Racial and Ethnic Disparities in the Lifetime Prevalence of Homelessness in the United States

Abstract

Homelessness in the United States is often examined using cross-sectional, point-in-time samples. Any experience of homelessness is a risk factor for adverse outcomes, so it is also useful to understand the incidence of homelessness over longer periods. We estimate the lifetime prevalence of homelessness among members of the Baby Boom cohort (n = 6,545) using the 2012 and 2014 waves of the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), a nationally representative survey of older Americans. Our analysis indicates that 6.2 % of respondents had a period of homelessness at some point in their lives. We also identify dramatic disparities in lifetime incidence of homelessness by racial and ethnic subgroups. Rates of homelessness were higher for non-Hispanic blacks (16.8 %) or Hispanics of any race (8.1 %) than for non-Hispanic whites (4.8 %; all differences significant with p < .05). The black-white gap, but not the Hispanic-white gap, remained significant after adjustment for covariates such as education, veteran status, and geographic region.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    Add Health prompts respondents with criteria defining homelessness, including staying in a place not meant for sleeping, staying in a shelter, or lacking a fixed residence (Shelton et al. 2009).

  2. 2.

    Supplemental analysis of HRS data shows that individuals who have ever been homeless are in worse health than those who have not; they are twice as likely to be in fair or poor health and are significantly more likely to report heart disease, lung disease, or having ever had cancer or a stroke. These results hold both with and without adjustment for characteristics including gender, race, ethnicity, education, and age.

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Acknowledgments

The HRS (Health and Retirement Study) is sponsored by the National Institute on Aging (grant number NIA U01AG009740) and is conducted by the University of Michigan. The authors thank external reviewers and the editors for helpful comments and suggestions.

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Correspondence to Vincent A. Fusaro.

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Fusaro, V.A., Levy, H.G. & Shaefer, H.L. Racial and Ethnic Disparities in the Lifetime Prevalence of Homelessness in the United States. Demography 55, 2119–2128 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13524-018-0717-0

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Keywords

  • Homelessness
  • Racial and ethnic disparities
  • Health and retirement study