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The number of employed Australians seeking help for homelessness has jumped by almost 30% in three years, sparking concerns that stagnant wage growth and high housing costs are pushing workers to the brink.
The Victorian-based Council to Homeless Persons has released an analysis showing 20,302 employed Australians sought homelessness support in 2016-17, well up from 15,931 in 2013-14.
The council has blamed the rise on a combination of sluggish wage growth and extreme housing costs. On Wednesday, the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest wage data, which showed wages grew by just 2.1% last year. Housing costs grew by 3.4% in the same period. 
The money she does have goes to rent and petrol. She’s currently living in what she jokingly described as a “bush shack”, which she’s using as a stopgap solution until she finds a private rental. Nothing she’s seen so far is within her reach.
“I’ve got three kids and I wonder – they’ve all had such big experiences – I wonder if any of them will have kids,” Mim said. “But if they ever do, I want to be a grandma that’s able to buy grouse things for their grandkids, or help out with school fees. All the things my kids never had – I’d love to be able to do all of that.”
The ABS data showed wages grew by 0.6% in the December quarter and 2.1% throughout last year. Public sector wages grew the most, increasing by 2.4% through the year. Private sector wages rose by 1.9%.
The Council to Homeless Persons policy and communications manager, Kate Colvin, said the disparity between wage growth and high housing costs was putting a lot of strain on workers, particularly those who were working infrequently or in insecure employment.
“If that disparity continues, we’ll only see more and more people homeless while they’re working,” she said. “Then the challenge is that people become homeless [and] it’s just even harder to engage in paid work, because if you’re moving around between friends’ places, couch surfing, it’s hard to have the stability to work.”
Unions have said Wednesday’s ABS figures put wage growth at a near-record low. 
The Australian Council of Trade Unions assistant secretary, Scott Connolly, said the figures were at odds with 27 years of uninterrupted economic growth in Australia. The ACTU said workers needed more power to negotiate fair pay rises.
“Right now big corporations have too much power and working people have too little,” Connolly said. “We need to change the rules so that there is a fair power balance between working people and big business.”

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