largely due to the recession. That’s why I think that while homeless counts data are interesting and invaluable, the section of the report that I was most drawn to was the chapter on economic indicators.
While all of the indicators discussed in the report help inform our understanding of what the recession truly means for families at risk of experiencing homelessness, I found the findings related to unemployment and housing cost burden to be most illuminating.
Unemployment, unfortunately, is the most glaring, and painful results of the recession. The nationwide increase in the number of unemployed persons from 2008 to 2009—nearly 60 percent— is pretty shocking in and of itself. And while losing a job will create hardship for just about anyone, it has real and significant consequences for families who are already struggling to make ends meet and unfortunately, that’s the experience of most people at risk of experiencing homelessness; they’re already just barely getting by.
And why’s that? Well, one reason is severe housing cost burden. The Alliance defines severe housing cost burden as households who are in poverty and spend 50 percent or more of their monthly income on rent. And it’s no surprise that, like unemployment, severe housing cost burden increased from 2008 to 2009 by 9 percent. The number of severely cost burdened households in 2009 was estimated by the report to be close to six million.
It’s pretty clear to imagine what happens if someone already spending more than 50 percent of his or her income loses their job. However, severe housing cost burden is also a significant challenge for low-income workers and can contribute to housing instability for this population. A previous Alliance brief, “Working Poor People in the United States” shows that working poor people are far more likely to experience severe housing cost burden than the general working population. We learned in The State of Homelessness report that wages for this group also decreased from the 2008 to 2009 period – even more than wages decreased for the general working population.
Between severe housing cost burden and disproportionately decreased wages – not to mention unemployment! – it’s clear not only how homelessness increased during the recession, but why.
What’s also clear is that homelessness is largely an economic problem – and one that can be remedied by making housing more affordable. As team HRI put the report together, we observed (over and over) that housing cost burden was closely associated with homelessness and that those states with an above average increase in housing cost burden also saw an above average increase in homelessness too.
The flip side of that observation is that more access to affordable housing can quell homelessness, curb homelessness, end homelessness. It’s a tune we’ve been singing for some time now – that housing is the solution to homelessness. Housing is the cornerstone of recovery, of employment, of education. By increasing access to affordable housing, we can end homelessness together.
For more about The State of Homelessness in American, our research, or homelessness, please visit our our website.