The Nouveau Poor foreclosure crisis slights the poor

You can’t help these days being struck by the amount of government and media attention heaped on the plight of people facing home foreclosure.

I Googled “housing counseling” to see what advice was available to a low income person about finding subsidized rental housing. I had to search through several pages of listings of home foreclosure counselors and various nonprofit and government assistance programs to find the meager offerings available to poor renters.

The federal government is disproportionately focused on the plight of homeowners in economic trouble to the exclusion of the long-term poor who never even got close to buying a home. These long-term, working poor families suffer far greater than recently economic challenged homeowners.

Barbara Ehrenreich, the author of Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America makes the case very effectively in her June 13 New York Times Op-Ed.

Ehrenreich points out that the working poor have long been living in an economic depression of their own. For them things were “bad before the recession, and in ways that are disconnected from the larger economy. But yes, the recession has made things palpably worse, largely because of job losses.”

The long-term working poor in this country could be excused if they harbored resentment at the government and the media attention heaped upon struggling homeowners who Ehrenreich dubs “the Nouveau Poor.” Housing advocates for many years have rolled their eyes as government officials defined the affordable housing crisis as being about the inability of people with middle-class jobs and incomes such as police officers, firefighters, nurses and teachers to afford to buy a new home. The effect of this rebranding of the affordable housing crisis as a middle-class phenomenon has been the redirection of a large portion of government housing subsidy from providing basic rental housing for the poor. The meager supply of government housing assistance is often used for the politically popular cause of providing down payment assistance to help the middle class by a home.

And now that these middle-class households are losing their homes, government and the media have sought to direct public attention and resources to once again bailing out the middle class. Once again, the affordable housing crisis we are told is a middle-class problem. Barbara Ehrenreich quotes Davin Corona of Strategic Actions for a Just Economy saying that if there is a symbol for the current recession it’s “the policeman facing foreclosure in the suburbs.”

The recession of the ’80s transformed the working class into the working poor, as manufacturing jobs fled to the third world, forcing American workers into the low-paying service and retail sector. The current recession is knocking the working poor down another notch — from low-wage employment and inadequate housing toward erratic employment and no housing at all. Comfortable people have long imagined that American poverty is far more luxurious than the third world variety, but the difference is rapidly narrowing.

How about a little more honesty about the affordable housing crisis?

How about a little compassion and a little help for those at the economic bottom who suffer most?