The Disturbing Truth About New York's Homeless Population

The population of New York City's homeless shelters is at a record high but it's not because people can't find employment. Instead, it's because a job doesn't mean getting paid enough to be able to pay the rent. Both of NYC's mayoral hopefuls, Bill de Blasio and Joseph Lhota, have promised to address low-cost housing. But with the cost of living so high in NYC and in many large U.S. cities, merely expanding low-cost housing doesn't seem like it'll be enough. Instead, it's time to revisit how the wages of low-paying jobs are determined.

A recent article in the New York Times profiled the increasing number of New Yorkers who work at least one job, but still are unable to afford rent in the city. More than one in four families in shelters includes at least one employed adult. While the plight of the homeless is certainly extremely important, the cost-of-living issue also applies to people who rent or own homes in New York.

Even if you can find a job in the current economy, that doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to live on your salary.

What does this mean for millennials who live or would like to live in one of the largest cities in the world? They may not be able to afford it. Research done by the PEW Research Center indicates that in 2012, 36% of young adults ages 18 to 31 lived in their parents’ home. Some of that number is college students living in dorms, but the it still seems to be a clear indicator that in the current economy, the cost of living on one’s own is more than millennials are able to shoulder.

A stark truth about New York living is that almost half of New Yorkers spend 30% of their income on housing. And as gentrification continues its march through many parts of Brooklyn and other previously lower-cost neighborhoods, affordable housing in the city is dwindling.


As New Yorkers head to the polls in November to vote for the next mayor, they should note that de Blasio supports a higher minimum wage, while Lhota lists job creation and raising the living standard in all boroughs as one of his top priorities on his campaign website.

Obama’s been urging the federal government to raise the national minimum wage, but he’s been unsuccessful thus far — so New Yorkers should take it into our own hands to urge our mayoral candidates to support raising the state minimum wage (it’s currently been raised to $9 over the next three years). We certainly do need workers performing low-wage jobs, but these workers shouldn’t need to live in a homeless shelter in order to have a roof over their heads.

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Darcy Bullock

Darcy currently works in publishing in NYC. She's a New York native who took a break from the state to attend Colby College in Maine and major in English. Also a feminist, coffee enthusiast, and West Wing addict.

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