Poverty Debate Should Center Around Housing Instability
The National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) recently reviewed an article by Matthew Desmond and Carl Gershenson, “Housing and Employment Insecurity among the Working Poor.”
The article published in 2016 in Social Problems shows that working renters who lose their home, often as a result of eviction, are 11 to 22 percentage points more likely to lose their job.
- Precarious low-wage work with no paid leave and few protections from termination often does not provide workers with the time needed to deal with housing instability and its stressors.
- The authors highlight the need to put housing at the center of the poverty debate.
- Rents in the U.S. have increased significantly since the early 1990’s, outpacing income growth at the bottom of the wage scale, while only one-quarter of eligible households receive housing assistance.
- Simultaneously, the job market has moved towards more jobs with low pay, limited benefits, and no long-term commitment. Half of the poorest quartile (bottom 25%) of households spend at least half of their income on rent, which puts them in a tight financial position.
- Many are at risk of falling behind on their rent and, as a result, losing their housing.
Twenty percent of respondents had experienced a job lay-off or firing in the previous two years, 42% of whom also endured at least one forced move. The authors used statistical models to show that experiencing a forced move increased the likelihood of a worker losing his or her job by up to 22 percentage points.
The authors point out that the effect of housing loss on job loss is greater than the effect of job loss on housing loss. They note that half of the forced moves were not related to tenants’ incomes or rent payments, but instead were the result of landlords removing tenants for non-monetary reasons, allowing the property to fall into disrepair, or going into foreclosure.
In addition, only half of respondents who missed rent payments that led to a forced move identified income loss as the cause.
- Low income workers without paid or unpaid leave may have difficulty taking time off to deal with the process of eviction and finding a new home without sacrificing work performance.
- Finding a new home can be more challenging and take longer for evictees than for other renters.
- Another risk is that evictees can wind up moving to less convenient locations, which may lead to more absenteeism and poorer work performance, potential factors for losing a job.
The study is based on a survey of 689 working renters in Milwaukee between 2009 and 2011. Nineteen percent of respondents had experienced at least one forced move in the previous two years. Seventy percent of forced moves were the result of formal and informal evictions, 22% were from rental property foreclosures, and 7% were from property condemnations.