Child homelessness in America, according to the United States Government, is at the highest level since the Great Depression, and continuing to grow rapidly. More than 1 child in every 50 in the United States is now homeless, according to the National Center on Family Homelessness (http://www.homelesschildrenamerica.org/documents/rc_summary.pdf) Children are defined as “homeless” by the study when they share the housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason, are living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camping grounds due to lack of alternative accommodations, are living in emergency or transitional shelters, have been abandoned in hospitals, are awaiting foster care placement.
Other circumstances that qualify children as “homeless” for purposes of the NCFH are using a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not designed for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings, living in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations, or similar settings.
The impacts of homelessness on American youth are traumatic. More than one in seven homeless children have moderate to severe health conditions. Nearly one in 18 homeless children are members of families where adults hit or throw things, and one in six homeless children suffer from emotional disturbances. Homeless children score lower in reading and math averaging 16% lower than the scores for all students. Fewer than one in four homeless children ever graduate from high school. This situation, of course, manifests itself in lifelong challenges. Since students who drop out of high school earn on average $200,000 less over their lifetime than high school graduates, and well over 1 million homeless children in America today will not graduate from high school, over $200 billion in lifetime earnings is lost among this population.
Why is this situation occurring, and continuing to worsen? In the majority of cases, it comes down to diminishing income among parents. In three words: It’s the economy. The United States – through a combination of Government malfeasance and corporate greed – has enabled and sponsored the widespread loss of value-adding jobs from the United States to any country that promises lower cost production and service costs. This has left a huge middle class of Americans, especially former manufacturing workers, jobless or with jobs that pay less than a livable wage. (See my article on Manufacturing’s impact on the US economy at: http://sensiblethought.com/2011/american-manufacturing-economy.) The Middle Class is shrinking to nothing, as their population falls into the ranks of the poor. As the gap between rich and poor has increased, the purchasing power of low-income families has also plummeted. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities has said “income inequality in the United States has risen to historically high levels…and has been increasing for more than 30 years.” According to the NCFH report, “Between 1979 and 2005, the income of the richest Americans more than tripled, rising 228% ($76,500) per household, while the income of the bottom fifth rose only 6% ($900). As a result, many low- income families no longer have the purchasing power to sustain their households.”
In addition, housing costs have grown as the supply of affordable housing has shrunken – exacerbating the problem for families at the bottom of the income scale. As housing costs rise, millions of Americans must choose between housing and other necessities. Many American families are now paying over one-third of their incomes for housing – the proportion at which housing costs are considered affordable. In these cases food, transportation, and medical care are often unaffordable. It has been reported that more than six million American families now spend at least 50% of their income to housing and/or live in substandard housing. Foreclosures have also skyrocketed, with recent slowdowns occurring not because there are fewer homes lost, but because of new delays introduced into the foreclosure process. According to recent reports: “sales of bank-owned homes and those in some stage of foreclosure accounted for 28 percent of all U.S. residential sales in the first quarter of 2011, up slightly from 27 percent of all sales in the fourth quarter of 2010 and the highest percentage of sales since the first quarter of 2010, when 29 percent of all sales were foreclosure sales. (http://www.realtytrac.com/content/press-releases/foreclosure-homes-account-for-28-percent-of-q1-2011-sales-6586)
We also seem to keep relearning (or failing to learn) the same lesson: Government cannot fix a bad economy by simply handing out money and Government services. To quote the NCFH report: “Housing assistance programs have been unable to close the gap between the supply and demand for affordable housing. The dual problem of declining housing stock and increasing rents for existing housing has been exacerbated by the failure of housing assistance programs to keep pace with the need. In 2002, HUD’s budget was less than half of what it was in the late 1970s in real dollars. Vouchers, originally designed to bridge the gap between income and rent, have become the primary form of housing assistance – yet, three out of four eligible households receive no federal housing assistance. Because of the high demand for housing assistance and already-lengthy waiting lists, some agencies have stopped taking new voucher applications altogether. In many areas with tight rental vacancy rates, families allocated vouchers are unable to find landlords willing to rent to them. Many lose their chance to become adequately housed.”
The real solution to the growing problem of child homelessness in America must be based on repairing the damage done to America’s middle class. Parents with inadequate income are the primary cause of child homelessness. Parents have inadequate income because they are not employed, or are underemployed. They are unemployed or underemployed because the United States, through a combination of Government malfeasance and corporate greed, is destroying the Middle Class by shipping value-added jobs out of the United States.
Unfortunately, America is in the throws of an increasingly liberal bias among our politicians and our media. This bias leads policy makers and opinion makers to advocate providing more to the poor through Government programs rather than getting middle class jobs back in America. For example, this same NCFH report includes the following recommendations:
• “Capitalize the National Housing Trust Fund at $10 billion for two years to rehabilitate or build 100,000 rental homes.
• Fund 400,000 new Housing Vouchers at $3.6 billion for two years.
• Fund the Emergency Shelter Grant program at $2 billion for two years to assist 400,000 households.
• Adopt proposed $2 billion funding for the Emergency Shelter Grant and ensure that 30% is dedicated to trauma-informed services for children and families.
• Invest $3 billion into child care vouchers for children experiencing homelessness so they can receive early care and education, and their parents can engage in employment and job training.
• Allocate funds within all federally funded programs to support training and career ladders for service providers working with homeless children.
• Fully fund the Violence Prevention and Services Act at $175 million and increase the Victims of Crime Act cap to $717 million annually.
• Temporarily increase Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, which states should implement within 30 to 60 days of enactment.
• Create state and local housing trust funds to complement the National Housing Trust Fund.
• Use National Housing Trust Fund, Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTCs), and HOME dollars for new units of affordable housing.
• Provide short-term financial assistance to at-risk households, including help with back rent and utilities, and security deposits to obtain housing.”
This approach simply shifts an ever-increasing financial burden from an ever-increasing percentage of US population that is falling into the “poor” category to the backs of the ever-shrinking population of “wealthy” people in the United States. We are creating a society of a few haves and many have-nots, a society that cannot survive indefinitely because, as Margaret Thatcher once correctly observed: “The problem with Socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.” In fact, in the same interview, describing the propensity of increasingly socialistic governments – governments who try to provide more and more government services to resolve problems such as child homelessness, Margaret Thatcher had this to say: “Socialism started by saying it was going to tax the rich, very rapidly it was taxing the middle income groups. Now, it’s taxing people quite highly with incomes way below average and pensioners with incomes way below average.” (http://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/102953)
Summarizing then, childhood homelessness in the United States is a growing problem, and it is caused by unemployment and underemployment. Unemployment and underemployment is being driven by a combination of Government malfeasance and corporate greed, as middle class jobs are being shifted out of the United States – literally – by the millions. There are two approaches to resolving the problem: One approach is to provide an ever-increasing array of US Government social programs to distribute more and more services to an ever-increasing population of poor (otherwise known as Socialism). The other approach is to rebuild America’s middle class through the recapture of jobs in manufacturing and other value-adding businesses so that parents can properly feed and house their children. The answer would be obvious except that the first choice is comparatively easy – the easy way out is rarely the best way, but it is the most common approach. And as still another famous British leader, Sir Winston Churchill once observed: “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.” (http://www.1-famous-quotes.com/quote/14790)
I hope America awakens soon from the stuporous intoxication of liberal ideology; if it does not, there will be many more homeless children before the situation improves.
What do you think?