If you’re just joining us, this post is part 2 of a series where we’re talking about that nagging thought we’ve all had when we see a person asking for help on the streets or the corner of a busy intersection. If you haven’t said it aloud your self, or thought it, you’ve heard someone else say it: “why can’t homeless people just get a job?”
In our last post (catch up HERE) we discussed some simple barriers to entry for employment when you’re homeless. Something as simple as listing an address or presenting identification, which are easy steps in a process for most of us, take much more planning and finagling for those stuck in the cycle of scarcity or homelessness. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what else is required to get a job in a few different entry-level areas.
Let’s say someone was interested in an entry-level administrative role. Once the application hurdles have been crossed, the next stage is an interview. Most of us have several different interviewing outfits to choose from, tweaking them based on what we know of the company’s “feel.” Several organizations exist to help those in homelessness obtain a proper interview wardrobe, but the application process is multiple steps and requires time. In this day and age, there isn’t typically a long lead time before an interview.
Additionally, the applicant needs access to sanitation facilities to shower and clean up in preparation for an interview, and for work daily until they could afford more permanent housing (a hurdle to discuss separately). They would ideally need somewhere to stash their belongings while they’re on an interview or at a job. They would need a resume, a nice cover letter and references wouldn’t hurt, and anything to put on that resume for past experience. They would be looking at a salary of around $25k to $35k per year, assuming they got the job.
What about the fast food service industry? Say a homeless person wants to get a job as a McDonald’s crew member. Assuming they could access the clean showering facilities and had a nice enough outfit for an interview, were able to provide identification and gave an address, got the job and could figure out a way to get to work every day, they would get paid probably under $9 an hour. Even at full time hours, that annual salary falls right around the poverty line for an individual.
For retail or an entry-level job at your local Walmart? After jumping through hoops to get that job, their pay would be bumped up to $11 an hour as a starting wage. Your annual salary will be above the poverty line for an individual, but if you have a family of 3, you’re below that line, and most likely needing additional subsidies to acquire childcare for your dependents.
What’s also important to realize, is that actually a significant percentage of homeless people DO work. In fact, anywhere between 25% and 40% of homeless people are employed. Many, full time. So if 25-40% of homeless people hold down jobs, why are there not 25-40% fewer homeless people?
Let’s talk about paychecks. Most of us are getting them, or legally dependent on someone who is. The minimum wage, which varies according to state, is not a livable wage. According to Axios, “In no state in the entire country can a family working full time at minimum wage afford an average apartment.”
And that doesn’t include bills or other life expenses. In North Carolina, the minimum livable wage is about $50,000. In the last few years, data has showed that the median income for a Charlotte resident is around $35,000 annually, and for a household, it’s about $55,000 annually.
That means that at least half of households and most individuals fall below the minimum livable wage in our city.
In Charlotte, rent averages about $1000 for a one-bedroom apartment and $1,300 for two. About $130 goes towards utilities plus another $55 for internet, and then more fees are incurred depending on whichever mode of transportation is most convenient (or available). Childcare is a cost breakdown in and of itself. For younger children, a daycare is probably the most cost-efficient option and that will run into the hundreds of dollars. For slightly older children, the daycare costs are absent but the costs of school supplies and clothes are a consideration. Most families in Charlotte spend a minimum of $350 per month on food. These costs don’t include taxes taken out of paychecks, healthcare, insurance, or anything extra in a monthly budget.
So not only does assuming homeless people are lazy and should just “get a job” paint half a million people with a broad and erroneous brush, it perpetuates the myth that they aren’t working.
What can we do? We can donate our time and energy to helping people who aren’t currently working be able to go to job interviews and get paying work. But, primarily, we can re-orient our thought processes and look at that person holding their sign on the street corner in the eye with dignity. Because they’re a person, just like you and just like me. They’re struggling, and the least we can do is understand why.