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  • The Housing-Health Connection
  • Volume 20, Number 2
  • Managing Editor: Mark D. Shroder
  • Associate Editor: Michelle P. Matuga

Employment and Earnings Trajectories During Two Decades Among Adults in New York City Homeless Shelters

Stephen Metraux
University of Delaware

Jamison D. Fargo
Utah State University

Nicholas Eng
University of Chicago

Dennis P. Culhane
University of Pennsylvania

Few portrayals exist of homeless persons as wage earners. Instead, common images of this population manifest stereotypes of “drunk, stoned, crazy and sick” single adults (Snow, Anderson, and Koegel, 1994: 461; Wright, 1989) and of families headed by single parents beset by trauma and lacking human capital (Bassuk, 2007; ICPH, 2013; Rog and Buckner, 2008). Behind these negative portrayals lie more fundamental questions related to the relevance of work in a setting of extreme poverty.

In this study, we take up questions related to the role of employment and earnings in entries into and exits from homelessness, events related to broader dynamics of homelessness. The preponderance of research on homelessness remains focused on associations between individual characteristics and outcomes related to becoming or remaining homeless, although such associations are overstated (Draine et al., 2002) and facilitate the stigma that accompanies homelessness (Phelan et al., 1997). Employment, insofar as it has a bearing on homelessness, is more ephemeral than are the relatively static individual traits. Specifically, the vagaries of losing and gaining employment can lead to becoming homeless and, alternately, offer a means of exiting homelessness.

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