Homelessness and Black History: Poverty and Income

The hardships of poverty and the lack of a robust safety net makes it extremely likely that a person experiencing poverty will be unable to afford necessary expenses like food, health care, and housing, making it a key predictor for homelessness. Therefore, African Americans overrepresentation among people living in poverty directly leads to their overrepresentation in homelessness.

The History of Economic Racism: African American’s inability to build meaningful wealth has its roots in the very inception of this nation. While on its face the end of slavery should have meant the opportunity for blacks to build wealth, in reality each generation since the end of slavery has found anew, more insidious set of obstacles to obtaining and keeping wealth, status and stability.

The abolition of outright slavery in the U.S. in 1865 quickly led to the introduction of the Jim Crow laws that plagued the country in the 19th and 20th centuries and also led to disenfranchisement laws against blacks and made getting wealthy VERY impossible. Modern wealth disparities are also explained by factors like patterns of inequity in income and homeownership, plus employment. Three years ago in 2019, the average white household income was $76057, a difference from $46,073, which black households made at the time. Reasons for this gap are varied. First, blacks are more likely than whites to work hourly, poor-waged jobs. They are more likely than whites to be unemployed (actively seeking work) than whites, a figure that has held steady for at least 70 years. And when work is found, workplace discrimination is always set in place and the pay is STILL low for workers of color.

There is also the issue of generational inequality. African-Americans are also less likely to have wealthy, homeowning parents. Research shows that having wealthy parents correlates strongly with economic stability later in life. Having parents with their own homes increases the likelihood that a child will eventually go on to have their own place. Historical forms of racism like housing discrimination mean that the parents and grandparents of blacks living today are far less likely to own their own homes compared to whites.

Blacks are less likely to go on to have their own wealth if this trend continues through the 21th century when being denied the rightful equality of owning a home. Because homeownership is a key strategy for the accumulation of wealth, these conditions even further entrench racial wealth disparities.

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