Friday, July 12, 2019

The Link Between Homelessness and Labor Force Participation

Homelessness as a systemic problem

Employment does not guarantee access to affordable housing, and unemployment is not always voluntary. People often involuntary lose employment due to recessions or organizational downsizing and fall behind on rent or mortgage payments. Homelessness, especially family homelessness, peaks during recessions.

Single male low wage workers are the most likely to become chronically homeless

One-third of low wage workers who become chronically homeless become homeless before they lose their jobs and one-third of low wage workers who become chronically homeless are able to hold down jobs even with physical or mental disabilities (Toros, Flaming & Burns, 2019). While chronically homeless young adults (18-24 years) have a lower unemployment rate than non-homeless peers, but also have much lower earnings (Toros et al., 2019). Due to discrimination and exclusion from formal labor markets, homeless young adults and adolescents often engage in informal and often illegal work to meet their basic survival needs (Ferguson, Bender & Thompson, 2015).

Labor markets often reinforce homelessness through insufficient available work, inconsistent pay, and tenuous relationships with employers and colleagues (Shier, Jones & Graham, 2012).

Labor markets often reinforce homelessness through insufficient available work, inconsistent pay, and tenuous relationships with employers and colleagues (Shier, Jones & Graham, 2012).

Temporary employment reinforces homelessness by consuming most of an individual’s time with finding work and meeting daily needs (such as transportation and nutrition) and leaving very little time and resources for future career planning (Shier et al., 2012). Temporary employment also prevents workers from building professional networks with their colleagues and employer and provides no recourse against employers who do not consistently pay for agreed upon hours (Shier et al., 2012).

Social Support for Homeless Employees

A supportive employer is one of the most important contributing factors in helping people transition from homelessness (Shier et al., 2012). Employers can help their employees escape homelessness in tangible ways by withholding money from their paychecks to help them save earlier and providing a work schedule that accommodates their transportation and living arrangements (Shier et al., 2012). Employers who simply express empathy for employees who struggle to find permanent housing can also have a positive impact (Shier et al., 2012).

Homeless services, especially city shelters, can also hinder employment by focusing on the general condition of homelessness instead of responding to the specific needs of residents (Shier et al., 2012). For instance, shelters that only provide meals at specific times do not meet the needs of residents that work night shifts (Shier et al., 2012). Having the same sleep schedule for all residents also may not meet the needs of those who work irregular hours (Shier et al., 2012). Having homeless services that meet the specific needs of residents, such as providing lunches for those who work during the day or allowing them to eat dinner and sleep at a later time would make it easier for residents to secure full time employment and transition into permanent housing.

While labor force participation is necessary for escaping homelessness it is not sufficient. Stable full time employment allows individuals to reallocate time spent looking for the next work opportunity to planning for future goals. Full time employment also makes it much easier for homeless individuals to retain employment and remain an active participant in their community.


Ferguson, K. M., Bender, K., & Thompson, S. J. (2015). Risk and resilience factors associated with formal and informal income generation among homeless young adults in three U.S. cities. Youth & Society, 50(3), 351-376. doi:10.1177/0044118x15600722
Fowler, P. J., Marcal, K. E., Zhang, J., Day, O., & Landsverk, J. (2019). Defining homelessness in the transition to adulthood for policy and prevention. Journal of Child and Family Studies. doi:10.1007/s10826-019-01480-y
Toros, H., Flaming, D., & Burns, P. (2019). Early intervention to prevent persistent homelessness: Predictive models for identifying unemployed workers and young adults who become persistently homeless. SSRN Electronic Journal. doi:10.2139/ssrn.3370634
Shier, M. L., Jones, M. E., & Graham, J. R. (2012). Employment difficulties experienced by employed homeless People: Labor market factors that contribute to and maintain homelessness. Journal of Poverty,16(1), 27-47. doi:10.1080/10875549.2012.640522

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