Hunger and homelessness plague US working families FWD

Tom Boland (
Sat, 13 Feb 1999 22:05:22 -0800 (PST)



     By Debra Watson
     10 February 1999

The leading cause of hunger in American cities is low-paying jobs,
according to a report from the US Conference of Mayors released in
January. For the second year in a row poverty level wages were cited as
a major cause for the rise in hunger and homelessness in US cities. The
1998 survey of 30 major cities found that 37 percent of adults
requesting food assistance were employed and 61 percent of those
requesting food assistance were parents and their children.

"The city officials report that the strong economy has had very little
positive impact on hunger and homelessness," according to the survey
summary. "In many cities, conditions are likely to decline further next
year. Low-paying jobs that cannot support a household continue to be a
very troublesome problem. Many cities report that welfare reform has had
a negative impact on hunger and homelessness. Moreover, several cities
expect a downturn in the economy which will further increase the number
of homeless and requests for food."

It was a little over two years ago, in 1996, that the federal government
ended a 60-year-old guarantee to provide assistance to the long-term
unemployed. The new welfare laws were enacted with the support of the
Clinton administration. The effect of pushing over 1.5 million people
off welfare has been to depress wages, which has had a particularly
devastating impact on the most poorly paid workers.

The mayors' summary on hunger and homelessness paints a stark picture of
social conditions in US cities in 1998:
*Twenty-two percent of the homeless were employed, and families with
children now comprise 38 percent of the homeless population. In half of
the cities families must spend daytime hours outside of the shelter they
use at night and more than 50 percent of families may have to break up
in order to obtain shelter at all. Children comprise one out of every
four homeless people in America.
*Low-income households spent nearly half their income on housing, yet
only 27 percent of eligible income households are currently served by
assisted housing programs. Waiting lists of 24 to 34 months are common
for public housing and Section 8 assistance for housing. Seventy-six
percent of the cities have stopped accepting applications for at least
one assisted housing program due to the excessive length of the waiting
*In 92 percent of cities, emergency food assistance facilities were
relied on by families and individuals as a steady source of food over
long periods of time, as well as for emergencies.
*During the past year requests for emergency food assistance have
increased by an average of 14 percent, including requests for food
assistance by families with children. For families alone, 18 percent of
requests for food assistance go unmet.
*In nearly half of the cities, people were turned away due to lack of
resources. In 60 percent of the cities facilities had to decrease the
number of bags of food provided or the number of times people could
receive food.
*Requests for emergency food are expected to increase in 1999 in nearly
all of the cities surveyed. Ninety-three percent of cities expect
requests for emergency shelter will increase; 88 percent expect such
requests by homeless families will increase.

The World Socialist Web Site spoke to Helen Kozlowski, Oakland County
Food Bank executive director (suburban Detroit). She said that the
welfare-to-work movement has led to a dramatic increase in requests for
food aid. Of the 70,000 people receiving food donations in Oakland
County, 74 percent are either working, 18 years old and younger, or over

"Our board supports the welfare movement. But it is important to stress
that as more and more people are going off of welfare and going to work,
they are just not earning enough to make it through the month. For at
least a week out of every month they are running flat. They are going to
food pantries to get through that last week. Those pantries are not
traditionally prepared to serve these people.

The pantries and so forth come to our food bank and say 'now we want
more food and more free food.' The pantries themselves do not have the
funds to take care of the increase. They don't know where they're going
to get the money. For a long time things stayed pretty much the same.
The number of single mothers and children and homeless didn't change
that much. Even at the beginning of this movement to employment, there
wasn't much of a change. This was so even into 1997. Then all of a
sudden there was an explosion."

Kozlowski said the need for food donations increased dramatically in
1998. In 1997 the organization served 2.7 million pounds of food to
those in need, a yearly total that had remained relatively stable since
1992. This skyrocketed to 3.8 million pounds in 1998. "In one year we
saw our food budget increase by over a million pounds. I don't know if
anyone out there is tracking this, but this is incredible," she said.

Another 1998 survey of 500 community institutions reported that a large
number of families who showed up at their doors requesting aid had one
or more parents working. This survey, which was conducted in 56
different Michigan counties, was compiled as part of a special project
sponsored by the Oakland County Welfare Rights Organization, the
Michigan Fair Budget Action Coalition, the Catholic Caucus of Southeast
Michigan, and Groundwork for a Just World, another religious

Sixty percent of the service organizations that took part in the survey
between March and May of 1998 report that they serve more than 100
families a month. The agencies listed social services--such as emergency
and food services and preschool and healthcare services--most frequently
as the services they provide.

One in four agencies reported that a significant majority of the parents
in their service system were employed. In rural areas and small cities
one out of three agencies said a significant majority of their clients
were families with working parents. Altogether nearly one in three of
the agencies saw mostly employed workers and their families.

Assembly/manufacturing and fast-food services were the largest job
categories for the employed clients of the social service agencies.
Healthcare workers and waitpersons made up the next largest category.

The project also took a second survey of individual families with
responses from 371 households in rural areas and 1,271 households
located in Michigan cities and suburbs. Local assemblies and statewide
networks of organizations regularly in contact with low-income families
distributed the questionnaires.

Most individual respondents were women, in their late 20s or 30s, who
were single parents raising an average of two children. Of the roughly
50 percent currently with a working head of household, only 1 in 10 of
all respondents made more than $10 an hour, and this was concentrated
among longer-term workers. Three in five employed respondents earned
less than $7 an hour.

Four out of five respondents had worked in the past 36 months, holding
an average of 2.1 jobs in that period. Over 40 percent of those who
worked in the past three years had to leave their jobs because of lack
of transportation or to care for a sick child or family member.

Only half of those surveyed who were currently employed thought they had
a possibility of getting a raise. Almost one in three were working fewer
than 30 hours a week. Of the individual respondents who indicated that
the family head is currently working, one in four were not making a
sufficient wage to be free of public assistance and required a
supplement to augment their low wages.

The huge cuts in welfare benefits have not only exerted downward
pressure on wage levels. Fifty-seven percent of the employed received no
job-related benefits, and less than one in five were awarded sick time.
According to responding agencies in the Michigan Assemblies Project
survey, a sizable number of families in their service systems lacked any
form of health coverage. Agencies responded that for those still covered
by Medicaid, the potential loss of this program is a major threat.

According to the Michigan Family Independence Agency (FIP), the state's
welfare department, cases have dropped over 58 percent since their peak
of 226,863 in March 1994. Welfare cases without earned income decreased
from 179,731 in September 1992 to 57,186 in November 1998. In December
1998 the FIP caseload totaled 96,461, the lowest caseload since October

The complete report on the findings of the Michigan Assemblies Project
are available from Groundwork for a Just World, which can be reached in
the US by phone at 313-822-2055.

END FORWARD via World Socialist Web Site

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