Poverty and Homelessness


According to Rios, E. more than 43 million people in the US are poor. To put this into perspective, 43 million is like a seventh of the population. Statistically, this may not be so bad. However, if one is to consider each of these 43 million people as individuals rather than just a part of the American equation, the situation is quite sickening. 43 million people struggle to put food on the table and even get a warm place to sleep. They struggle with health care and education as well as access to other essential utilities like electricity and the internet, all things that those who are not poor would take for granted. Another considerable challenge associated with poverty in the US is homelessness. Poor people cannot afford their rent or mortgage payments, and they cannot qualify for a loan in any financial institution in the US. Also, not everyone has a relative with whom they can stay until they can pay their rent and this situation leaves many people out on the streets. Statistics indicate that 1 in 5 children in the US lives in abject poverty too. Such demographics only makes the case even bleaker. It can thus be noted that the US has enough poor people to fill an entire nation, with more than 15 million children also being unable to access basic needs due to their socio-economic status.

While some people have argued that poverty is perceived, homelessness is real problem afflicting many people even in developed economies such States of America despite the governments intervention.

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Defining Poverty and Homelessness Within the American Context

Being homeless is simply not having a place to call home. Most people who are homeless live on the streets while there are those who live in the homeless shelters or abandoned buildings on the outskirts of the cities. Within the US, the official poverty level for a family of four is around $24,300. It can be noted that in most states, the minimum wage set by the federal government is around $7.25 per hour. To make $24,300 per year, one adult worker would have to earn at least $11.68 per hour and work for at least 40 hours a week. Most states intend to increase their minimum wage to over $12 by 2020, but until then, most of the working class in the US is living below the poverty line. Not all poor people are however homeless. Some reside in slums, others live in their homes and get to struggle with property taxes, while others live with relatives. A majority of these poor people, however, spend over half of their income on housing, with limited money remaining for other utilities and food stuff. And while such families should be grateful for having a roof over their heads, they languish in poverty just like their homeless counterparts on the streets only because they cannot afford food, electricity, and water. They thus get cold at night just like those out in the streets, and they sleep hungry a little too often. They cannot afford a health care cover, and they rely on public education for the children. It was recorded in 2013 that over 1.3 million school going children were homeless, with another 51% of those children being too young to go to school but still living on the streets. Comparatively, there are over 2.7 million children on the streets of the United States.

There are many reasons for homelessness within the US. The first and considerably apparent reason are that the market prices for housing are significantly high compared to the minimum wage in the country. If a majority of the families are unable to make 24,000 a year, it is expected that most of them would not be able to afford the increasing rent prices across the nation. The average rent in a small apartment within the US is $1000 per month. This is in some of the middle and low-income neighbourhoods, exclusive of power, water, and the internet. The average price of electricity is around $0.12 per kWh. The average electricity bill for a family of four is close to $200 especially in the colder states where heating is mandatory for most of the year. Furthermore, the costs go higher based on the needs of the family. At a minimum of $1200 per year, the family would need at least $14,400 for the housing only. Food prices are also rather high, not mentioning clothes, gas for transportation, and school necessities such as books and pens that may not be provided for the students. Also, there is the rare illness that may need an over the counter prescription. Catering to the housing needs often leaves a family destitute especially if the breadwinner is a minimum wage worker. If both parents work, the family has a better chance of making it comfortably since one of their salaries can cover food and clothes while the other is dedicated to the housing and other related bills.

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Another reason for homelessness in the US is unemployment. Some families may have finished paying their mortgages in the past, but with the rising level of unemployment, they were either unable to pay the property taxes, or they took out a mortgage and could not afford to pay back thus their homes being foreclosed. Regardless of the reason, in this case, it is important to note that the financial institutions in the US are responsible for most of the homeless situations in the country. The last recession saw a lot of foreclosures, and there still are many families that are yet to recover. This means that most of the homeless families on the streets are a result of an economic meltdown that was not in any way their fault. Another group of victims is those who ended up on the streets after the massive downsizing initiatives that saw thousands of Americans losing their jobs. The recent past has not been very favourable for the middle, and low-income Americans as most of them ended up on the streets.

Government Response

The US is one of the largest economies in the world, with most of the wealth consolidated in the top 1% of the population. Members of the working class in the country are consistently victims of unfavourable policies that leave them stranded in the cycle of poverty. They either spend all their money on rent or they live on the streets and have something to eat. It is often a tough choice to make, with most of the low-income families living in slums and wallowing in so much debt that they are consistently on the verge of being thrown out of their homes as well. The American government has not been completely ignoring the poverty issue, but the government has spent more time focusing on the rich than on the poor. Once upon a time, the concept of the American dream was realistic and very achievable, but in the recent past, only the rich get richer as nobody remembers the poor. Thus, when considering what actions the government has taken so far, it is more reasonable to focus on what the government should do to handle this problem efficiently and sustainably.

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Poverty is associated with many other demographic factors within the US. Gender and ethnicity are the most common ones in this pretext. Illegal immigrants are automatically expected to be among the poorest people in this country since they get most of the minimum wage jobs and are in some cases even further exploited by the employers based on their illegal status. For an illegal immigrant, living on the streets is far too dangerous as well, but in most cases, they have no alternative considering they cannot afford rent on their meagre earnings. African Americans and Latinas then follow, based on their inability to access well-paying jobs that are often reserved for the educated people. Families that live on the streets rarely get to send a child to college. This means that the children raised on the street have a high chance of ending up on the same streets that they grew up in. As such, the government is not doing anything that can be expected to have tangible results. The school systems make people dependent on joining college and getting a job, with not enough jobs to employ all the graduates either. Thus, the masses remain in poverty and living on the streets for most of their lives.

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Despite being in the top tier of the global wealth statistics, the US has the highest number of poor and homeless people. Ideally, the government would be working tirelessly to change the situation, but the US government is more interested in the 1 out 100 people who are rich than in the 1 out of 7 individuals who are poor. This leaves many families with over 15 million children living below the poverty level and close to 3 million children living on the streets. It would be impractical to expect the government to provide shelter for all the homeless people in this country, but there should be some commitment towards ending poverty in the country preferably. One of the solution the US government can use to alleviate poverty is through raising the minimum wage faster than the 2020 timeline that most states have, seeing as this is how families end up on the street in the first place.

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