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homelessness in the technology age

By Dan Cassino
Arizona Daily Wildcat
April 1, 1999
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University Boulevard, like so many areas around campus, is frequented by the homeless. Consequently, it is a minefield, where we play "Dodge the Homeless Person." We don't like to have to deal with them. We give them change just to leave us alone.

This is just the beginning.

In the burgeoning Technology Age, the numbers of homeless will increase dramatically. As the number of jobs for unskilled workers decrease with increasing automation, so too will the number of people that cannot support themselves.

The Left would have us believe that homelessness, like all social problems, can be solved by a combination of public welfare programs and private generosity. They focused on the homeless problem for years, with teary segments on the nightly news and articles on the cover of Time magazine. But now we hear less about the problem. Maybe it's because they've realized they can't win.

Everyone wants the homeless off of the streets. They are reminders of our failures and of the fate that awaits people that we once knew. We're guilty. In some way, we feel that our affluence caused their lack. But whether it did or not is irrelevant. They are here. More will be here tomorrow, and even more the day after that.

There are still some that protest: We can solve the problem. It's just our evil, greedy capitalist system that causes it. In order to silence these ill-considered thoughts, an examination of the causes of homelessness is needed.

The first cause is a decline in public assistance. When Ronald Reagan came into office, he went in with a mandate to cut the budget. As the Cold War reached its crescendo, it would have been folly to cut the military budget. Instead, he cut social programs, and began his much maligned Reaganomics.

Quickly, the Left decried the cuts as too extreme, brandishing stories of the mentally retarded being thrown into the street. But when they regained power in 1992, they did nothing to reverse the trend. After all, the homeless and the retarded don't vote, and the media was fed up with footage of Jimmy Carter building houses.

Can this be attributed to the evils of the capitalist state? Perhaps. But the public assistance ended in the 1980s was doomed anyway, as the third cause of homelessness will show.

Despite Carter's prolonged efforts, affordable housing, too suffered great losses. Gentrification and a lack of tax incentives for builders moved the price of a single-family home up, beyond the range of those on marginal incomes. This meant that breadwinners in unskilled labor families were forced into the street. Again, these laborers were doomed from the start.

Governmental efforts have been made to combat both of these causes. The most important cause, however, cannot be solved by a more benevolent society or a better social program. The lack of jobs for unskilled labor is the root of much homelessness, and we can't do a thing about it.

Throughout the 1970s and the 1980s, manual laborers on assembly lines were made obsolete by the coming of automated labor. Even semi-skilled occupations were affected, as bank tellers were replaced by automated teller machines. Today, the only low-skill occupations that haven't been replaced by automated procedures are those for which the cost of automation was too high and the wages paid too low to warrant it.

You can't eat on that.

However, computers get cheaper every day, and more and more low-skill workers will find themselves out of a job and out of opportunities. This is not a future scenario. Already, the government hides the rates of these people without any useful skills. While the unemployment rate is currently given as anywhere between three and seven percent, this rate does not include the segment of the population not bothering to look for work anymore. The numbers of these people have proven to be difficult to determine, but even the most conservative estimates give a figure of five percent. Other figures put it closer to nine percent.

Whatever the figure, it is from this population that the homeless are drawn. Even with public assistance and cheap housing, they would not have been able to avoid the streets in the Information Age. They are a consequence of any technologically advanced society, and their numbers will grow.

Even with the social programs of yesteryear, we will not be able to support most of them. Complicating the situation is the impending retirement of the vast baby boomer population, who will stretch social programs to the limit.

What we are left with is a sea of jobless humanity, fighting a losing battle against the geriatrics for the better part of your paycheck. We can't imagine the draconian social measures that will be proposed to quell their numbers. The conflict between the two groups will define the beginning of the next century. But by then we'll be used to it and will long for the day when they would leave you alone for a quarter.