In the mid-20th century, city planners throughout the country decided that residential hotels and their impoverished residents had to go. These residents were mostly single men living at the margins, mentally ill or addicted, capable of casual work at best. Men with few options. Ugh, neighborhood blight - make it go away! (That was sarcasm).
Over the next few decades, millions of hotel units disappeared. Why did the residents let the bigwigs get away with it?. Because they were invisible, by design. As explained by Paul Groth, in “Living Downtown: The History of Residential Hotels in the United States”:
“Because officials did not consider hotels to be permanent housing, during the official massive downtown clearances from 1950 to 1970, people living in hotels were not tallied as residents. Hence, when a city demolished an SRO [single room occupancy] building, ‘no one’ had been moved, and no dwelling units were lost in the official counts and newspaper reports. In reality, of course, hundreds of thousands of SRO people and homes were removed. Deliberate ignorance had become a cultural blind spot that made hotel residents invisible both to officials and to the public.”
Thanks to the demolition of residential hotels and an unwillingness to replace them, we have the crisis of unsheltered homelessness.
A similar process of erasure has happened with the passage of California’s new “gig-worker” law, also known as AB5. From official pronouncements and media reports, you’d think the law is all about protecting Uber and Lyft rideshare drivers from corporate abuse. But did you know that thanks to AB5, California franchise operators can no longer own their business (they must become employees of head office), independent truck drivers with their own trucks can no longer be self-employed, software developers can no offer occasional help on software projects, independent nurse practitioners can not longer fill in during hospital staff shortages, and on and on…. Nope, these other workers have become invisible - despite the fact they they way outnumber rideshare drivers in California.
To get an idea of how many invisibles there are in California, I put together this table:
Nonemployer firms are the self-employed who don’t have employees. This category includes independent contractors, sole proprietors, and freelancers. Rideshare workers would be less than half the “Transportation and Warehousing” workers (a category that also includes independent truck drivers). Although some of these nonemployer “firms”, such as physicians, dentists, accountants, and travel agents, got exemptions from AB5, the vast majority did not. Not for lack of pleading and protest but for lack of political power. They are the new invisibles.
Groth, Paul (1994) “Living Downtown: The History of Residential Hotels in the United States”. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA