A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of talking with Linda McAnany on her local cable access show about Common Ground, homelessness, and the issue of poverty in our community (view here). During that conversation, I listed what I believe to be the big three reasons poverty is perpetuated in our community (and nationally). What better topic for a multi-part blog? Lucky you!
First up, housing. More to the point, affordable housing.
What makes housing affordable? Basically, it's housing that you can afford on your hourly wage. The problem is, we have a shortage of affordable housing nationwide. Talk to landlords and renters. The rental market is tight - especially for people making minimum wage incomes. This article from The Atlantic explains the reasons for this reality quite well. Fewer people can afford to buy homes, making demand for rentals go higher, thereby increasing the cost of rentals. In Missouri, as this article shares from a recent Pew Research Center study, a worker must make $14.52 an hour to afford the rent on a two-bedroom apartment. A single-bedroom apartment is just as tight. Nationwide, a worker needs to work 59 hours a week to afford even a single-bedroom apartment! Now, imagine you are a family with kids or a single parent. The odds of finding suitable - and affordable - housing stack up against you pretty fast.
At a conference last year, I heard an even more surprising statistic that sticks with me every time I think about the housing issue. From 2000 to 2013, the number of overcrowded housing units in Missouri increased 1118%! (You can find the exhaustive and highly interesting report on Missouri poverty here.) That means more and more families are bunching themselves up with extended family, friends, or even strangers - as I have discovered many times in my conversations with the neighbors in our community. The most vulnerable sometimes don't even know the last name of their roommates. They're so happy to have a place to stay they ask as few questions as possible and keep an even lower profile.
What can help? The article suggests commonly discussed solutions, like expanding the affordable housing market (yes!), increasing the minimum wage (yes!yes!), and prohibiting exploitative scheduling practices that chip away at full-time work (yes!yes!yes!).
But...be honest. We won't support these changes above (or we won't perceive them outside their partisan wheelhouses) until we change ourselves. If you've read any of my blogs, you know I push getting to know an individual through his or her story. Open yourself up to hearing how difficult it is for people to live at the lower income bracket. Push back that tendency to label poverty as a moral failure and instead try to imagine it as a social one. A lot of people fall into the low-income category and most of them work hard. The same Pew study mentioned above counts our minimum age workers at 21 million, or 30% of our workforce! That is at least 30% of our workers who struggle to keep decent, affordable housing.
I don't know about you, but I believe everyone who works as hard as they can has a right to support their family without having to ask for help. We all - on both sides of the political aisle - want that, right?
Next time...health! (Pass the ibuprofen...it's gonna be a headache!)