December 10, 2013

NYT, Boston Globe Discover Years-Long Homelessness Growth in Gotham and Massachusetts

This month, the Boston Globe and the New York Times have published items on the growth of homelessness in the state of Massachusetts and New York City, respectively. Based on the content of each, it’s clear that the topic was ripe for coverage in 2012, but got little if any. I wonder why? (/sarcasm)

The Globe’s regular-length news story by Megan Woolhouse and David Abel cited the state’s “record numbers of homeless families” as “another example of an uneven recovery” from a recession which officially ended almost 4-1/2 years ago. The Times published the first of what will ultimately five parts on the plight of one homeless family, with special emphasis on Dasani, their 11 year-old daughter. The Globe cites “federal budget cuts” and “a legacy of the Great Recession” as negative factors. The Times’s Andrea Elliott needlessly marred her otherwise compelling profile by hyping newly elected Mayor Bill de Blasio while taking swipes at “the wealthy” and “Reagan-era cutbacks,” as excerpts after the jump will demonstrate (bolds and italicized comments are mine):

… Dasani is among 280 children at the shelter. Beyond its walls, she belongs to a vast and invisible tribe of more than 22,000 homeless children in New York, the highest number since the Great Depression, in the most unequal metropolis in America.

… The ranks of the poor have risen, with almost half of New Yorkers living near or below the poverty line. Their traditional anchors — affordable housing and jobs that pay a living wage — have weakened as the city reorders itself around the whims of the wealthy.

(If true, which is doubtful, this is a startling discovery. When did this start, and when has the Times previously denounced this reordering?)

Long before Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio rose to power by denouncing the city’s inequality, children like Dasani were being pushed further into the margins, and not just in New York. Cities across the nation have become flash points of polarization, as one population has bounced back from the recession while another continues to struggle. One in five American children is now living in poverty, giving the United States the highest child poverty rate of any developed nation except for Romania.

(de Blasio’s rise may be rhetorically satisfying, but the tax increases he wants “could drive the wealthy from New York.” The “polarization” Elliott cites has taken place in “cities across the nation” where political power is concentrated in the hands of Democrats and other leftists and while a dedicated leftist named Barack Obama has been in the Oval Office. Finally, it’s quite safe to say that poverty in Romania is a former worse predicament than poverty in the U.S.)

… In 1985, the city repurposed the former hospital into a shelter for families. This was the dawn of the period known as “modern homelessness,” driven by wage stagnation, Reagan-era cutbacks and the rising cost of homes. By the time Mayor Bloomberg took office in 2002, New York’s homeless population had reached 31,063 — a record for the city, which is legally obligated to provide shelter.

(Real household income increased significantly across the board from 1985 to at least 1990 as a result of “Reagan-era” policies, and “overall welfare spending increased during the Reagan presidency.”)

While we’re on the topic of Reagan, let’s look at the National Coalition for the Homeless’s chart showing the growth of New York City’s homeless population:

NYChomeless1983to2013

New York City’s homeless problem is now twice as large as it was in the 1980s. And this is Ronald Reagan’s fault? As to the nonsense about “modern homelessness,” if you really want to trace its “modern” roots, it would be in the deinstitutionalization of mental patients and the stagflation of the Carter years, both of which obviously pre-dated the Gipper.

The Globe’s coverage also ignores the elephant in the room, namely who has been in charge of the federal government for the past five years:

Mass. scrambling to find housing for its homeless
As numbers hit a record high, state fills shelters, far-off motel rooms

Record numbers of homeless families are overwhelming the state’s emergency shelter system, filling motel rooms at the cost to taxpayers of tens of millions of dollars a year.

An average of nearly 2,100 families a night — an all-time high — were temporarily housed in motel rooms in October, just about equaling the number of families in emergency shelters across the state, according to be the state Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development.

Aaron Gornstein, the undersecretary for housing, said the surge has followed cuts in state and federal housing subsidies, soaring rents in Greater Boston, and still-high rates of unemployment and underemployment, particularly among lower-income workers.

“The state as a whole has recovered from the Great Recession faster than most other states, but in many ways we’re still struggling,” Gornstein said. “Federal budget cuts have made the situation worse.”

A recent report from the Department of Housing and Urban Development said the number of homeless people in shelters and living on the streets in Massachusetts has risen 14 percent since 2010 to nearly 20,000 in January 2013, even as homelessness has declined nationally.

This jump in homelessness is another example of an uneven recovery. Even as stocks soar to new heights and real estate values rebound, many of the state’s poorest residents remain without jobs and homes four years after the last recession.

… Motels are one of the state’s most expensive options at $82 a night, almost as much as congregate housing’s $100 a night cost. In the past five years, state spending on motels has exploded to more than $46 million from about $1 million in 2008, according to state records.

$82 a night ($574 per week, over $2,300 per month)? Don’t these people negotiate?

Gornstein’s claim that the state has recovered better than the rest of the country is suspect, especially recently. The Bay State’s unemployment rate rose from 6.7 percent to 7.2 percent from October 2012 to October 2013, while seasonally adjusted Household Survey employment has dropped by over 5,000.

Three of the bluest of blue cities in the U.S. (Los Angeles is the third, with a 27% one-year rise in homelessness based on counts done in January, as noted in a separate November Times article) are bucking a decade-long national trend of gradually declining homelessness (though the charts one finds all seem to start in 2007).

The trends cited by the Times and the Globe were already several years old last year when both papers were running interference for Barack Obama’s election. I guess it’s now safe to report on a problem they deliberately ignored in the interest of an apparently higher-priority goal.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

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