Wednesday, February 2, 2011

I Dream of Gini returns to Florida

Alright, the last of the Gini  Coefficient posts for now.  Looking at my latest print addition of the Economist there was an article about the homeless and dispossessed in Sarasota, Florida:  Et in Arcadia ego: Recession and Homelessness.

If you were to envision what a slow collapse of the United States Economy might look like, you could probably start in Sarasota.

As recently as 2006 it had a 3.1% unemployment rate.  It has now soared to 13.4%.  Half of its children are eligible for free or subsidized lunches, one tenth the households on food stamps.
In addition to the cooks, chambermaids and construction workers who hit the skids soon after the recession began, many former professionals have now exhausted their savings and are beginning to fall back on local charities. Angie Sammann, a former loan officer at a bank, is another of the tent-dwellers at Pinellas Hope. She tells the story of how she lost her job due to illness, then her apartment, then part-time work in a deli, then the room she was renting and finally the possessions she had put in storage. She got a month’s work from the Census Bureau last year, but otherwise has not seen a pay cheque for over a year. “I don’t care if I scrub toilets,” she says, “I just want a job.”
Pinellas Hope has 255 tents and 28 huts, all of which are occupied. The Salvation Army branch in Sarasota is equally overrun. It has 200 beds for the homeless, but regularly ends up accommodating 250 or more...
Moreover, cities like Sarasota are unsympathetic places for those down on their luck. One of the reasons they grew so fast in the boom years were their low taxes, leaving little money for social programmes. Homelessness is often seen as a threat to migration and tourism. Sarasota city council made several attempts to outlaw sleeping rough, finally finding a formula that passed muster with the courts in 2005. That year it was named the meanest city in America by the National Coalition for the Homeless. All the other cities in the top ten were also in the sunbelt.

The list is as follows:
1.    Sarasota, FL
2.    Lawrence, KS
3.    Little Rock, AR
4.    Atlanta, GA
5.    Las Vegas, NV
6.    Dallas, TX
7.    Houston, TX
8.    San Juan, PR
9.    Santa Monica, CA
10.  Flagstaff, AZ
11.  San Francisco, CA
12.  Chicago, IL 
13.  San Antonio, TX
14.  New York City, NY
15.  Austin, TX
16.  Anchorage, AK
17.  Phoenix, AZ
18.  Los Angeles, CA           
19.  St. Louis, MO
20.  Pittsburgh, PA

The main driver to make it on the list is making it illegal to be homeless.  This is particularly problematic if you have no home, and are trying to get back on your feet.  The various credit checks, and deposits that have entered into the long term rental market, make most temporary shelter expensive.  If you find yourself without a home in a place where you have no friends or family, you may find yourself in very difficult straights.  With bathing being difficult, and a lot of competition down at the lower end where unemployment is highest, you will find it very difficult to get back on your feet.

In the American Apocalypse series by Nova, which did a good job of the starting period of a slow collapse you had tree people, car people, lots of empty houses and business as commerce slowed up.  But you could still get a UPS delivery if somebody could pay for it.  That is what Sarasota reminds me of.

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