Homelessness has increased despite economy's historic growth.
The American nightmare
America’s homeless population increased for the first time since 2010, driven primarily by the West Coast’s surging economy, reports the Associated Press.
- The total increase is just under one percent, but the number of unsheltered homeless rose nine percent: according to Point In Time data compiled by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), there are now 193,000 people around the country “staying in vehicles, tents, the streets and other places considered uninhabitable.”
- The increases are much higher in West Coast cities, where “rents have soared beyond affordability” for lots of low-wage workers thanks to booming economies. The homeless population grew by 14 percent over the past two years in California, Oregon, and Washington.
- In Seattle alone, the unsheltered population has grown 44 percent since 2015.
- Los Angeles’s total homeless population has increased to 55,000, up 30 percent in two years. To place the scope of the West Coast’s problem in perspective, if you were to exclude LA, the homeless rate actually decreases by about 1.5 percent.
- From the AP: “San Diego now scrubs its sidewalks with bleach to counter a deadly hepatitis A outbreak that has spread to other cities and forced California to declare a state of emergency last month. In Anaheim, home to Disneyland, 400 people sleep along a bike path in the shadows of Angel Stadium. Organizers in Portland lit incense at a recent outdoor food festival to cover up the stench of urine in a parking lot where vendors set up shop.”
The main culprit, as the AP report, is rising rent prices. “Will alarming frequency,” the report says, “the West Coast’s newly homeless are people who were able to survive on the margins – until those margins moved.”
The HUD’s new homelessness report speaks to a much larger trend: despite the economy’s strong growth in recent years, middle- and working-class folks have often struggled to keep pace. An alarming report in The Atlantic last year said that 47 percent of Americans are just $400 away from bust.
If you google, for example, “rising prices stagnant wages,” you will see headline after headline – from outlets like NBC, The Federalist, The Hill, Pew Research Center, NPR, nearly all in 2017 – that tell what’s quickly becoming, for lots of folks, the same old story:
- “It’s Not Avocado Toast But Stagnant Wages Dimming American Dream,” NBC News
- “Rising home prices, stagnant wages burden home buyers,” CNBC
- “Rising Prices and Stagnant Wages Are Real,” The Federalist
- “US housing prices are rising twice as fast as wage,” New York Post
- “Our unemployment rate is great, so why aren’t wages rising faster?” The Hill
- “For most workers, real wages have barely budged for decades,” Pew Research Center
- “Paychecks Can’t Keep Up With Rising Prices,” NPR
- “Rising Rents, Stagnant Wages, And the Burden of Unstable Housing,” Zillow.com
The steady drumbeat of these reports keeps up even as congressional Republicans work toward putting into law massive tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, many of whom have already said they’ll pass the savings on, not to workers, but to shareholders, or to paying down debt. It’s likely the new tax law, should it go into effect, will exacerbate what’s already the largest income gap between rich and poor since the year before the Great Depression.
Republicans have said, as well, that welfare ‘reform’ is next up after the tax cuts – cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, food stamps, and other programs that alleviate the effects of poverty. Democrats have argued that the GOP will use the increasing deficits – the tax plan as it stands adds $1.4 trillion to the national debt over the next decade – “as a pretext to accomplish the long-held conservative policy objective of cutting government health-care and social-service spending.”
Trump’s big Jerusalem move has more support than you think.
Believe it or not, President Trump’s move to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and get the process going on relocating the US embassy from Tel Aviv is an attempt at bipartisanship.
- Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton – all three of Trump’s immediate predecessors promised to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem but ultimately shied away due to concerns about security and the peace process.
- “For Mr. Trump,” writes Mark Landler in the New York Times, “the status of Jerusalem was always more a political imperative than a diplomatic dilemma.” The president was pressured by evangelical Christians and by campaign donors, in particular Sheldon Adelson, the casino billionaire, who met with Trump about Jerusalem’s status ten days before the latter took office.
- Rex Tillerson and Jim Mattis, the Secretary of State and Defense, respectively, argued against the move, according to The American Conservative, telling Trump it “would endanger American diplomats serving in the region, undermine the administration’s efforts to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and result in condemnations from both Arab countries and America’s most important allies in Europe.”
- The move has indeed received global condemnation – including from the pope! – but the backlash at home has been muted, and for good reason: for decades, both Republicans and Democrats in Congress have supported the idea of moving the US embassy to Jerusalem.
- Although it may have come as a shock to some on the left that Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the Senate Minority Leader, claimed to have advised Trump to make the move, this was a bipartisan no-brainer as recently as June, when the Senate voted 90-0 to pass a symbolic resolution recognizing Jerusalem as “the undivided capital of Israel.” The 10 abstentions were also bipartisan: five Democrats, five Republicans.
- The Jerusalem Act of 1995, which directs the president to relocate the US Embassy to Jerusalem, passed in the House 374-37. The Senate passed it 93-5. Beginning with Bill Clinton and through Donald Trump’s first eleven months in office, the president has signed a waiver every six months pushing off the move, in the hopes that Israel and the Palestinians would resolve their dispute over the city peacefully.
In an angry speech on the Senate floor, Al Franken resigned on Thursday.
- Franken was unapologetic, claiming that “some of the allegations against me are simply not true,” and took a parting shot at the Republican party, whose treatment of leaders accused of sexual misconduct, harassment, or abuse has been markedly different, and with the party’s recent re-embrace of Roy Moore, deeply cynical: “I am leaving,” Franken said, “while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office and a man who repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party.”
- Franken’s resignation came after a number of Democratic senators publicly called on him to leave, and just days after a fresh allegation from a seventh accuser, who claimed Franken tried to forcibly kiss her in 2006, three years before he entered the Senate.
- Franken’s was the highest profile of three congressional resignations this week: John Conyers, the longtime Democratic congressman from Michigan, also resigned his seat in the wake of multiple allegations of sexual harassment, as did Arizona Republican Rep. Trent Franks, who resigned immediately after it was revealed he’d propositioned two female staffers about surrogacy.
Congress temporarily averted a government shutdown on Thursday when both the House and the Senate voted to extend current funding levels for two weeks, until December 22nd.
- After the bill’s passage, congressional leaders from both parties met at the White House to discuss “broader issues that would be part of a long-term spending deal.” Democrats are looking to secure support for a new DREAMers act, which would provide a path to citizenship for the nearly 700,000 undocumented immigrants who were previously sheltered under President Obama’s DACA order, as well as extend funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), the federal healthcare program that insures nine million working class kids. Funding ran out at the end of September, and despite wide support among both parties, the program has been largely ignored for other matters.
Following an attack via tweet by President Trump last week, newly installed FBI Director Christopher Wray defended the agency on Capitol Hill on Thursday, telling the House Judiciary Committee that “the FBI I see is tens of thousands of agents and analysts and staff working their tails off keeping Americans safe.”
header image: "homeless," sally / flickr