The engine of inequality is centrifugal, as it turns, it flings its human components out of both of its open ends, its narrow top and broader bottom.
The distribution of tops and bottoms, and the velocity with which they are propelled away from the dead center of economic equality define societies.
Given that everywhere in reality there are winners and losers, what societies get to determine is who wins (and how?) and how big is the payoff? And what happens to everyone else?
In today’s American economy, more so than ever in my 75-year memory, unrestrained inequality is launching a tiny few from the top and propelling them to exponential levels of growth in wealth and power. Meanwhile, for more than 40 years now, more and more Americans are being tossed closer to the bottom, where everything is breaking down.
When I was growing up, one essential part of the American Dream was that even the bottom was (1) survivable and (2) escapable. If you worked a real job, you should be able to afford a place to live and food to eat and a chance at least to improve yourself or your surroundings.
Not anymore. Here is what close observers say is trending at America’s social and economic bottom rung: homelessness is growing, not just in numbers but in the number of places with people who have nowhere to go. Among homeless people 3 groups are growing fastest: families, young people, and people who are working regularly, but still can’t afford a place to live.
Think about that. The 3 most notable components of the New Homelessness, families with kids, people 24 or younger without kids, and people with jobs are all supposed to be focused on their futures. But what kind of future could you build from inside a bedroll, tent, car, RV or shelter?
From Boston to Washington, almost all homeless people take the shelter option. It’s an expensive system, and almost no one likes it, but it has kept a long-term problem under wraps, while long-term solutions are sorted through. Or not.
But on the Pacific Coast, the states of Washington, Oregon and California, statistics collected by the Associated Press show more than 60% of people who are homeless are “unsheltered,” which means they are sleeping outside, in a bus or train station, abandoned building or vehicle.” At last count, that was 105,000.
Some of those people are the “traditional” homeless, people whose social maladjustment or mental illness or various addictions or illnesses have left them unable to cope with even finding a safe place to sleep. But the growing number are people trying to play it straight, trying to survive and grow, ordinary citizens whose value to the American economy is too small to buy a decent life.
Homelessness in shelters may be a shame, but more than 100,000 people homeless out in the open, that constitutes an official “emergency,” and in Washington, Oregon and California, governments state and local, and concerned citizen groups are responding. But the problem is growing, maybe as fast as the response, and the so-called Federal tax reform being proposed by the Trump Administration and Congressional Republicans, could cripple plans to build more low-rent public housing.
That could mean 1000 more homeless, “unsheltered” human beings in just Los Angeles next year.
Gillian Flaccus is a reporter and video journalist for The Associated Press (AP) in Portland, Oregon. She writes stories and shoots video on breaking news and produces cross-format enterprise reports like the recent AP series on homelessness.