Life Shocks and Homelessness
NBER Working Paper No. 16826
We exploit an exogenous health shock—the birth of a child with a severe health condition—to investigate the causal effect of a life shock on homelessness. Using survey data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing study that have been augmented with information from hospital medical records, we find that the health shock increases the likelihood of homelessness three years later, particularly in cities with high housing costs. Homelessness is defined using both a traditional measure and a more contemporary measure that includes residential instability and doubling up without paying rent. The findings are consistent with the economic theory of homelessness, which posits that homelessness results from a conjunction of adverse circumstances in which housing markets and individual characteristics collide. They also add to a growing body of evidence that housing markets are an important contributor to homelessness and suggest that homelessness is a problem not easily addressed by existing public support programs.
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This paper was revised on February 23, 2012