When I was younger, I recall watching the Sherlock Holmes series starring Jeremy Brett. While not always equal to the Basil Rathbone version, it delivered thrills aplenty, bringing to life countless tales by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. A particularly poignant example is “The Man With The Twisted Lip,” which focuses on a wealthy but debt-troubled man who mysteriously vanishes, only to be discovered playacting as a beggar to help service his liabilities. It’s possible that the tale was written with assumptions of upper-class snobbery towards the poor, but that should not jettison the social value, particularly in today’s early retirement and money-scrounging culture.
I thought back to the show over the last two weeks, as I handed out cash to several panhandlers between my work shifts. Of course they might well be down on their luck, but what if they aren’t? What if homeless beggars are more like our friend in the show, a clever masquerader seeking to avoid the wages of tax?
From what data is available, a panhandler might draw $100-$300 dollars a day in an American city, This doesn’t sound especially great, but remember that the funds are tax-free. To put it into perspective, when I worked retail some years ago, an eight-hour shift gave me $80.00 in gross income. After taxes, paying for boomer retirement, and Berniecare, I was sitting closer to sixty-five bucks. From any standpoint, that’s a yuuuge difference.
We should further understand that homeless people have access to soup kitchens and shelters, two helping hands that absorb other daily expenses. Should the person be masquerading of course, they might live with a family member or pay minimalist rent off the books to avoid added scrutiny. Meanwhile, Clarence Goodman has to cough it up for housing, food, gas, and Trojans, all to ensure semi-regular affection from his wow, man.
Now you might say, “Sure, but they don’t get all those great benefits!” As it turns out, that depends. Disabled folks can claim SSDI up to a certain level, and the general homeless population is eligible for Medicaid, with some regional variances. To be sure though, they miss out on subsidizing the retirement of the elderly, which does rather sting.
There are some downsides, to be clear. Any pretender to the homeless throne would have to deal with rough weather, lack of consistent sanitation, low money haul days, and the usual social stigma. In addition, whenever they chose to “clock out” of the streets, their behavior would have to carefully avoid attracting suspicion from the empowered and governmental.
Still, it’s a thought.