Societal Inequalities Foster Homelessness in the United States

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Jena Marshall
SOC 145 - Social Inequalities
Professor Eskapoulli
March 16, 2013
Final Paper
Over the last few decades homelessness has become an increasingly visible problem within the United States. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, we are now experiencing a period when extremely low-income housing needs are at an all-time high. While some communities are beginning to see reductions in chronic homelessness, in many communities family homelessness is exploding, and families with children are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population. On average it is believed that on any given night in the United States, 633,784 people are experiencing homelessness, 239,403 of which are families. Although no single factor can be held solely responsible for the current rates of homelessness, recent exploration through social science attributes the increase to a combination of structural inequalities inherent within the social institutions of the United States. In today’s society, inequalities seen within the educational system, combined with the declining purchasing power of low-wage jobs and a decrease in the availability of affordable family housing, largely influence the prevalence of homelessness.  The book Angela Whitiker's Climb, written by Isabel Wilkerson, offers a clear portrayal of the role poverty and education play in creating or restricting financial opportunity. The book shows how impoverished communities are at a disadvantage for receiving a quality education, which limits future financial opportunity and the ability to rise out of poverty. This cycle perpetuates poverty throughout one's lifetime, as well as limiting the ability of future generations to achieve socio-economic mobility (Wilkerson Pg. 224). Angela book also shows how education is linked to financial security and is a critical factor in obtaining better living conditions. The declining purchasing power of low-wage jobs in today economy is another factor that has had an extremely negative impact on individuals and families ability to maintain a permanent residence. “ In this country, no state offers a minimum wage sufficient to allow a family with one full-time worker adequate earnings (at 30% of income) to afford the federal fair-market rent for a two-bedroom apartment. In fact, in 24 states, even families with two full-time minimum wage earners have insufficient income to meet fair-market rents without exceeding the 30% of income threshold for affordability.” (Anderson, 2003) The consequences of such conditions are visible in the current rate of homeless in the United States. Unfortunately, for the many individuals and families who lose their home, it is even more difficult to get back into rental housing as many property owners will not rent to tenants that have a poor history credit or a previous eviction, and they often require security deposits along with first and last month's rent. In today’s society, it can be reasonably argued that the primary cause of homelessness is the growing gap between housing costs and income, especially for the lower class. For the large percentage of Americans who struggle to support themselves on minimum wage every year the decreasing availability of low-cost housing has made finding a permanent living situation almost impossible.  According to research done by Anderson and his colleagues, "the number of un-subsidized units affordable to extremely low-income households is currently 1.2 million, while the number of extremely low-income households is estimated at 4.5 million, which suggest a 3.3 million unit deficit of affordable housing units in the United States". This shortage leaves thousands of people, especially families and single mothers, struggling to make ends meet and vulnerable to any type of personal or financial setback. Unfortunately, the lack of an adequate income, combined with scarce affordable housing, is at the root cause of thousands of people...
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