Expert Commentary

How eviction, housing loss affects job security among the working poor

2016 study by two Harvard University researchers that looks at how housing loss, including eviction and housing condemnation, affects job loss among the working poor.


Policymakers concerned with improving labor markets and conditions for the working poor have tended to focus on strategies that generate jobs and result in higher wages. They have debated – and, in some parts of the country, implemented – changes such as raising the minimum wage and offering incentives to attract new businesses to low-income communities. In much of the U.S., education and training programs are touted as a key to helping Americans secure employment and qualify for advancement. Some government efforts have been aimed at helping public housing residents find and keep jobs.

Academic research, however, shows that the national problems of unemployment and underemployment are complex, with causes and consequences that can vary according to a range of factors, including where a person lives. Some scholars have begun to take a harder look at how housing fits into the jobs equation. For example, a 2015 study by Matthew Desmond of Harvard University and Rachel Tolbert Kimbro of Rice University explores how eviction impacts the lives of low-income, urban mothers, including their attempts to find work.

A 2016 study co-authored by Desmond and published in Social Problems looks at eviction from a new angle. In this study, titled “Housing and Employment Insecurity among the Working Poor,” Desmond and Harvard researcher Carl Gershenson look at whether adults who lose their homes are more likely to also lose their jobs. The authors sought to determine whether there is a connection between unemployment and workers being removed from their homes through eviction, landlord foreclosure or housing condemnation. They analyzed data from the Milwaukee Area Renters Study (MARS), a survey of 1,086 tenants in private housing in Milwaukee. The MARS survey, administered between 2009 and 2011, asked tenants about their rental and work history, including occasions when they had been forced from their homes, fired or laid off. The final study sample involved 689 respondents with a median annual household income of $25,003.

Among the key findings:

  • Approximately 42 percent of the renters who had lost a job during the two years prior to being surveyed also had been removed from their homes.
  • The likelihood that a worker will lose his or her job is an estimated 11 to 22 percentage points higher for individuals who have been forced out of their home compared to those who have not.
  • Court-ordered evictions were the most common way that renters were kicked out of their homes. More than 40 percent of forced moves were court-ordered evictions while 28 percent were informal evictions initiated by landlords but not ordered by a court. Another 22 percent were due to foreclosures on the rental property. Seven percent of involuntary removals were the result of housing condemnation.

This study is the first to provide evidence that low-wage workers who are forced from their homes are more likely to lose their jobs. The authors assert that their findings are “particularly troubling” for black workers, who are more likely to be evicted and already experience discrimination in housing and employment. “Policy makers looking to expand opportunity for working Americans often overlook housing, choosing instead to focus on expanding access to education or raising wages,” Desmond and Gershenson state. “But if housing instability begets employment instability, then policy makers seeking to increase job security should focus on ways to promote housing stability.”

Related research: A 2015 study published in Demography, “Forced Displacement from Rental Housing: Prevalence and Neighborhood Consequences,” indicates that renters who are forced out of their homes through eviction or other circumstances tend to move to poorer, higher-crime neighborhoods compared to individuals who move for other reasons. A 2015 report from the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University and Enterprise Community Partners Inc., “Projecting Trends in Severely Cost-Burdened Renters: 2015-2025,” examines households that spend more than half of their income on rent.


Keywords: unemployment, job loss, laid off, working poor, low income, housing, public housing, HUD, affordable housing, eviction, renter

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