Bill Dusty, a fellow Western Mass blogger (Earth to Bill), had a comment on my post about the two young men I've known for about ten years who are homeless and currently living in a tent. Bill said what a lot of people would say: they need to get a job and find a way to overcome their background.
I'd like to see them have jobs, too. Working has psychological benefits that people can barely intuit when they're jobless.
But will working deliver you from homelessness and keep you in a home? I want to look at this assumption a little more closely.
First, let's not pay too much attention as to whether there are actually jobs to be had. Let's pretend that the local Wendy's franchise had not just closed, throwing 300 people out of work, and that Jerry, my friend, gets a job at Wendy's.
There really is no such thing as fulltime work in the service industry. My nephew Steve worked 30 hours a week at Wendy's, but it was actually 27.5-- you don't get paid for lunch or breaks.
Steve was paid minimum wage-- $7.50 an hour. So Jerry's gross pay would be $202.50 a week; if he claimed himself as a deduction, he'd take home $171.39 weekly, or, at 4 and a third weeks a month, $747 a month.
Steve worked second shift; his hours were divided among three days. So Jerry would take a bus one way three days a week and walk back to his tent three nights. That's $3 a week.
Steve's schedule was never fixed. He would always have to call in or be reachable by phone.That would cost Jerry $2.50 a week. It also makes it tough to get a second job, because if you turn down your boss too many times over schedule changes, you won't have your job long.
Wendy's has a few upfront expenses-- they provide the shirt, but you have to buy black shoes and black pants. Let's say Jerry finds the pants at the People's Center for free but has to pay $25 for a pair of black shoes.
Now, of course you have to keep your clothes clean. Let's say Jerry washes his clothes out by hand (in the Connecticut River?) twice a week but once a week, takes his clothes to the laundromat. That's $4.
Oops, I forgot about food. At Jerry's income, he would also be eligible for $98 a month in Food Stamps. Let's give Jerry some really good luck and figure he got his food stamps just before he got his job. So he has $24.50 a week to eat on. Because he doesn't get back to his tent until after midnight, getting a 7 am free breakfast is tending not to work, but he can get lunch at the Loaves and Fishes soup kitchen. Food at Wendy's is not free, and you can't purchase it with food stamps. Let's allow Jerry to spend $4 for each of the three days he works-- not the first week,of course, nor the second week, which will be over before he gets his first paycheck.
The first week, Jerry won't get a paycheck, but he still has expenses. Let's hope a friend can loan him the money. The second week, Jerry gets $171.39. He pays back his friend for the first week expenses ($25 for shoes, $4 laundry, $2.50 phone, $3 bus. = $34.50) and has his own minimum expenses for that second week-- another $9.50. That's 171.39 minus $44, leaving Jerry $127.50 at the end of his first two weeks.
Now comes his third week at work. He takes home $171.39. He has a minimum $44 in expenses, plus the $12 we let him spend on his supper break at Wendy's, leaving $115.39. Assuming he has not spent even a penny of last week's money, Jerry now has a total of $242.89.
Time to look for a room, because at this rate, saving money for first, last and security is quite an undertaking. When rooms are available, they can be had for about $125 a week.
Now, let's see if we think Jerry can make it longterm.
Based on four and a third weeks, Jerry is taking home $747 and paying $541 for housing, leaving him $206 a month. Initially he's feeling quite flush and buys a bus pass for $36 a month, leaving $170. He still has to call in once a day ($10.75 a month) and go to the laundry weekly ($17.20 a month). Let's cut Jerry's supper allowance to $3 a working day (38.70 a month).
Now Jerry has $103.35 a month to live on. For the sake of round numbers, that's $25 a week in cash and $25 a week in food stamps.
Can we let Jerry buy toilet paper, sink detergent, toothpaste and a razor? A second pair of black pants? New underwear? An alarm clock? An extra blanket?
Moving toward the luxurious, how about a houseplant, a secondhand TV, a throw rug for the floor? If not the first month, how about the second?
I'm thinking that Jerry will have to be extraordinarily disciplined to pull this off.
We've given Jerry a lot of good luck; now let's give him some bad luck.
He's out sick for two days one week
the rooming house goes up $10 a week on rent
he gets robbed one week coming home from work
his boss takes a dislike to him and cuts his hours in half
the rooming house gets cited by Code Enforcement and has to close
he goes to work one day and Wendy's is closed.
I don't write this to be discouraging to anybody, or to say there is no value in the work ethic.
I do say that no one should have to be extraordinarily lucky, extraordinarily intelligent or extraordinarily motivated just to survive in this world.
Most of us are average (or the word would have no meaning!). If our society is no longer structured to make it possible for the average person to live decently, we are in big trouble.