(Buffalo, NY) As youth, the sick, and especially minorities confront unemployment through exclusion from the job market, the twin plagues of vagrancy and panhandling are widespread here in downtown Buffalo. It is nearly impossible to walk even a few city blocks without being “bummed” for cash or cigarettes.
As extended unemployment benefits expire, this problem will only grow. It is cruel to end unemployment benefits to people who the economy cannot or will not employ.
An important reason for vagrancy and panhandling besides unemployment is poor treatment of the chronically ill. Because our health care system is largely funded through private insurance, the chronically ill – including the mentally ill, are often excluded from receiving proper health care. Under our present health care system, the population which is chronically ill serves to generate a minimum level to which the problems of vagrancy and panhandling can be reduced. The apparent rise in these problems can be attributed to unemployment.
When individual workers choose to blame the unemployed person, or groups of unemployed people, for a failure by the economy to offer employment, this creates division and weakness among working people, and it further erodes the bargaining position of labor. Do not fail to see the underlying causes of these symptoms – rather, consciously see the problems of vagrancy and panhandling for what they really are: failures of our health care system to treat the sick, and of the present economy to offer a job to people who need one.