Victims of Circumstance

Posted: May 3, 2008 in Discrimination, Employment, Homelessness, Misconceptions

According to a news article on the MSNBC site, Economy shows resilience; jobless rate falls as dollar rises, the unemployment rate dropped from 5.1 percent down to 5.0 percent. And according to the same article, job loss is down also: 20,000 in April compared to 81,000 in March.

In some ways that’s good news, especially considering that there have been some 260,000 jobs that have been lost since the beginning of the year. On the other hand, as of April of this year, there were 7.6 million people who were unemployed compared to only 6.8 million at this same time last year. That’s an additional 800,000 people who are no longer a part of the work force.  

Then of course, there is all hoopla about the tax rebate checks that started going out this past week. It’s supposed to be part of an economic stimulus plan. The idea is that by the Government giving taxpayers back some of their own money, consumers will go out and spend that money straightaway and give the economy a jump start to pull us out of this recession; or slump; or whatever else they’re calling it.

I have no doubt that consumers are going to be spending that money. I just don’t think that it’s going to be spent the way the Government wants – or expects – it to be spent. I don’t believe for one minute that everyone who gets a rebate check is going to rush right out and spend it at the local department store. My guess it that the overwhelming majority of that money is going to be spent at the gas pumps and supermarkets – and of course on other such things as bills.

In the end, most of the folks who do get a rebate check aren’t going to have much to show for it. And life will go on pretty much the way it has been: people will continue to struggle the best they can to keep their heads above water.

What continues coming back to my mind are the 7.6 million folks who currently find themselves unemployed. With the numbers of jobs being lost still on the rise, their odds of finding suitable replacement jobs doesn’t appear too promising.

According to the article, the numbers of jobs being created aren’t keeping up with the numbers of jobs lost. That means, as far as available jobs opportunities, we’re taking one step forward and two steps back. That’s not good.

One particular sentence in the article caught my attention:

"… economists predict the unemployment rate will climb higher, hitting 6 percent early next year."

With approximately 1 percent of American’s population being homeless, if we apply that 1 percent to the 7.6 million who are currently unemployed as a statistical possibility, then there is a potential that 76,000 of the nations’ unemployed could become homeless. That’s nearly twice as many people as live in my community.

Please understand, I’m not definitively saying that these folks will become homeless. I’m just pointing out that there is a statistical possibility that they could become homeless. And their homelessness will not be because they’re bad people, or because they’ve brought it on themselves. They won’t become homeless because they were lazy or irresponsible. They will become homeless because they’re victims of circumstances.

Not exactly the stereotype of what most folks consider the reason for why people become homeless, is it?

The truth is that a large number of folks who have become homeless were average everyday people, just like you and me. They used to get up, get dressed and head off to work. At the end of the pay period, they’d collect their paycheck and hope that they’d have something left over once they were done paying their bills. When they didn’t have enough funds, they’d use a credit card.

Then something happened. They lost a job; they had a medical emergency; they went through a divorce. It could have been any number of things, or even a combination of things. But they found themselves in a position where they could no longer afford a place to live.

Some were fortunate enough to find refuge with a relative or friend. Others, who didn’t have that option available to them, found themselves either living in their vehicles or going to a local homeless shelter in their community. And the longer they were homeless, the more they experienced prejudices based on stereotypical thinking.

The danger of stereotypical thinking is that it prevents us from seeing the reality of a situation, because stereotypes are based on assumptions and misconceptions.

When we respond to anyone based on stereotypes, we are behaving prejudicially. Worse than that, we are behaving arrogantly. That arrogance blinds us to the possibility that we might be wrong. Moreover, it severely limits us from potentially doing the right thing.

If we truly want to reduce the numbers of homeless in our communities, then we must do so with our eyes wide open. We must be open to the reality that not everyone who is homeless wants to be homeless. We must give ourselves the permission to imagine that we can make a difference. Otherwise, we’ll continue to see the homeless through eyes blurred by prejudice and contempt.

Mark Twain said,

"You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus"

  1. AnAmerican says:

    Our current economic environment is hostile to most Americans (except government workers who seem to be assured of good benefits and a job they can keep regardless of their performance). Before this trend is over I fear we will see many, many folks loose a foot hold on the “American Dream”.

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