Should We Evict 30 Million People At The End Of This Month? We Think 'No'!
During the Great Depression, there were two million Americans without homes and one of the biggest lessons learned was the revelation that, save for a bit of luck, practically anyone could find themselves in that same boat. It was that understanding that brought people together, that pushed them to make sacrifices for one another and to push for greater social reforms so that others wouldn't have to go through what they went through during that time.
Since then, however, we have created narratives that allow us to see poverty not as a failure of the system, but as a moral failure of the individual. It's a comforting fallacy that allows people to detach from the poor and go, "Well, I'm not lazy, so that will never happen to me!" The belief that poverty can be used as a motivational tool — that if people are miserable enough they will pull themselves up by their bootstraps and work hard and become a success, and that this will never happen if they are made comfortable — is ridiculous, but it certainly lets a lot of shitty people sleep at night.
At the end of this month, in the dead of winter, as many as 30 to 40 million Americans could be facing eviction. If two million homeless was noticeable in the 1930s, if we are generally aware of the nearly 600,000 homeless now, 30 million will not be easy to ignore.
Despite the recent spike in COVID-19 cases and the fact that many areas are under strict stay-at-home orders and shutdowns, the eviction moratorium, ordered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has not been renewed and will expire on Dec. 31. With all the hardship people have experienced this year, imagine also having to start the next year off without a home?
People are already telling themselves soothing stories about those who are likely to be evicted in January if the eviction moratorium is not re-upped. A popular one is about the people who stayed on unemployment while they were getting the $600 supplement rather than taking jobs that paid less than unemployment. Perhaps before we say that one out loud, we should consider that A) It was not particularly safe to be going on job interviews at that time, either, and B) What if the real problem is that we have jobs that pay less than unemployment in the first place?
The most American thing in the world these days is the fact that it actually costs less to house people than to allow unhoused people to live on the street, and we continue to do the latter. Mostly because many people are actually just more comfortable with allowing poor people to suffer needlessly than they are with giving anyone "free stuff." Many Americans are willing to pay far more than is necessary for all kinds of things to avoid this or to avoid any semblance of "socialism."
But 30 million evictions is a luxury we cannot afford. We can't afford to have 30 million people without homes just so people who didn't get screwed by the pandemic can feel really good about themselves and pretend that somehow those people losing their homes is what is best for them in the long run. For character-building reasons.
Not only is it extremely expensive to have people living on the street, it's extremely difficult for people living on the street to get a job — far more difficult than it is for housed people! Crazy, I know. Because people always look at homeless people and bitterly remark about how they should get real jobs instead of panhandling or something.
The thing is, in order to get a job, you have to have an address, you have to have a place to shower, you need somewhere to keep your clothes so you don't wear the same thing every day, you need transportation, you need food and a place to sleep so you have the energy to do a good job. If you don't have these things, it's very difficult to hold down a job, particularly in a climate where we do not have a lot of jobs to go around. The unemployed already have one strike against them when it comes to finding employment — we all know it's easier to get a job when you have a job, and that the longer you haven't had a job the harder it is to get one — they don't need any more than that.
Even if they do get a job, having an eviction on their record may make it difficult for them to find housing again. Especially given the affordable housing crisis currently happening in this country.
If people don't have homes or jobs, they probably aren't spending a whole lot of money. In order for our economy to function, we need people to spend money, or else even more people will be out of homes and jobs. We also need people to pay taxes in order for our society to function.
If there are 30 million people in that situation, we're gonna end up needing to use tax money to help them, eventually, and it's going to be a lot more expensive and difficult to help them get back on their feet than to have never let them fall off the ledge in the first place. Obviously.
A recent study also found a strong link between people being evicted from their homes during the pandemic and an increase in deaths from the virus. So not taking care of people during this difficult time could literally be the thing that kills us.
What does this mean? This means that we need to suck it up and not only renew the eviction moratorium — and back rent or mortgage payments, by the way, need to go on the end of one's lease or mortgage, not due in a lump as soon as the moratorium's over — but also get some people some goddamned money so they can survive this freaking pandemic. And I'm not just talking another $1200 stimulus. People need a universal basic income that they can survive on until there are jobs for them again, so that they can pay their rent — which also helps the poor old landlord class, Republican senators! — and be able to eat and get through this. Not just because we are wonderful people who care about other human beings or because we have bleeding hearts — it would be lovely if that were true for more people, but let's be real here, we've got a lot of assholes — but because it will actually be more expensive down the line if we don't do this. If giant banks can get bailouts, certainly 30 million Americans are "too big to fail" as well.
There's always a loser in musical chairs, because the game is set up with one less chair than is needed. When you live in a country where there literally aren't enough jobs that pay a living wage, where there are not enough affordable housing options, basic survival isn't simply a matter of working hard — it's a matter of just happening to be in the right place when the music has ended.
If you're still doing all right, and have $5 or $10 a month for your Wonkette, we would surely appreciate it.
Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse