Who’s Able-Bodied Anyway? And Does it Matter?

Non-Working Able-Bodied HUD-Assisted Households May Face Employment Barriers

A February 3, 2018, piece in The New York Times‘ The Upshot examines “Who’s Able-Bodied Anyway?

Emily Badger and Margot Sanger-Katz explore and unpack the debate about the definition of “Able-Bodied” and its history.

“These so-called able-bodied are defined in many ways by what they are not: not disabled, not elderly, not children, not pregnant, not blind. They are effectively everyone left, and they have become the focus of resurgent conservative proposals to overhaul government aid, such as one announced last month by the Trump administration that would allow states to test work requirements for Medicaid.”

The “able-bodied” have drawn recent attention from the Republican party as they receive food stamps, assistance through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, live in Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funded housing and rely on Medicaid for their healthcare. Experts call “able-bodied” a political term that is often synonymous with “undeserving”

“The barriers that prevent people from going to work are real,” said Mr. Doar, who served as an administrator of social services in New York State and in the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg in New York City. “But if you start from the premise that those barriers are insurmountable, I think you really won’t be helping people escape poverty.”

Drilling down more specifically to the “able-bodied” issue related to HUD funded affordable housing, a recent report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) reinforces the issue of barriers. And the report also showing that the majority – nearly 75% – of non-disabled households assisted by HUD funded programs work. But that the wages they earn are simply too low to keep up with the rent.

A report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Employment and Earnings for Households Receiving Federal Rental Assistance, shows that 89% of HUD-assisted households are seniors or disabled, attached to the labor force, or likely required to participate in work-related programs under Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF).

  • Sixty-percent of working HUD-assisted households had wage earnings below the poverty level.
  • Non-disabled households of working age who do not work may face significant barriers to employment like limited education, poor health, lack of child care, and local conditions.
  • Of the non-disabled HUD-assisted households of working age, nearly three-quarters were attached to the labor force.
  • Fifty-eight percent of the working-age households worked in 2016, 7% worked in 2015, and 8% were likely required to participate in work-related programs by TANF.
  • Wages, however, are too low for HUD-assisted households to afford housing without assistance.
  • The typical working HUD-assisted household had annual earnings of $18,200 and could afford monthly rent of $450 without being cost-burdened (spending more than 30% of its income on rent).
  • The median rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the U.S., however, is $963.

Employment for low-wage HUD-assisted workers is often unstable with high turnover and few benefits. Of the 1.1 million non-disabled, working-age households assisted by HUD, 32% worked all four years between 2012 and 2016, but 48% worked between one and four years.

The report identified a number of barriers to employment, including health problems and education.

Sixty-six percent of HUD-assisted working-age households headed by someone in good health worked, compared to only 54% of those headed by someone in fair or poor health.

Caretaking for a young child or a person with a disability is another barrier to labor force participation.

Forty percent of non-disabled working-age households that did not work between 2012 and 2016 included a child under six years of age or a person (not head of household) with a disability.

Who’s Able-Bodied Anyway

Employment and Earnings for Households Receiving Federal Rental Assistance

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