A Near Majority of Unhoused People Are Employed

by Vins

According to a working paper by the Becker Friedman Institute for Economics at the University of Chicago, as reported on in the National Alliance to End Homelessness on September 2, 2022, staggering percentages of unhoused people are employed. During the study period, spanning 2011 to 2018, an estimated 53 percent of the unhoused population in shelters, and 40 percent of the unsheltered unhoused population were employed, either part time or full time. Most in the study worked part time, at just under 40 hours per week.

Unhoused people in shelters earned more on average than those who were both unsheltered and unhoused. In 2015, the mean pre-tax income excluding benefits for the former group was $8,169, while the mean income for the latter was $6,934. Even the top income earner in each group, when accounting for inflation, could neither afford a one, nor two bedroom apartment in 2022. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s Out of Reach Report, as cited by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, one would need to make approximately $23 an hour, or $46,967 per year, to afford an average two-bedroom apartment, when paying fair, market rate rent.

While the amounts that unhoused workers make certainly are not conducive to their being able to afford permanent shelter, discrimination by landlords inhibits previously, or currently unhoused people’s ability to get shelter, even when they can pay. The National Alliance to End Homelessness explained that discrimination against prospective tenants, based on their criminal history, eviction history, or whether they were previously unhoused, “can result in financial insecurity, which is both a main cause and a prolonging factor of homelessness.”

Furthermore, unique barriers hinder unhoused people’s ability to get and maintain employment, and especially jobs with living wages. The National Alliance to End Homelessness listed five such barriers originally identified by a service provider based in Southern California. Unhoused job applicants may face discrimination if employers require a permanent address, face logistical difficulties in areas such as transportation and personal hygiene, need accommodations for any disabilities (unhoused people are disabled at a higher rate than the whole population), face general hiring challenges if they do not meet traditional educational requirements or are not up to date on the latest professional etiquette, and may lose access to social services if they exceed very low income caps—the income cap for social security, in 2023, for non-retirees is $21,240, for example.

As of January 9, 2022, no corporate news outlet appears to have covered these findings.

Source:  Julia Pagaduan, “Employed and Experiencing Homelessness: What the Numbers Show,” National Alliance to End Homelessness, September 2, 2022.

Student Researcher: Annie Koruga (Ohlone College)

Faculty Evaluator: Robin Takahashi (Ohlone College)