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Homelessness Increase Due to Pandemic Recession

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

The pandemic recession will cause roughly twice as much homelessness over the next four years in the United States as did the Great Recession. That’s the grim prediction offered up by a Los Angeles-based research organization, which released a study today that forecasts rates of homelessness based on the country’s experience with its last major economic shock.

Locked Out: Unemployment and Homelessness in the COVID Economy, by the Economic Roundtable, looked at the impacts of the increase in unemployment on working age people. It calls for a “massive intervention” to create jobs for unemployed workers now suffering from the worst year of job losses since World War II, with more than 9 million people thrown out of work.

The study relies on estimates from the Congressional Budget Office to project unemployment rates in the coming years and analyzed the link between the Great Recession’s unemployment rates and the increase in homelessness during that period.

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Los Angeles County – the epicenter of the nation’s homeless crisis – will experience a far more severe increase in the number of people without homes than the rest of California and the nation. The study uses an expansive definition of homelessness that includes the precariously housed.

The growth of the working age homeless population is expected to reach its pinnacle in 2023. At that point:

  • 603,000 additional working age adults will lack a permanent home in the United States, a 20% increase over 2019.
  • 131,400 additional working age adults will lack a permanent home in California, a 26% increase over 2019.
  • 52,300 additional working age Los Angeles residents will lack a permanent home, a 35% increase in the number of homeless people.
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Homelessness runs rampant due to income inequality, an overabundance of low wage jobs, crushing housing costs and minorities subject to discrimination.

Most of that increase in unhoused and precariously housed people will stem from a jump in those who are finding temporary shelter with friends. Sometimes described as “couch surfers,” these precariously housed individuals are not included in the federal Housing and Urban Development’s annual homeless count.

As a baseline, more than 96,000 people in Los Angeles County were “couch surfing” in 2019, according to the report. Many of those “couch surfers” will eventually find housing, according to Daniel Flaming, president of the Economic Roundtable and one of the report’s authors.

But the study also projects a dramatic increase in the number of working age adults who are experiencing chronic homelessness. The chronically homeless have a disability, struggle for longer bouts of time without housing and often face the added trauma of living on the streets.

“[O]ver the next four years the pandemic recession will cause chronic homelessness to increase 49% in the United States, 68% in California and 86% in Los Angeles County,” the study states.

The solution to this worsening crisis? Policymakers need to step up their game when it comes to connecting people to living wage jobs, an effort that will prove cost effective in the long run, according to Flaming. “We’re losing ground on trying to solve homelessness purely by producing affordable housing,” he added. “Giving people the chance to stay in the labor force, improve their skills, earn money, pay rent, is something we ought to be doing a lot more.”


Los Angeles faces an especially steep climb. The area has struggled with higher rates of homelessness than the state and nation for many of the same reasons it has been savaged by the COVID pandemic: high levels of income inequality, an overabundance of low wage jobs, crushing housing costs and a “sizable population of vulnerable minorities who are subject to discrimination,” according to the report.

Jessica Goodheart
Capital & Main