When we think about eviction and job loss, we probably imagine job loss being the cause for eviction. People lose their jobs, either because of an economic downturn or due to poor performance, and end up being evicted if they cannot find another job in time to pay the rent. Jobs provide money which is needed for maintaining stable housing, so the causal arrow flows from job loss to eviction.
But Matthew Desmond argues that the causal arrow can often point in the other direction. Eviction can cause job loss. In Evicted he writes, “job loss could lead to eviction, but the reverse was also true. An eviction not only consumed renters’ time, causing them to miss work, it also weighed heavily on their minds, often triggering mistakes on the job. It overwhelmed workers with stress, leading them to act unprofessionally, and commonly resulted in their relocating farther away from their worksite, increasing their likelihood of being late or missing days.”
Housing is not something we can afford to think of as a luxury or as a reward for good behavior and an industrious attitude. Housing is in many ways a basic right, and our economic system depends on people having reasonable and affordable housing to participate in the labor market. When we make housing impossible for people to maintain it has an effect on their job performance, hurting our economic system.
The fact that the causal arrow can flow from eviction to job loss also belies another idea that we pride ourselves on in our country – the idea that everyone deserves a second chance. Instead, what Desmond’s quote shows is that one bad outcome can compound and overwhelm an individual. Rather than having a second chance, people snowball into worse states of affairs, each setback making recovery harder and further away. Perhaps an individual spent unwisely, perhaps they used drugs, and perhaps they made other serious mistakes that made their eviction inevitable. But instead of a second chance and an opportunity to bounce back from their mistake, we punish them further by making it harder for them to keep their job. If they do lose their job following an eviction, then they are marginalized even further and pushed further from society. Rather than a second chance, we seem to push people against a steep cliff where any breeze of bad luck could send them tumbling with no end in sight.