Social Safety Net

Agenda Item 3: Expand the Social Safety Net

The Problem:

Structural inequities at the federal level do more than undersupply affordable housing. They also exacerbate the economic inequalities that lead to displacement and homelessness as neighborhoods gentrify. Without a livable income, parents are unable to send their children to college and break the cycle of poverty. Often, low-income citizens are forced to choose between going to the doctor or paying rent, which furthers housing instability. Dismantling the deeply entrenched social and individual economic inequities that exist in American society is imperative to confronting housing instability, displacement, and homelessness.

The Agenda:

By taking steps to balance wealth and income, increase opportunities across class divides, make amends to historically oppressed groups, and revive the middle class, the federal government can better position Americans to promote their own housing stability as neighborhoods gentrify. Action is needed to increase individuals’ wealth, life outcomes, and political agency. Housing markets will become more responsive to residents' needs in return.

Getting it Done:

We highlight four major steps the federal government can take to reduce socioeconomic inequities experienced at the individual level, and thus increase housing security for the most vulnerable: universal basic income, public healthcare for all, tuition-free higher education, and reparations for colonization and slavery. Universal basic income is a system by which every citizen receives an annual stipend from the government, regardless of status. Public healthcare for all and tuition-free higher education are two extensions of public welfare that would strengthen individuals’ life outcomes as well as the overall economy. Medical expenses can destabilize households’ financial health and illness can terminate employment. The need for tuition-free higher education is a reflection of a changing economy that requires more skills than previously. Finally, the federal payment of substantial reparations would give African Americans what they are owed: a foothold in the economy that they built and uphold. Together, these steps would go a long way towards correcting power imbalances in housing markets that contribute to race- and class-based neighborhood change.

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The Problem

Structural inequities in the federal government do more than undersupply affordable housing. They also exacerbate the economic inequalities at the heart of gentrification. Tackling the social and individual economic inequities that exist in American society is imperative to confronting housing instability, displacement, and homelessness.

Federal policy exacerbates growing inequalities in wealth and income in the United States. One half of Americans have less than $500 in savings, and people around the country earn less than living wages. Such economic disparities are the major source of power imbalance in the United States. In other words, money empowers people through political sway at the neighborhood level and greater dominance in the housing market. Race colors economic differences greatly over time.

The Agenda

By taking steps to balance wealth and income, increase opportunities across class divides, make amends to historically oppressed groups, and revive the middle class, more Americans will be better situated to promote their own housing stability as neighborhoods gentrify. National policy must correct socioeconomic injustices at the individual level to do away with wealth and income disparities. These actions would increase individuals’ wealth, life outcomes, and political agency, and housing markets would become more responsive to their needs in return.

Getting it Done

Universal Basic Income

Universal basic income is a system by which every citizen receives an annual stipend from the government, regardless of status. Unlike many other forms of welfare, this money may be spent as one wishes. This type of progressive welfare would insulate society’s poor from ineffective or overly complex social programs, and reduce inequalities. The nation has the resources and moral obligation to end the extreme poverty that is so often taken for granted. This massive but simple redistribution would benefit both the unemployed and the workforce. By providing lower-income people with greater flexibility in their daily lives, they will have more time to devote to educational pursuits, democratic agitation, and community involvement. This cash influx would make it easier for the poor to afford down payments and security deposits for apartments and homes for rent, equalizing competitiveness in rental housing markets. Furthermore, this system would open access to credit and savings accounts for many currently unbanked and underbanked people.

Public Healthcare & Tuition-Free Higher Education

 Public healthcare for all and tuition-free higher education are two extensions of public welfare that would strengthen individuals’ life outcomes as well as the overall economy. Today, in the United States, people struggle to afford health insurance as well as premiums and medications, especially after disease and injury strike. Such expenses can destabilize households’ financial health and illness can terminate employment. This may result in unstable housing situations and homelessness. In fact, over half of personal bankruptcies in America ‘are due to medical bills, making it the leading cause of the financial calamity that often precedes homelessness’ (HayashI). Universal, public healthcare socializes these expenses, and would guarantee that no one would be forced to choose between housing instability and poor health. Moreover, evidence shows that public healthcare would reduce average annual health insurance costs, thus returning more money to the wallets of those in need. The need for tuition-free higher education is a reflection of a changing economy that requires more skills than previously. Technology and globalization have bifurcated the economy into knowledge-based haves and service-based have-nots. A high school degree no longer cuts it in today’s economy, yet university tuition is higher than ever. Unless one comes from a wealthy household or receives a scholarship, students tend to exit college or university straddled with decades of debt. Many others do not consider higher education a viable option because of high costs. These young people stand at a disadvantage in the labor market, and are likely to earn less than they would have with a bachelor’s degree. These economic changes that gutted middle class prosperity coincided with a corporate return to the city that has increased property values in urban cores. By subsidizing higher education for all Americans, people from all socioeconomic backgrounds will be better able to compete in the labor market for good-paying and create a more civically-engaged populace.

Reparations for African American Citizens 

The United States should pay substantial reparations to African American residents of this land. Centuries of conquest, slavery, and continued subjugation have caused more than interpersonal antipathy and persistent structural racism; they have also prevented people of color from accumulating wealth. Emancipation from slavery did not provide economic freedoms for the Black people that built this country’s wealth, and a plethora of discriminatory practices have subsisted over time. Income disparities between the two races have not changed since the 1970s, with white households ten times greater assets than Black households (Bruce). African Americans in 1990 owned only 1% of the national wealth, a pitiful increase from the 0.5% following emancipation (ib.). These statistics reveal severe gaps in wealth between white and Black Americans, and underscore the significance of ‘intergenerational wealth transfers’ for wealth accumulation. Reparations could heal the nation’s racial wounds, and give Black people what they are owed: a foothold in the economy that they built and uphold. This step would right power imbalances in housing markets that contribute to racialized neighborhood change.