#21 – Nearly Half of Unhoused People Are Employed

by Shealeigh
Published: Last Updated on

Contrary to popular belief, many people who experience homelessness are employed, Julia Pagaduan reported for the National Alliance to End Homelessness in September 2022. Drawing on a study produced by the Becker Friedman Institute for Economics at the University of Chicago, Pagaduan reported that 53 percent of the sheltered unhoused population and 40 percent of the unsheltered unhoused population were employed either part- or full-time from 2011 to 2018.

Unhoused people in shelters earned more than those who were unsheltered. In 2015, the mean pre-tax income for the former group was $8,169, while the mean income for the latter was $6,934. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, one would need to make approximately $21.25 per hour to afford a one-bedroom apartment. “Even if people are working full time, they would not be able to afford housing earning minimum wage,” Pagaduan reported.

Several barriers hinder unhoused people’s ability to gain and maintain employment, Pagaduan explained. Job applicants may face obstacles such as employers requiring a permanent address, logistical hurdles for transportation and personal hygiene, needing accommodations for disabilities, and general hiring challenges, including educational requirements. Furthermore, unhoused people may lose access to vital social services if they exceed low-income thresholds.

Even when unhoused individuals can afford rent, Pagaduan noted, “landlord discrimination against past or current homelessness, eviction history, involvement of criminal justice, and income source can all prevent people from achieving housing security. Barriers like these can keep people homeless—even if they’re working, and even if there are affordable units available in their area.”

Although corporate news media have occasionally noted the problem, coverage has tended to focus on the plight of individuals or the low wages of particular sectors. In May 2023, for example, the Los Angeles Times and CBS News cited an Economic Roundtable study that found “fast-food workers represent 1 in 17 of homeless people in California.” The Los Angeles Times also reported on a RAND study that found “front line workers essential to solving Los Angeles County’s homelessness crisis do not make enough money to afford housing themselves.” No corporate outlets have shed light on the scale and scope of the problem presented by the National Coalition to End Homelessness.

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)