Jerry Pournelle’s 1978 Exiles to Glory is a young-adult SF novel. It is set in the same universe as the Laurie Jo Hansen stories (after “Consort” but well before “Tinker”).
Although born a welfare parasite, Kevin Senecal has resisted the call of drugs and welfare-state-subsidized indolence. His engineering degree is within grasp. With degree in hand, he can stride into the life of desperation that is every decent, clean American’s birthright. That is, if he can convince the Umbridge-like bureaucrats who rule the university to let him graduate.
His academic status becomes… academic when Kevin is ambushed by filthy welfare barbarians determined to burn him alive. Kevin escapes with his life, badly injuring one gang member and killing another in the process. Now the gang is determined to kill Kevin. They do kill both of his cats.
A cop warns Kevin off; it’s no use to appeal to the police. Kevin would only be charged and convicted of assaulting and killing minors. Too white and hard-working to expect a fair trial, Kevin takes the only other option open to him: he heads into space.