More than 1.1 million students in the United States were homeless last year, a record high, according to new data released by the U.S. Department of Education.
During the 2011-12 school year, there were 1,168,354 homeless students enrolled in preschool or K-12, a 10 percent increase over the previous year. A total of 55.5 million students were enrolled in preschool or K-12 that year, meaning nearly 2 percent of all students were homeless.
According to First Focus, a children’s advocacy organization, “the number of homeless children in public schools has increased 72 percent since the beginning of the recession.” The states with the largest increase in student homelessness include North Dakota (212 percent), Maine (58 percent), and North Carolina (53 percent).
It’s important to note that the number of homeless students in the United States doesn’t capture the full extent of youth homelessness. Many young homeless people are infants, weren’t properly identified as homeless by the survey, or have dropped out (or been kicked out) of school.
The last factor is particularly true for LGBT youth, who represent a disproportionate share of homeless youth. According to a new report from the Center for American Progress, factors like family rejection, bullying, and poor performance in school forces many LGBT youth onto the streets.
There are many other factors driving the uptick in student homelessness. Middle class wages have stagnated, leaving many families unable to afford basic living. More than $2 billion in sequestration cuts to low-income housing assistance is estimated to leave 140,000 households without help covering their rent or mortgage. And in many parts of the country like San Francisco and Washington, DC, housing is becoming increasingly unaffordable for those not relatively well-off.
Still, even with the number of homeless students at an all-time high, the situation could soon become even worse if food stamps are cut. Currently, 45 percent of food stamp recipients are children. In 2011 alone, 4.7 million households were lifted out of poverty thanks to food stamps. If Republicans succeed in their quest to cut the program, the number of children living in poverty would increase substantially. And even if the GOP is held at bay, automatic cuts to food stamps will kick in on November 1, returning the program to pre-stimulus levels and likely resulting in even more homeless students in the wealthiest country in the world.