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College Students Are Going Homeless and Hungry -- And Corporate America Is Trying to Exploit Them

A look at the growing numbers of homeless and hungry college students trying desperately to make ends meet--and those who are willing to exploit them.
 
 
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As the mainstream press frets that the much-touted "economic-recovery" appears to have lost steam, the economic crisis continues to escalate for ordinary people.

With official unemployment holding steady at 9.5 percent (real unemployment is much higher), and with the state budget cuts producing yet more tuition increases, a growing phenomenon is sweeping the nation: homeless and hungry college students.

National Public Radio (NPR) reported in late July: "For many college students and their families, rising tuition costs and a tough economy are presenting new challenges as college bills come in. This has led to a little-known but growing population of financially stressed students, who are facing hunger and sometimes even homelessness."

While no exact figures are available, the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth reports a large increase in homeless students.

"We're hearing from the college presidents and leadership that more and more students are struggling," Michelle Asha Cooper of the Institute for Higher Education told reporters. "Some are taking out pretty large amounts of student loans to finance their education as well as their living costs. Some are enrolling part time, some are even dropping out."

The University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) even created an "Economic Crisis Response Team" to help homeless and hungry students stay enrolled. NPR reported the story of one such UCLA student, Diego Sepulveda, who ended up homeless after losing his full-time job at Subway. Now Sepulveda alternates between sleeping in the library, student center and friend's couches, catching occasional showers in a school gym.

With tuition being jacked up and social services being cut, it has often been left to students--such as Sepulveda's friends--to help each other out. For example, Abdullah Jadallah, a 22-year-old UCLA engineering student, started a food pantry after noticing how many of his classmates were going hungry.

Last year, Washington Post reporter Petula Dvorak chronicled the story of two homeless D.C.-area students, Ronnell Wilson and Miracle Lewis.

Lewis--in her late twenties--had worked as a flight attendant for United Airlines, but decided to go back to school after mass layoffs in 2008. She got a scholarship to study business and took temp jobs to make ends meet. But when temp work "dried up," she found herself living in the Calvary Women's Shelter in Northwest Washington, D.C.

Wilson--also in his twenties--was a forklift operator before he decided to go back to college. He took classes at the University of the District of Colombia during the day, and worked at California Pizza Kitchen at night. Then he got laid off and ended up homeless. Wilson continued to take classes, but had to reorganize his schedule to make sure he could get to the shelter on time to get a place to sleep.

The New York Times similarly reported the story of 22-year-old Fallon Coffer, a homeless college student who worked as a taxi dispatcher at night, and went to class during the day, taking care of her young son in-between.

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While hard data on the exact extent of homelessness among college students has not been collected, broader trends are sure to push even more students up to and over the edge.

As Kathryn Edwards and Alexander Fernandez argued in their recent Economic Policy Institute (EPI) briefing paper, "The Kid's Aren't Alright: A Labor Market Analysis of Young Workers," official unemployment for workers aged 16 to 24 peaked at 19.2 percent after the 2008 recession. This is the highest rate since records started being kept in 1948.

Real unemployment--counting involuntary part-time workers and those who have given up looking for work--is probably twice that rate.