The new nontraditional homeless

This St. Louis Post-Dispatch article talks about a new type of homeless: A family, in most cases, where both parents work, but neither makes enough to be able to afford both a home and transportation.

This is where salary deflation and the end of inexpensive housing meet, and it’s not pretty.One of the many reasons I oppose eminent domain is because it wipes out private housing. While the targeted areas often aren’t the nicest neighborhoods, frequently the people who live in them aren’t able to afford other housing in the area–that’s why they opposed the buyout in the first place. If your home is worth $40,000 and you can’t find another $40,000 home, or the only comparable home you can find is next door to a crack house, you’re not going to want to leave either.

But since affordable housing can’t stand in the way of progress, inevitably the buildings fall, our country gets another strip mall, which causes a domino effect where another strip mall gets abandoned and blighted. And if that area isn’t redeveloped, property values there will fall, but not quickly enough to help the people who were displaced.

I don’t know about anywhere else in the country, but in St. Louis, it’s exceedingly difficult to live on $8.50 an hour. That’s $1300 a month, which is enough for a single person to afford a small apartment (say, $400) and some kind of transportation and a simple life. But it’s tight some months. I remember the utilities in my one-bedroom apartment topping $200 a month during the hottest and coldest months. The heating and cooling systems in apartments tend not to be very efficient. And mine wasn’t a cheap apartment by any stretch. Add kids into the equation and it gets difficult.

Ten years ago, when someone asked me to sign a petition to raise the minimum wage, I gave them a lecture about why that was a bad idea. Like a good Republican, I said the cost of everything would increase, and the people who were making minimum wage wouldn’t end up being any better off.

Besides, at that point in time I had seen minimum wage rise three times since I’d been a teenager. The argument may have been valid then.

Minimum wage increased that year, although not by as much as that group wanted. And I remember restaurant owners grumbling about it and saying that prices would have to increase in order to support it.

But a funny thing happened along the way. I worked fast food 15 years ago. And 15 years ago, when minimum wage was $4.15 an hour (up from $3.35) you could pretty much expect to pay about five bucks for a meal at a fast-food joint. When I was 14, before I was working, and minimum wage was $3.35 an hour, I usually paid $5 or less for a meal at a fast-food joint.

And today, with a minimum wage of $5.15 an hour, I still pay about $5 for lunch at a fast-food joint. The $5 lunch might be a bit smaller than the $5 lunch of 1990, but for about 50 cents, I can get 1990 portions.

Minimum wage peaked in 1968. Adjusted for inflation, 1968’s minimum wage would be about $8 today.

Frankly, I think $8 is probably a fair minimum wage when I consider that the cost of living in St. Louis is lower than the national average and yet it’s difficult to get an apartment for less than $400 if you don’t like living around gunshots, and considering that monthly payments on a Kia Rio are $166 a month. At $5.15 an hour, that leaves $258 for utilities, food, clothes, health insurance, and gas to put in that Rio. Health insurance and utilities can easily wipe that out.

Even when you argue that someone making minimum wage ought to be driving an older car, eliminating that $166 payment still makes for a tight budget. If you get sick and miss more than a day of work, it’s a budget breaker.

Oh, and by the way, we’re talking pre-tax dollars here. That $800 a month is really less than $700 by the time the government gets its share.

Better get a $300 apartment. And a gun, just in case you need to shoot back when you hear those gunshots. Hopefully you’ve got enough money left over for bullets.

Come to think of it, living on the street probably is safer alternative.

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