More than half of people residing in homeless shelters in the United States had formal earnings in the same year they were homeless, according to a new study that deepens understanding of housing insecurity in the U.S.
Among unhoused individuals who were not in shelters, about 40% had earnings from formal employment. The findings contrast with common perceptions and stereotypes about people who are homeless—suggesting that even consistent work isn’t enough to help Americans facing skyrocketing housing costs.
Led by Prof. Bruce D. Meyer, a preeminent scholar of U.S. poverty, the research offers the first highly accurate snapshot of those experiencing homelessness across the country and examines factors such as labor market attachment, geographic mobility, earnings, population characteristics and safety net usage.
“People experiencing homelessness are among the most deprived individuals in the United States, yet they are neglected in official poverty statistics and other surveys,” said Meyer, the McCormick Foundation Professor at Harris Public Policy. “As a result, policymakers and others interested in understanding this overlooked and at-risk population have never had complete or reliable information from which to guide decision-making until now.”
The new study is the first in a series of planned reports on homelessness from the Comprehensive Income Dataset (CID) Project, an effort to build the most accurate dataset on economic well-being ever created for the United States. To better understand the homeless population specifically, the researchers constructed an unprecedented dataset—a census of the entire U.S. homeless population in 2010 linked with individual-level administrative data on government benefits and tax records.