Homelessness in the United States is the most visible and jarring expression of housing insecurity, yet millions of people across the nation live in unstable housing conditions. These financially insecure people and families must often double or triple up with other people in housing designed for single families or single people. Many are living in their cars, outside encampments, or in temporary shelters. And many more are just one paycheck or one emergency away from losing their apartment or home.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, there were between 8 million and 11 million people who were unhoused or on the verge of becoming homeless. At the height of the pandemic, between 30 million and 40 million people in the United States were at risk of losing their housing. Many of them were protected by emergency pandemic measures, such as rental aid, housing vouchers, expanded pandemic Unemployment Insurance, stimulus checks, the enhanced Child Tax Credit, and a nationwide eviction moratorium.
These programs provided critical support for those struggling with housing insecurity during the COVID-19 recession and the legacy of years of low wages and precarious work, without worker protections, such as paid leave or healthcare—all of which contributed to widespread financial fragility. Indeed, before the pandemic, there were 140 million poor and low-income people in the United States.
Investments in our nation’s social infrastructure via pandemic assistance programs brought these numbers down significantly, albeit temporarily, offering a glimpse of what a more equitable economy and society might look like—in which all workers and their families were treated as essential rather than expendable, where they could remain in their homes and living spaces, and where child well-being was a national priority.
The eviction moratorium was the longest-running of these programs, enacted first under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES, Act in March 2020 and then extended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention multiple times. The moratorium was lifted in August 2021, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the CDC had exceeded its authority.
Although the decision was premature, and the court itself acknowledged that between 6 million and 17 million tenants would be at risk of eviction, it nonetheless went forward, imposing this unnecessary trauma on millions of U.S. households. Evictions are now on the rise and may even surpass pre-pandemic levels.
What’s more, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics just last month reported that shelter prices are the dominant factor in the monthly increase in inflation. According to the BLS report, “over the past year, the shelter index has gone up 6.9 percent accounting for 40 percent of the total increase in all items, less food and energy.”
In short, housing insecurity is having an economywide impact.
Read the full article about housing insecurity by Shailly Gupta Barnes at Washington Center for Equitable Growth.