In an article published in the December 2016 issue of Smithsonian Magazine, author Dale Maharidge chronicled the struggles that many of America’s working poor, including high poverty rates, housing affordability issues and food-scarcity. While just over 43 million people, or 13.5 percent of the population, live below the poverty line ($11,880) in the United States, over 31 percent – over 101 million – of Americans are considered “low-income,” meaning they make no more than $48,600 for a family of four or $23,760 for a single person. These families’ low-incomes means that affording safe housing is frequently an issue, particularly because of the ever-increasing cost of housing.
A portion of the article is dedicated to America’s farmworkers. Even though these people work long, back-breaking shifts, due in part to the seasonal nature of farming crops, these families often face great difficulty in affording basic necessities – like a safe place to call home and decent food – even while working full-time.
In California’s Central Valley, where Self-Help Enterprises, Inc. works, farms growing 250 different crops produce a fourth of the nation’s food. The article noted that since SHE was founded in 1965, it has helped family participants create over 6,200 homes in the region through the self-help housing program, which allows participants to use “sweat equity” in place of a down payment. By contributing at least 40 hours a week over the roughly one-year construction period, the families complete 65 percent of the labor in their homes with the help of their future neighbors.