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American Homelessness.

Trivia Tidbit of the Day: Part 977 -- Facts & Figures About Homelessness In The United States-

The United States is still the most wealthy and powerful nation on the planet, but once-abundant opportunity seems ever more out of reach for what seems like an increasing number of Americans. The economy is growing at the sort of tepid levels Americans once mocked Europe for, and at the current pace of recovery, it may take several years or more before we're again at full employment. And that's assuming no more recessions in the meantime, a rare scenario.

In all of this gloom, Texas has remained the nation's shining city on a hill, creating jobs and opportunity and becoming what amounts to an economic refugee camp for those fleeing broken blue states looking for employment and a sane place to raise a family.

It turns out that when it comes to mitigating homelessness, the blue state model is just as deeply flawed as the failed blue state model for job creation and economic growth.

Homelessness, just like so many other economic indicators, is far more than mere statistics on a page. It involves real people dealing with real and usually devastating issues. Substance abuse, broken families, or mental illness-- tragedies all-- often drive people to homelessness, but long-term unemployment and a general lack of economic vitality play a critical role in pushing people out of their homes (and keeping them out). Indeed, when it comes to reducing homelessness caused by economic hardship, we can chalk up another win for Texas and the red state model.

At the beginning of the 2013 holiday season, the Boston Globe painted a troubling picture from Massachusetts:

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

The demand for shelter is so great that the state has been temporarily shipping homeless families from Boston to motels in Western Massachusetts...

Meanwhile, New York magazine reported:

Here in New York, they found a thirteen-percent increase, for a total of 64,060 people living in shelters and on the street. And in Los Angeles, the homeless population jumped 27 percent, to 53,798.

The New Yorker added its own 10,000 words on the subject (with nary a mention of Barack Obama, or his promise to end chronic and veteran homelessness in America by 2015), bemoaning the fact that all the homeless people in NYC wouldn't fit into the seats at Yankee Stadium.

So, liberal cities in liberal bastions have seen huge increases in homelessness. And homelessness (lumped in with hunger) now ranks among the top five issues Americans are concerned about today, essentially tied with health care, unemployment, and Social Security, and well ahead of environmental issues.

But, thank goodness, homelessness is actually down in the U.S. as a whole:


Indeed, unlike New York and California and a handful of other states, the rest of the country is seeing a decline in homelessness, and Texas cities have seen their homeless populations decline "sharply."

Let's dive into those numbers, shall we?

The Texas Tribune reported just after Thanksgiving of 2013 that, sure, homelessness is down in the Lone Star State, but still, Texas is among a group of five states (including California, New York, Florida, and Massachusetts) accounting for half of all the homeless people in America.

You could actually swap out Texas for much smaller Illinois (26+ million people in TX versus less than 13 million in IL) there and get essentially the same result. California, New York, Florida, Illinois, and Massachusetts alone comprise 48.3% of America's homeless population, 60.1% of America's unsheltered homeless population, and 63.2% of America's chronically homeless unsheltered population.

You can find and explore these numbers in this Google Doc Spreadsheet here, if you're interested. Note there are two tabs, so you might have to tab back and forth between them to find what you're looking for.

Sure, you'd expect large states to account for a lot of anything in the country. But let's really look at the numbers from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and figure out what's going on there.

The table below shows each state, its population, its homeless population, its population as a percentage of the nation's population, its homeless population as a percentage of the nation's homeless population, and what I am calling the "homelessness quotient," which is just a way of measuring whether a state has more or fewer homeless people than would be predicted from its population.

A "homelessness quotient" of zero would be perfectly in line with its population. A positive quotient means a state has more homeless people than its population would predict. A negative quotient means a state has fewer homeless people than it "ought" to have, given its population.

Here's a quick way of conceptualizing that:


As you can see, some states have shockingly high numbers of homeless people, given their relative sizes (click for larger version):


California, with just under 12% of the nation's population, has 22.43% of the nation's homeless population, giving it a homelessness quotient of 0.88. Quite high, in other words. Almost double the number of homeless people one would predict, given its population.

Texas, which has roughly 8.2% of the nation's population, only has 4.85% of the nation's homeless population (meaning: Texas has a quite low homelessness quotient of -0.41).

Again, if you'd like to immerse yourself in the data, have at it with this Google Doc.

Below are a few different ways to visualize those numbers.

First, notice just how much of an outlier Texas is in terms of large states (click for larger version):


And this one is basically a zoom into the lower left quadrant of the graph above (click for larger version):


The size of the bubble indicates the size of the homeless population. The further toward the top of the graph, the larger the state's total population, and the further toward the right, the worse the homelessness quotient.

Clearly, some states have a bigger problem than others. California and New York both have excessive numbers of homeless people, even given their large overall populations.

In perhaps an even more visual format, what does this map remind you of?

click for larger version

It's obviously not a perfect overlap of any particular political map, but it does evoke the 2000, 2004, 2008, or 2012 Electoral College maps. Red states generally have less homelessness, blue states generally have more. Again, there are exceptions (homeless people generally don't live in the Midwest/Great Lakes region), but there are a lot of homeless people in North Dakota, perhaps simply due to the booming economy and concurrent lag in new housing options), but if we're trying to learn lessons about the problem of homelessness from the data, it's hard to deny that this map (with the exception of the Midwest) is extremely familiar to political observers.

As far as why the Midwest has relatively low levels of homelessness, perhaps it is simply because of the extreme cold (these numbers are all based on observations taken by a Census-like army across the country on a single night in January each year). Other explanations might be that the Midwest has a relatively high level of religiosity and church participation, or that the Midwest has a particular culture, shaped by particular immigrants and particular demographics, that somehow uniquely discourages homelessness. Or, maybe the people most susceptible to homelessness have simply moved elsewhere, where the jobs are. Detroit alone lost roughly 140,000 people from 2005 to 2010, mostly to places like Texas, Florida, and Arizona.

And then there's booming North Dakota, also an outlier with some unique characteristics. We'll get to that below.

Since 2009, some states have dramatically reduced their homeless populations, while some have gone the other direction (click for larger version):


Again, isolating just the lower left quadrant (click for larger version):


You can see pretty clearly that California has only gotten slightly worse over the past few years, but New York has deteriorated quite a bit. Among large states, Texas has improved, as has Florida. Louisiana, meanwhile, has shown the best improvement since 2009 among all states. One could probably chalk a bit of that up to continued, extended recovery after Hurricane Katrina. Others might observe that the still-ongoing transition in political leadership from oldschool D to reform-minded R in Louisiana is bearing policy fruit and improving the state.

So how do we make sense of all of this? What kinds of factors might really be at play here? What kinds of policies can help or harm the homelessness situation?

It turns out that there are decent correlations between bigger government, more spending, higher taxes, more liberalism, more unionization, more support for the Democrat brand and/or Obama, and more homelessness.

Meanwhile, more conservatism, lower taxes, smaller government, more charitable giving, more faith/religion, and more Republicanism are associated with less homelessness.

Plotting the homelessness quotient from above against state spending variables suggested by the National Alliance to End Homelessness shows that more spending on Medicaid and on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) do not correlate with lower levels of homelessness. Higher total state spending per capita also does not equal lower levels of homelessness (click for larger version):


Again, there are outliers and exceptions here and there. Most of those blue state exceptions are concentrated in the Midwest.

Applying data from the Tax Foundation to the same homelessness quotient, it's clear that higher taxes are also not correlated with lower homelessness. Indeed, it's the opposite (click for larger version):


Then there's unionization. Using the latest data from the U.S. Department of Labor, more unionization is even more strongly associated with more homelessness (click for larger version):


Then there's the blue versus red divide. Sure, some blue states are doing fine on mitigating homelessness, but only two red states, Alaska and North Dakota, aren't doing fine (click for larger version):


The "Democratic Advantage" number above comes from Gallup's "State of the States" report.

Alaska's homelessness situation is similar to North Dakota's. It's mostly single men who tend to work difficult, labor-intensive, relatively high-paying jobs... intermittently. And housing may be difficult to find in far-flung, off-the-grid boomtowns in these two states. Both Alaska and North Dakota have relatively small populations and very low levels of chronic homelessness (quotients of -0.27 and -0.25 respectively), indicating a fairly unique profile of homelessness.

Generally speaking, bluer states have more homelessness, redder states have less of it. The trend lines, drawn by the computer, aren't politically biased. They just tell it like it is. States that went for Obama have more homelessness per capita, states that rejected Obama have less of it.

The same goes for more liberal states and states that still approve of Obama (click for larger version):


Again, these data come from Gallup, and you can explore the numbers here.

Meanwhile, more conservative states, not surprisingly, have lower levels of homelessness:


Duh, right? If the trend line went upward for liberal states, it should be the exact same (inverse) slope downward for conservative states, right? Well, no. These are actually different numbers. A state might actually have high numbers of both liberals and conservatives, while other states might have high numbers of self-styled moderates or political agnostics. That's why I looked at this both ways, separately, and included a graph for each that takes moderates into account.

And, finally, states with higher levels of church attendance and higher rates of charitable giving have lower levels of homelessness (click for larger version):


The church and faith numbers come from the PewResearch Religion & Public Life Project, while the generosity numbers come from The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

In states that contribute higher proportions of their incomes to charity, there is a trend toward lower levels of homelessness. In states where religion is more important, there is less homelessness.

Why did I include these church/religion figures? Because throughout the course of thousands of years of recorded human history, in essentially every society on earth, until perhaps just a couple of generations ago, "the church" (outside of "the family") provided the most important and effective safety net against homelessness, hunger, extreme poverty, and other manifestations of despondency. In some U.S. states, particularly in the South and Midwest, "the church" is hanging in there, relatively speaking, still providing an important safety net for battling homelessness.

Even if you aren't particularly religious, you have to admit that the presence of strong institutions of faith in a community is a major positive force for good in the battle against homelessness.

And pivoting back away from faith and religion, the Cato Institute received a decent amount of attention recently when it released a study noting that in 11 states, welfare pays more than the average pre-tax first year wage for a teacher, in 39 states it pays more than the starting wage for a secretary, And in the 3 most generous states a person on welfare can take home more money than an entry-level computer programmer. Moreover, welfare benefits actually exceed the
official poverty line in 42 states and the District of Columbia.

So, what does the homelessness quotient look like when you bump it up against some of Cato's figures? It turns out, more welfare is associated with more homelessness:


click for larger version

Higher welfare benefits are associated with higher levels of homelessness. Welfare benefits rising as a percentage of the federal poverty line is associated with more homelessness. And a higher percentage of TANF recipients in a state also receiving housing benefits is associated with more homelessness.

Meanwhile, higher pre-tax wage equivalent levels, higher welfare benefits as a percentage of median income, and higher levels of housing benefits are all associated with higher levels of homelessness:


click for larger version

Whichever way you slice it, there are clear patterns here.

Sure, there may be a chicken/egg debate on some of these patterns: do states spend more because they have a homeless/poverty problem, or does higher spending cause/attract more homelessness and poverty?

I would strongly assert that policy itself leads to particular outcomes, far more than the other way around. The idea that governing means reactionary policy spasms beholden to random conditions that just mysteriously or spontaneously sort of happen is completely upside-down and bogus. It's unscientific. It's dumb.

Indeed, in the great Lone Star versus Golden State debate, on a per capita basis, poverty in California is 45 percent more common than in Texas. It's hard not to look at all of California's natural advantages over Texas and not conclude that policy drove that outcome.

And not all homelessness is created equal. HUD also breaks down homelessness by individuals versus families, veterans, sheltered versus unsheltered, unaccompanied children, and chronic versus short-term.

California, with roughly one-twelfth of the nation's population, alone has more than a third of the nation's chronically homeless and nearly half of America's unsheltered homeless population. The Golden State also has more than three times as many homeless veterans as Texas, despite having just one and a half times as many people. California alone has 47.5% of the nation's chronically homeless who are also unsheltered.

One-fifth of America's homeless families live in New York State (which has fewer than one-sixteenth of America's population). Indeed, just Los Angeles and New York City account for a fifth of the nation's homeless population.

Other notable facts:

New Hampshire, the relatively low tax "Live Free Or Die" (and purplish, sometimes-red) state, is the only state with a low homelessness quotient bordered entirely by states with high homelessness.

Washington, D.C. is such a disgusting outlier, with a homelessness quotient of 4.66, that I had to remove it from most of these graphs. With Washington, D.C.'s high levels of liberalism, spending, taxation, etc., it pained me to remove such a powerful data point in favor of my argument, but it often made the rest of the data look like a relative clump of clustered points and stretched the graphs to the point of being worthless for visualization. Just know that D.C. is an absolute disgrace on this topic, with nearly five times as many homeless people as it ought to have, given its population.

The correlations between higher or lower levels of homelessness and policy, partisanship, ideology, and civic/religious affiliation are shocking only if you aren't aware of just how much better red states are faring than blue states across the board these days. For those of us who look at the way red states are creating more jobs, more growth, and more opportunity than blue states, these homelessness numbers aren't really all that surprising.

It seems that the blue state model is really, really good at creating, or perhaps just exacerbating, the incredible wealth inequality that liberals say they're so concerned about fixing. The Economist explains:

...at 8.7%, the unemployment rate is still the fifth-worst in the country. Add the underemployed and discouraged, and California is second only to Nevada. One third of America’s welfare recipients live in the state. California is also hollowing out: between 2007-09 and 2010-12 the number of people earning between $50,000 and $100,000 fell by almost 75,000, while every income bracket above and below grew. Income inequality is higher than in almost any other state, by one measure. The elites of the Bay Area are thriving, and growing in number, even as the poor of the Inland Empire struggle to survive. Without some sort of policy fix, and soon, California will be the Golden State only for the few.

The far left ThinkProgress echoed these sentiments about California's dysfunction, noting a week before Christmas that seven homeless people had already frozen to death in the wealthy Bay Area.

California is so dysfunctional, its shocking inequality has taken on a truly ignominious moniker: "liberal apartheid." And it seems to be getting worse. Last year, as food stamp recipients fell in the nation by 2.1% (and 4.6% in Texas), California actually grew its food stamp rolls by 4.1%. Moreover, while Texas has more than 8% of the nation's population, it only had 2.2% of U.S. TANF recipients in 2013, while 33.2% of those receiving TANF welfare benefits lived in California (which, again, only has around 12% of the U.S. population).

Meanwhile, there is new research indicating that among U.S. states, economic freedom is the best policy to lift the poorest quintile out of poverty:

The authors find a strong positive correlation between a state’s economic freedom and the income level of the poorest 20 percent of residents. Freer states did better by their poor than less free ones. In particular, Ashby and Sobel found that increasing the economic freedom of a state by one unit (equivalent to moving from 40th-freest state to 7th freest-state) increased the incomes of its poorest residents by 11 percent. By contrast, the same change increased the incomes of the richest quintile by just over a third of that (4.3 percent). The middle class also saw increases, greater than the rich but less than the poor. Increasing a state's economic freedom by reducing taxation and regulation creates broadly shared prosperity across all quintiles. Their research helps explain why, as states become more economically free, their income inequality declines: The poor and the middle class see more gains than the wealthy.

If you're interested in reading the study for yourself, here it is.

The blue state model is creating more poverty, more homelessness, more inequality, poorer educational outcomes, and fewer jobs. Red states are generally attracting more individuals, families, and businesses, voting with their feet. And Texas is not only adding more jobs, it is doing so more equitably than blue states and singlehandedly keeping the U.S. out of negative territory in terms of middle class job creation since 2000:


Policy matters. Governance matters. Ideas matter.

The evidence is abundantly obvious, and the debate is over. Whatever you want to label it, big government fails. At everything. It just doesn't work. Motion isn't progress. Throwing money at unaccountable bureaucracies, creating labyrinthine regulatory regimes, and taxing successful people until they aren't, isn't a winning formula, and that case is closed.

The history of the United States is a history of exceptional liberty. That liberty created, by a wide margin, the world's greatest engine of economic advancement and progress. Our country has been an unparalleled agent of progress and an unequivocal force for good. What made America America, though, is in peril today.

If you want fewer jobs, a weaker economy, worse educational outcomes, more poverty, more stifling of small business, and more homelessness, by all means, blue it up. If you actually care about alleviating homelessness and creating a better, fairer, more prosperous society for all, you should be a free market conservative.


Previous Trivia Tidbit: The Texas Labor Force Keeps Growing.

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Posted by Will Franklin · 26 March 2014 09:09 AM