A new report could reshape Americans’ perceptions of homeless people, as many in at least the Chicago area are employed and even have college educations.
2017 Census data examined by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) found that of the approximately 86,324 people in Chicago who experienced homelessness at some point during the year, 13,929 homeless people — or 21% of adults aged 18 and up — were employed. 28% of homeless people — or 28% of adults aged 18 and up — had some college education, or had even obtained a degree.
CCH defines homeless people not only by the point-in-time count conducted once a year by anti-homelessness groups, but also by people who are living “doubled up,” meaning that they’ve had to find temporary shelter on a friend or family member’s couch due to a loss of their own housing. Under this metric, homeless people who are “doubled up” constitute 81% of Chicago’s homeless population. Additionally, there are 20,779 homeless children in Chicago using CCH’s metrics.
The growth of homelessness among educated and employed Chicagoans could be due to the fact that housing costs in the Chicago area have been steadily rising while wages have remained stagnant. According to RentCafe, the average rent for an apartment constituting 766 square feet is $1,906/month, which is 6% higher than the year before, when rent was $1,806/month. Nearly two-thirds of apartments in Chicago (62%) cost at least $1,500/month to rent, and 38% of those apartments cost in excess of $2,000/month.
The National Low-Income Housing Coalition’s (NLIHC) chart for Cook County, Illinois (which houses Chicago) shows that in order to afford fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment and have rent not take up more than 30% of monthly income (above 30% is considered “rent burdened“), a renter would have to make roughly $23/hour. To compare, the mean renter’s wage is just $19/hour. When earning Illinois’ minimum wage of $8.25/hour, a worker would have to put in 113 hours of work per week (out of 168 hours in a week) to afford a two-bedroom apartment.
While there’s not yet any macroeconomic data crunching the numbers of homeless people throughout America who have college educations and jobs, the affordable housing crisis is plaguing cities and states across the country. As the NLIHC found last year, there’s no city, county, or state where a full-time worker earning the current federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour can rent a two-bedroom home at fair market rent. Even a minimum wage worker trying to rent a one-bedroom home at fair market rent would be unable to do so in all but 22 counties out of more than 3,000 counties nationwide.
(Featured image: Wikimedia Commons)
Carl Gibson is a politics contributor for Grit Post. His work has previously been published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Houston Chronicle, Al-Jazeera America, and NPR, among others. Follow him on Twitter @crgibs or send him an email at carl at gritpost dot com.