Monday, January 9, 2017

Income Taxes as a Fine for Being Useful

A former graduate student of mine; a very generous and friendly former student whom I greatly admire and with whom I've remained in contact for about a decade now since he graduated, recently posted a meme photo image of an Uncle Sam with the words: "Income Taxes are the Fine One Pays For the Crime of Being Useful and Productive".   I admit it's a cute meme, and there is some truth to it, in a broadly understood context. Yes, it’s logically true that producers contribute to the public good, and those who don't produce can't contribute as much or in the same way because they haven't produced anything to contribute, and for humorous effect, we can call "contributions to the public good" a “fine” (a punishment) we must suffer for doing the right thing.  Phrasing it this way is funny.  I get it.

But, some people might take the humorous idea of the meme seriously and allow it to reinforce some general misconceptions about how people contribute to the public good.  I therefore responded with this:

Income taxes are what one pays to sustain public goods, like education, roads, airports, national defense, space exploration, housing for the homeless and poor, food assistance to the poor and hungry, medical research (NIH and CDC), public lands management, enforcement of clean air and clean water.

The responses and my final response were interesting:

One person wrote (quite aptly, I think) in response to my observation:
Tell that to Springfield, think they forgot.

My old student wrote a thoughtful question:
So we had no roads or education, national defense or assistance for the poor, prior to 1913? Wonder how people ever got by.

Another person posted something that got me thinking about how people perceive taxes and government spending:
Income Taxes may well have started out as a means to fund some of those things but today it is simply wealth redistribution.

And then my former student re-introduced some humor to the proceedings:
And extortion

Well, even though I think they are sort of joking, we now have a claim that income taxes are “simply wealth redistribution” and also “extortion” and I felt the need to respond, so here was my reply:

Are you open to learning something about taxes and federal spending? The biggest things that the government spends money on are: Social Security; Medicaid; Medicare; and National Defense. Social Security is paid for with the payroll taxes, which cover all but $200 billion, and that gap is covered by taking money out of the Trust Fund (for Social Security). Medicare is the next biggest spending item, and it's covered by premiums and the Medicare payroll taxes, and some money taken from the Medicare Trust Fund. So, Medicare and Social Security (which account for 39¢ of every $1 spent by the government) don't rely on income taxes. Income taxes go to the other 61¢ of every $1 spent. This is split into: 
1) Medicaid and health services (about 12¢); 
2) National Defense (about 16¢); 
3) interest on the national debt (11¢) and 
4) everything else (22¢). 

Medicaid is redistributive: it pays for medical care for poor persons who would otherwise simply remain sick or die or else get charity care (if available). People who can afford to pay are going to get hit with some of these costs anyway: if we didn't have Medicaid, many doctors and hospitals would feel ethically obliged to care for the sick who couldn't pay (the alternative of allowing them to suffer or die is generally contradicted by the teachings of Christianity, for example), and medical care charities would be more aggressive in fund-raising. The costs would be shifted (by health care providers and medical charities) to paying customers and those who were more benevolent and willing to be philanthropic. Medicaid simply distributes the burden to all of us taxpayers, so that the more benevolent don't end up carrying the cost while the stingy get away as free riders, and medical costs for the rest of us remain more affordable (because we are paying income taxes which support Medicaid so that our health care providers don't have to increase the costs they charge us in order to cover their costs of providing care which wouldn't be paid for without Medicaid). 

Defense is also redistributive (all government spending is). Our money goes to pay warriors, people who build things for our military, and so forth. It's essentially a way to provide jobs for engineers and soldiers and everyone who takes care of military equipment, builds military equipment, provides services to the military, and so forth. I would rather that we redistributed more money to people who are doing medical research, who are more likely to improve my quality of life and delay my death, and less money to the military, but that's evidently a fringe opinion. 

Interest on the national debt is redistributing money to people who hold U.S. Debt. That includes most people who have mutual fund investments, where a certain percentage of assets are usually in the safe U.S. Treasury investments. 
As for "everything else", (the 22¢ of every $1 spent by the government that isn't Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, interest on the debt, or Defense), it's a mixed bag of policies that redistribute money to the poor and policies that distribute money to prison guards, and research scientists, and people who build and maintain roads and ports and airports, and safety inspectors, and Census Bureau demographers, and FBI agents, and so forth. All of this is stuff that taxpayers evidently want done, since their elected representatives have voted for such things. 

As for the redistribution toward the poor, who are usually poor because they are disabled or chronically sick or mentally or cognitively impaired, or are children of adults who are unable to find and keep high-paying jobs, 11.3¢ of every $1 spent by the federal government go to things like school lunches, supplemental nutritional assistance, housing vouchers, public housing, unemployment compensation (which is paid for by payroll taxes paid by employers for the most part rather than income taxes), international development and humanitarian assistance, social services in education, community and regional development grants, etc.). About 3¢ of the remaining 10.7¢ goes to Veteran benefits and services, leaving about 7.7¢ for all the other discretionary outlays, like the budgets of the Department of Education, Department of Transportation, Department of Justice, the Census, NASA, the NIH and CDC, Disaster relief, Homeland Security, the State Department, and so forth. 

The opinion that "it's mostly redistributive" is correct in the sense that all government spending is redistributive. The money paid in taxes goes out as benefits, wages, subsidies, or prices paid to workers, military personnel, retired persons, health care providers, children, and poor persons. But, the idea that most of the income taxes are redistributed to poor persons isn't really based on actual spending. Medicaid and all the other spending that goes to poor persons (actually it goes to the people who provide housing, food, and health services to poor persons for the most part, as the poor quickly spend the money they receive on keeping themselves from starving, becoming homeless, or dying or remaining sick) accounts for about 23.3¢ of every federal dollar spent, whereas all other spending that isn't covered by payroll taxes and trust funds amounts to about 37.7¢ (for defense, interest on the national debt, and other things that don't especially target the poor). 

As for it being extortion. This is stretching the meaning of "extortion". Yes, if you are a citizen and you live in a society and you refuse to contribute to the society in an amount determined by an assembly of representatives who were elected by you and your peers, you can be fined, or even jailed, so there is certainly coercive power involved. But, if you can afford a passport and a ticket to a low-tax or no income-tax society, you can always relocate yourself to the Cayman Islands or Somalia or Saudi Arabia or whatever alternative society without income taxes appeals to you more than this one. Income taxes (and government spending) are much lower in Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, and the standard of living in those societies is pretty good, and in Taiwan and South Korea you would be about as free as you are in the USA. It's possible to build a fairly decent society with lower taxes. But even those societies use coercive power to take money from residents and citizens as contributions toward maintaining the common good (like defending from invasions threatened by North Korea and China, providing universal health care insurance, providing very modest retirement pensions, and so forth).

We had large taxes on certain goods before the income tax. Alcohol, for example, was heavily taxed. Before 1913 our ancestors' consumption of beer and whisky covered many government expenditures. Also, without the stabilizing influence of a public welfare and pension system, we had dramatic economic swings, with crashes and panics afflicting our economy every 3-5 years, during which the economy contracted by levels unimaginable by today's standards. The early 1890s and the 1930s were far, far worse than the Great Recession of 2008.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

A student’s editorial in favor of Senate Bill 100 to end the School to Prison Pipeline in Illinois

Senate Bill 100


I have a friend was was a teacher in an alternative school in Peoria; she has since moved on.  She commented to me how kids coming to her school were so damaged and in a sense, many kids are just thrown away for different reasons.  She said it is so sad; the kids just need a chance to learn. They need that attention that they are not getting at home.  So, they act out and end up there, in her class.   

High schools have jumped on the bandwagon of zero tolerance when disciplining students; that way they don't disrupt the "good" kids.  The chance of African American kids being suspended or expelled is much higher. During the 2012-2013 school years, Chicago Schools suspended 32 of every 100 black students, compared to just 5 of every 100 white students.  These kids are then funneled through alternative schools, juvenile justice systems, then finally prison. This has got to stop!  This is known as the School to Prison Pipeline. 

Senate Bill 100 would eliminate the zero tolerance suspension and expulsion rules that are already set in place by the majority of schools.  Senate Bill 100 requires all public funded schools to only suspend and expel students as a last resort when coming across student discipline issues.  Therefore, requiring all schools to exhaust all means of intervention before expelling or suspending for more than three days.  The bill also prohibits fines and fees for misbehavior, and required schools to communicate with parents about why certain disciplinary measures are being used.  

Teaching is not easy; we do expect a lot of our teachers and very little from parents.  It is ridiculous to think that we have lost common sense when disciplining kids today. Why would bringing nail clippers or a wearing a  hair style that is distracting merit a high school student to be suspended? Or why do high schools feel the need the  bring in outside law enforcement to handle trivial issues?   The student now has a record before they are even out of high school!  This bill is long time coming and very much needed.  The cost of Senate Bill 100 in the short term, would be the cost of extra tutors, more qualified teachers, and special education services.  The long significant savings  of this bill, would amount to hundreds of millions when these kids do not end up in our judicial systems.


A key point in the justice argument is that the misbehavior of African-American students is neither quantitatively nor qualitatively worse than the behavior of other children (after adjusting for material deprivation and a few other things that contribute to negative behavior), and yet, when we control for those factors that explain negative behavior including income, the higher rate of discipline remains spectacularly high.  A counter argument you can anticipate is that "African-American students behave more badly more often, and that is why they are suspended and expelled more often" and you can anticipate that point and address it by showing the disparities in expulsion and suspension in Illinois schools was not in line with the differences in disciplinary problems.   

Legalizing Cannabis: An Incendiary Topic

An editorial written by a student... a creative student.

First, I would like to preface this article with the fact I do not engage in recreational drug use. I refrain from engaging in such activity for personal reasons and, quite honestly, have never felt the desire to pick up such a habit. I understand the moral reasons why some people refrain from casual cannabis use and also the health benefits that some cannabis users claim justify their use. While radical conservatives –even Democrats—may balk at the moral fabric of our society becoming compromised if marijuana is legalized for recreational use, many fail to recognize the economic benefits legalizing marijuana could produce; this is my focus and position for believing marijuana should be legalized.
 As Illinois lawmakers and officials march forward waving figurative signs of protest backing their respective causes, our state flops around like a fish out of water, on the brink of total economic chaos. Proposed budgets ooze with either too many Lucky Charms marshmallows or not enough enough cereal in the bowl to prevent starvation, and the population sits precariously on the edge of their seats waiting for the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters to begin his famous walk through the cities eating everyone’s pensions and entitlements for dinner. Instead of opening dusty doors with potential gold nuggets sitting on the other side, our state legislature continues to staple bright yellow caution tape over them to see if everyone will just ignore the doors and move on to something easier to open like boxes of municipal bonds. The problem is that we can all see the rectangular shape of the doors under the layers of bright yellow nonsensical caution tape. We see state after state legalizing recreational marijuana and joining the increasing number of fiscally responsible governments that care about opening the doors instead of finding every possible way to keep them locked. 
Illinois legalized medical marijuana several years ago, and then completely destroyed the financial opportunity by regulating the manufacturers as if they were opening proxy headquarters for the NSA or CIA. How can a viable business break out when the red tape is wrapped around its potential, like titanium shackles? Does each medical marijuana plant in the facility really need to be monitored, tracked and witnessed through Illinois State Police spy cam feeds? Why do we throw away the potential tax windfall from this billion-dollar industry when we are Kung Fu fighting over crumbs? It is unbelievable to think that our elected officials would rather whine and moan about how to fund various programs, while the American Civil Liberties Union estimates that it costs America over $3,600,000,000 to enforce marijuana laws at the local level (Poindexter, 2014).  Law enforcement officers could be spending their time and our tax dollars on more pressing and serious issues, than making it a point to bust “tokers.”  However, Illinois’ recent decriminalization of small time marijuana users will undoubtedly ease the burden on our state’s economic back by  trying to suck money out of the pot smokers instead of spending debt based money to incarcerate them, yet it is just a token of what could be earned from the honest taxation of a fully functioning reefer market. 
How much could Illinois gain, financially, from legalization? We need to look at the experience of other states that have legalized.  Colorado has only had a working recreational marijuana industry for a few years and they are already puffing on an additional $135,000,000 in tax revenue from the almost $1,000,000,000 fledgling industry (Poindexter, 2014). There isn’t any way the United States will ever eradicate recreational marijuana smoking, so why not allow it and tax the puffers? As the residents of Illinois watch their sales taxes, property taxes and medical insurance premiums continue to fatten like a pet wooly mammoth, can there be any wonder why ever higher percentages of the population want to see this prohibition go up in smoke? Every day we read of folks in more enlightened states discovering an increasing number of new uses for the plant, but our ridiculous, overbearing legislative parents maintain the myth of the diabolical gateway drug. 
Marijuana has been proven to be less addictive and much less harmful to the human body than both alcohol and tobacco, yet the cloudy gateway drug argument is continuously used as a rickety old platform from which to stand on by rickety old control freaks who never seem to understand when they have outlived their usefulness in the state legislative body. On the contrary, cannabis has been proven to have legitimate medical benefits, so why require individuals to jump through hoops in order to smoke it legally, when they can purchase without a doctor’s order and use at leisure to alleviate physical discomfort? Cannabis has been shown to reduce discomfort associated with AIDS, chemotherapy, general pain, and glaucoma. Cannabis has also been shown to provide relief from spasms that result from multiple sclerosis and Crohn’s disease (Poindexter, 2014). 
Illinois taxpayers want to see freedom ring and watch as this budding industry provides another much-needed income source that does not involve the forced theft of a greater percentage of their hard-earned paychecks. 


References

Poindexter, O. (2014) Available at: http://www.alternet.org/drugs/6-powerful-reasons-new-york-times- says-end-marijuana-prohibition

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Student reaction paper about Workers Compensation

Workers Compensation (A reaction essay)

I choose to talk about workers compensation. According to the social welfare history project at Virginia Commonwealth University, workers compensation is the third biggest social insurance program in U.S. It started in the 1900s (in the Progressive Era). While in the work force I have learned a lot more about this program then I would have learned if it wasn’t offered by my employer. It does not help some workers in areas like farming. With Workers Compensation, the state covers someone who is injured on the job or in a work place. It also covers the family if the person passes way from an injury on the job. In each job situation there should be information for the worker to know how they can get Workers Compensation benefits if needed. At my workplace there are many flyers in the teachers' workroom on workers compensation. These flyers explain things like where employees can get the benefits and who gets affected when the money is taken out for insured workers.  

From working in the school system I have learned that the more money that goes to injured or disabled persons through workers compensation, the more money is taken away from the education system. I feel like some stuff does need to be taken care of by the job if they are responsible. On the other hand I do believe some people abuse the idea and system so that money doesn’t get to go to a better cause. There are many people out there willing to help people who believe they have been hurt on the job due to some kind of unsafe condition. According to the Illinois workers compensation commission once there is a case to deal with it will appear in court for a trial to see if the employer is really at fault. They also stated that in most of the cases there is a settlement from the company to end it all. I have seen this happen and some times the settlement is not always the best bet. For example instead of going after money they just say they can’t be fired. The workers compensation would almost seem better to pay a little money or the amount the judge says to pay. 

Some things I think they could change would be where the money comes from when a worker gets hurt. I know my dad has to have insurance just for if someone gets hurt. It hurts the owner if someone gets hurt and the problem had nothing to do with them. I think if they get hurt and it was something like tripping over there own feet or something feel on the floor that isn’t their fault. The wet floor with no sign or loosing an arm or leg that I understand. The other stuff I just think the money should come from somewhere else.

Could a fast-track to citizenship for undocumented workers help sustain Social Security?

Social Security 

For my second reaction paper, I decided to give more thought to Social Security and ways to replenish the trust fund we are currently pulling funds from. As it is, the social security payroll (FICA) tax is not currently drawing in enough money to cover the payments being made every month to those receiving old-age, survivors’, and disability benefits. Of the items discussed in class to increase funding, we considered a small tax increase immediately, a larger tax increase later, or removing the cap on taxes collected on incomes over $118,500 (SSA.gov, 2016). There was also mention of the increase in revenue possible if current undocumented immigrants were allowed a stream-lined process to citizenship, making their incomes taxable. 

After reading a few articles from various sources, I found many economists and politicians agree that allowing undocumented workers to become legal citizens will only further strengthen our economy and Social Security. An article from The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (n.d.), states the Congressional Budget Office believes allowing the 11 billion undocumented workers currently in the United States to become legalized citizens could increase economic growth by 1.3%. The article also cites Social Security trustees as claiming legalizing 100,000 workers would improve the Social Security Trust Fund deficit and quotes Edward Alden, from the Council on Foreign Relations, as saying undocumented workers are currently holding low-wage jobs and giving them a legal status will increase their confidence to look for higher earning employment, thereby contributing more in taxes (NCPSSM.org, n.d). 

But there are people who believe the benefits of higher tax revenues on these workers will be short lived due to the increased number of people who are eligible for benefits later. With this in mind, I searched for a good source on the ages of undocumented workers and found a report from the Department of Homeland Security (2013) showing in the year 2012, 61% of these workers are between the ages of 25-44. This is a high percentage of workers who would have at least 20 years to contribute towards Social Security before receiving benefits if they were legalized. 
I find this information interesting and useful as an additional source to replenish the Social Security Trust Fund. While there are those that support a stream-lined immigration process for both economic and humanistic reasons, there is definite opposition to the idea based on national security concerns. It is an area, I believe, which needs more consideration and scrutinizing to find if it is a valid source of revenue. 

Good essay.  I will point out a couple minor details that do not have bearing on your conclusions. 

 First, I have read that the estimate of 11 million undocumented non-citizen residents in the United States dates back to before the Great Recession (from an estimate made in 2005 or 2006), and that the population may now be much smaller, although the latest Pew Research Center report I could find (from November 3, 2016) suggests 11.1 million is the most accurate current figure. A Census Bureau study discussed in the Atlantic in January of this year reported 10.9 million undocumented residents in 2014. So, my point is that your estimate of 11 million is probably quite accurate, and the higher number that existed here before the Great Recession was about 12-13 million.

Secondly, among the objections to legalizing persons who are here without proper permission and documentation there are many plausible reasons.  Some I'm sympathetic to, and others I reject, although I have not made up my mind and remain neutral on some of these immigration policy disputes.  On one extreme are people who worry that the character of the United States will be changed if too many “non-European” immigrants are allowed in.  Of course, the Hispanics of Latin America (including Mexico) are a mix of indigenous native Americans and Europeans, so not only is this sort of objection stupid (for suggesting that culture exists in blood, or that national character is inherited with genes), it is also ill-informed (since most immigrants are coming from persons with Native-American and European genetic stock, making it ridiculous to call them alien or non-European, since they are neither). On the extreme that I am sympathetic to are the arguments that our population in the USA is too large, given our carbon footprint, and bringing more immigrants here to help us continue to maintain a growing population will harm the planet, and therefore we ought to diminish immigration (but not necessarily eliminate it—I personally would cut it by 40% or so), and we could start by having undocumented American residents return to their nations of origin and apply to return here, giving them favorable consideration if a certain number of American citizens support their immigration applications with testimonials about how these persons have contributed to American society while living here as undocumented residents, but denying them readmission as immigrants if they could not establish that they had contributed to community life and integrated into American society.  Another argument is that even if legalization made sense economically, there are issues of justice here, since many foreign persons would love to come to America, and they are following the rules and applying for permission through the official channels.  Giving amnesty or creating policies to help undocumented residents become citizens quickly allows some people to get away with essentially jumping to the front of the line without waiting their turn.  That makes sense to me, but of course there is a counter-argument based on humanitarian grounds that many of these persons have lived her a long time and established themselves in their communities.  I personally know several undocumented American residents (mostly from Mexico and China) who stand as significant persons in their communities, having lived here for more than a decade (or for a few decades in one case) and naturally I would want these friends to be well-treated by any new immigration policy.

All in all, the idea that allowing a mass immigration of young working-aged immigrants to join our society as Americans and then collect from them sufficient payroll taxes to keep Social Security and Medicare going without increasing FICA taxes does have its appeals.  In fact, I can remember in 1993 making exactly this same argument to Martha Ozawa in a policy course... suggesting that America could always increase payroll taxes by allowing more young immigrants to come here so we did not end up with an inverted population pyramid of many elderly citizens and few working-aged citizens to support them.  Dr. Ozawa thought it was a very intriguing idea, but suggested it was unlikely because Americans would be too anti-immigrant.  And, here we are about 23 years later, and you are making the same point I suggested, and my thought is sympathetic, but I retain some of the same skepticism that Dr. Ozawa showed me.  






Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Even Foster Care can harm children


Removing children from families can also cause harm

This is a student reaction paper about the issues around removing children from families and putting them into foster care.

In the assigned reading for class I came across the article Foster Care vs. Family Preservation: The Track Record on Safety and Well-being. This article argues that family preservation is based upon one overriding assumption: If you remove a child from the home, the child will be safe. If you leave a child at home, the child is at risk. The risk can go both ways, for instance real family preservation programs have a better record for safety than foster care. Studies have shown that children left in their own homes typically do better than comparably-maltreated children placed in foster care. According to the article, a study of reported abuse in Baltimore, found the rate of "substantiated" cases of sexual abuse in foster care more than four times higher than the rate in the general population.  Using the same methodology, an Indiana study found three times more physical abuse and twice the rate of sexual abuse in foster homes than in the general population.  Studies were found that In group homes there was more than ten times the rate of physical abuse and more than 28 times the rate of sexual abuse as in the general population, in part because so many children in the homes abused each other.

Thomas Morton argues in his article “Foster care vs. Family Preservation” is the wrong debate because neither foster care nor family preservations is absolute in its safety outcomes.  The purpose of having child welfare is to ensure physical protection and emotional security for all children.  Emotional security is compromised when children are being neglected or abused. However, removing children from a home where they are neglected or abused so the child can be safe can also cause damage by the trauma experienced when the child is removed from their caregiver and placed into foster care. When a child is removed from their home, away from their primary caregiver and placed into foster care, this violates the basic trust existing in child’s life.  These occurrences can affect the child’s overall performance in life. 


For more information visit, 


I just want to point out that while foster care situations (or even adoptive situations, for that matter) are riskier than family situations in the general population, the comparison group here is not the general population.  The comparison group here is families where a child protective worker was so concerned about the situation that they decided to remove a child from the household to protect the child from harm.  What is the risk of abuse or neglect or harm to a child in the sample of homes where a social worker decided that removing a child was necessary because of the risks to that child of staying in the household?  I have strong feeling that the risk of abuse in such households is probably more than 28 times higher than it is in the general population, and far, far greater than it is in the foster care family households or adoptive households.  
Yes, abuse and neglect can happen, and sometimes do happen, in foster care families.  But, such abuse and neglect also happen in some very small fraction of biological families or families of origin.  In that small fraction of "natural" homes where abuse takes place, the risk of further abuse or continuing abuse is very high, and much higher than the risk in foster care.
The contribution of this article is to make us remember that the very act of removing a child from a dangerous home is likely to harm that child.  Chemotherapy harms cancer patients; it may save them, or it may not, but it may also kill them, and it's always dangerous.  Removing children from their families is like that.  Even a vaccination is obviously good, in the general sense, but every one and a while someone who is vaccinated will have an allergic reaction to the vaccine, and some people will even die from vaccines.  But, for most of us, the vaccines protect us, and create a society that is protected from diseases that will do more harm, in total, than vaccines will.  Is the child protection method of removing children from homes going to be disastrous and wrong every once and a while?  Yes.  There will certainly be cases, hopefully very few and isolated cases, where children will be wrongly removed from fairly good homes, where the child protection worker will be making a bad decision, because there will be no real risk to the children, and the natural family is loving and good, but still, sometimes child protection workers will make mistakes, and in one of these cases where the child is wrongly removed from a family, the child will end up in a placement where the child will be abused. That is the nature of the system.  What is the solution?  Maybe the solution is to have interventions where teams of people move in and live with the family around the clock so the parents and children are never alone together, thus preventing any abuse, and the teams of people who have entered the household can ensure that the child is never neglected.  That would stop the harm of removing the children from bad placements, and it would stop the harm of the abuses that some children suffer while in foster-care or group homes.  Is it plausible?  Is it feasible?  Maybe it should be, but there is no state where this sort of solution has been proposed, as far as I can tell.  Far more often when I have heard people say is "some people don't really deserve to have children."  I think most people would just rather remove children from families than spend $150,000 per year to have a team of social workers and child care workers intervening in the household and preventing the parents from harming their children.  That is not where our priorities as a society are placed.









Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Stigma of the Homeless

Stigma of the Homeless

[This is a student's reaction paper on the topic of housing, homelessness, the stigma surrounding the homeless, and the need for homeless persons to have use of a permanent street address (not a post office box) for mail while trying to get out of a homeless situation] 

Homelessness in the United States and in other countries has been an issue for many generations. The term homeless is defined as being without a permanent dwelling or living space. There is not a definite cause for a person becoming or remaining homeless, but instead a series of causative factors. Poverty is one of the major causes for homelessness, whether it's from a lack of employment or being underemployed. Another major cause of homelessness lies with the individual having a mental or psychiatric disorder where mental health services are difficult to access or are unavailable. However, once a person becomes homeless due to an unfortunate circumstance they often times turn to alcohol or other drugs (AOD) to cope. When he/she become addicted to AOD it becomes harder to obtain adequate resources to alleviate being homeless and continue to remain addicted. The issue remains a vicious cycle of deviant behavior of one form or another.

Unfortunately, the stigma of addiction is almost always connected to homeless persons as is a connection to mental instability. A society which places a stigma on such individuals only adds to their revolving problems. Local governments within the United States have, over time, enacted laws in an attempt to alleviate vagrancy amongst those who are homeless; like prohibiting sleeping/camping, eating, sitting, and begging in public spaces. The laws were meant to ensure public safety, yet are often used to coral the homeless, adding further stigma. When a person finds themselves impoverished it becomes harder for him/her to attain affordable housing or even affordable healthcare. Often times, the individual will enter a state of depression due to lack of available resources. There are federal programs designed to help end homelessness, yet there is still a large number of individuals and families without adequate housing or shelter.

There are many community organizations and social movements in the United States working together to find solutions to reduce homelessness. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in connection with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) are the key federal organizations which attribute to a significant decrease of homeless persons. They have sought to counteract the causes and reduce the consequences by starting initiatives that help homeless people to transition to self-sufficiency. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness (2015);   
"On a single night in January 2014, 578,424 people were experiencing homelessness—meaning they were sleeping outside or in an emergency shelter or transitional housing program. From 2013 to 2014, a period of ongoing recovery from the Great Recession, overall homelessness decreased by 2.3 percent and homelessness decreased among every major subpopulation: unsheltered persons (10 percent), families (2.7 percent), chronically homeless individuals (2.5 percent), and veterans (10.5 percent)" 
(NAEH, p. 3).

Overall there have been great strides to alleviate the issue of homelessness, yet there is still a large number of individuals without shelter. Often times, the main issue revolves around program funding and available locations for housing. One solution by policy makers was to establish shelters meant to aid the homeless and some laws put in place to prevent impoverished persons from losing their home or obtaining one at their rate of income. Section 8 housing vouchers are utilized to assist persons in poverty with government subsidies to assist in paying for rent or housing, but are often time consuming and difficult to obtain. There are certain rules and requirements in place to warrant honesty and necessity amongst the many applicants. The hope, with government aid, is to rid society of the status of homelessness.

Currently, it is harder to find adequate shelter or available beds for the homeless. Most places that are established as shelters also have rules in place to prevent vagrancy and crime. Often times, men are turned away from many shelters due to the establishment only allowing women and children (under a set age). If these turned away individuals are without assistance from the government, where do they go? This slowly precipitates into incarceration, which is a success to some homeless persons seeking shelter.

The solution should be to educate and attempt to establish employment in succession with providing temporary shelter and/or medical care if needed. Almost no employers will legally hire a homeless person without a reoccurring address. The law is in place to prevent fraud and ensure proper taxation amongst the workforce. Policy makers may need to look past the current status of homelessness and look inward as to why.


Having a mailing address allows the person to receive mail and even the ability to maintain proper identification cards like a state I.D. and Social Security card. Employers also require proper identification to ensure citizenship and to prevent personnel fraud. Allowing government or church shelters the ability to provide a legal mailing address would ensure a greater chance of finding employment. The individual's quality of life may improve once employment is obtained, and with the end result being finding an adequate home or shelter. The policy should also include job training/education, along with supplying the address, to ensure the person is able and willing to work effectively.

The Federal government has many, many programs for promoting affordable housing, community development, and ending homelessness.  But, they are all relatively small (well, housing choice vouchers and public housing programs aren't really all that small: about 2.2 million persons live in public housing or public tribal housing, and over 5 million persons live in housing where housing choice vouchers (Section 8) are used.  But, there are no mandatory programs that deliver affordable housing. As your reaction paper shows, there are insufficient spaces (beds) in shelters for those who are homeless.  And, an emphasis on temporary housing in shelters or transitional housing is an inferior second-choice policy option to an emphasis on providing immediate permanent housing solutions.