I was honored to be invited to join everyone last week and to speak, to pay tribute to Maureen Chesney, a homeless person who died only a few steps away less than two weeks ago, and for all homeless in our city, the US, and throughout the world. None of us is immune from becoming homeless.
One in six people in the US are living at or below the poverty level, and the poverty rate is rising. Most people have lost about 40 percent of the value of their assets since 2007, many are making less (I'm making 1/2 what I did in 2008 and less than I did in 1994!), and tens of millions have lost their homes due to foreclosure and eviction.
Tens of millions of people are unemployed, underemployed, or have left the labor market altogether. The national unemployment rate has remained stubbornly above 8 percent for more than 40 months straight, and the unemployment rate in most states just went up once again, as did NJ's. The unemployment rate in Hudson County has consistently been a few percentage points higher than the national average, and the median family income is only 2/3rds the NJ average.
Non-financial US companies are holding onto $3.6 trillion in cash, and many small and family-owned businesses are holding off on expansion and hiring plans, because of the dysfunction in congress and the looming so-called "fiscal cliff." What's more, homelessness has been virtually ignored during the presidential primary season, and now that we're several months into the general election season, this issue still is being ignored.
In a country where we have one of the highest standards of living in the world, the level of poverty and homelessness is unforgivable. And this problem is not just in the US. In most parts of the world, people live on less than $2 a day, less than what it costs for us to buy a cup of coffee at Starbuck's. I've been to places like the Philippines and China where I've seen little kids with barely any clothes on walking the streets at 2AM begging for food. They live on the streets or under bridges or in a shack. And poverty and homelessness leads to the exploitation of women and children, too. Just down the street from last night's vigil, we have received complaints about sex workers and trafficking.
Between 12 and 27 million people are victims of today's form of slavery: human trafficking. We like to think it only occurs in third world countries, but the US become a source, destination, and transit country for human trafficking, and many victims are brought in through the Newark Liberty International Airport just a short drive from where we live.
We need to work together to address the underlying causes of homelessness and poverty, and provide shelter and food and treat these people with the dignity and compassion that they deserve as human beings. While some have lost their homes due to foreclosures and evictions and other economic reasons, some are mentally ill and need medical attention. And we know from studies that the chances a woman will end up in poverty remains around 2 percent if she has children within marriage, that rate goes up to about 74 percent if she has children outside of marriage. And the rate of women having children out of marriage has gone up to 40 percent.
Most of us are just a few paychecks away from being on the streets ourselves. Let's resolve together to fight homelessness and poverty here and throughout the world, and hold our elected officials accountable. I for one promise to continue to advocate for and protect the powerless, homeless, and vulnerable in our society.
Please join me.
Stephen De Luca