In an otherwise excellent article in the Washington City Paper about the District’s homelessness crisis, Aaron Wiener perpetuated a noxious myth. He wrote:
“There are things the city can do to manage the front door [entry into the city’s homelessness system], but there are also factors out of its control, primarily the lack of affordable housing, and of decent-paying jobs for residents without a college degree.”
We should disavow District policymakers of the notion that the creation of large numbers of middle-skill, middle-income jobs is outside of their control.
The truth is the lack of decent-paying jobs for residents without a college degree stems from a set of policy choices the District has made over the past decade that have been very much under its control and that remain under its control to this day.
The District has opted for a highly and clumsily regulated slow/no growth economy. That’s why it doesn’t create the number and kinds of jobs we need.
We complain a lot about Congressional interference, and indeed, most of it is unwarranted, but Congress has deferred to the District on matters of local taxation and regulation. We own that. Local policy also defines the business climate. We own that too.
Job creation is the most helpful byproduct of economic growth. When there is no growth, there are no jobs. When growth is robust, jobs at all skill levels become plentiful.
The overly colorful chart below tells the story of the last eight years. Real GDP is adjusted for inflation. In 2012 and again in 2013, the District’s economy shrunk by about 0.5%.
It is no coincidence this contraction coincides exactly with the the two-year spike in family homelessness. Homelessness is a symptom of a stagnant economy.
It would be interesting to know how many of the District’s homeless residents work full-time. We would venture to guess it’s close to zero. Ending homelessness requires a faster growing economy and a workforce more skilled and ready the jobs of the 21st century.
Our homelessness crisis will not end with the economy on its current path.