The AP reported this week that a police survey of panhandlers outside a Wal-Mart in Coos Bay, OR showed they pull in as much as $300 a day. Earlier this year, Jennifer Margulis of the Oregon Mail Tribune reported on a couple who described themselves as "affluent beggars," who made between $300 and $800 a day, on top of the $500 of food stamps they received monthly. The reports have, as you might expect sparked a great deal of local controversy.
Certainly I've seen a steady increase in those working the freeway exits. In fact, I've wondered at times if they aren't part of an elaborate graduate student experiment, testing a matrix of marketing messages; help a vet vs. will work for food, etc.
According to a study by the U.S. Department of Justice, this career choice appeals most to young men, many with substance abuse problems. The more lucrative outlet locations are in cities with better social support networks, because residents have already demonstrated they have compassion for the needy. Women with children and those with obvious disabilities do better than those who appear able. Half of the typical beggar's take comes from regular "customers."
Statistics about the panhandling take are scant, and reports such as this will probably not change any minds; those who suspect this is typical will be reassured, those who don't will write it off as an anomaly.
Still, if I don't blog for a few days, I may be off testing another way of making some cash...