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Precarity
June 29, 2014 3:35 PM   Subscribe

Generational Poverty Is the Exception, Not the Rule
Poverty is worse than you think, but it’s different than you think, too.... poverty in America is fluid, and people move in and out of poverty over the course of a year and over the course of their lives.

Thanks to other data from the Census Bureau, we can step back a bit to see that more common kind of movement in and out of poverty. If we look at how many Americans were poor for at least two months during 2009, 2010 and 2011, for example, we find a poverty rate not equal to the Census Bureau’s 15 or 16 percent — but twice that, at 31.6 percent. That is, over a recent three-year period, almost one-third of all Americans were poor at least once for two months or more.

There’s another important lesson to learn from this data: while lots of Americans experienced a “spell” of poverty during those years, only 3.5 percent of the population was poor for all 36 months. So how we think about poverty is all wrong: it’s a much more common occurrence than people realize and the chronic, persistent, generational poverty that features so prominently in political rhetoric and media coverage is very much the exception, rather than the rule.
...
We live in a world of widespread economic fragility, of insecurity, of what some have come to call precarity: According to one recent survey, about one-in-four Americans have no savings at all.

US household economies are fragile, so it often just takes one crisis to push a family over the edge — from just getting by to not getting by at all: An injury that makes it impossible to work, a sudden physical or mental illness, a death in the family, a car breaking down, or even the birth of a new baby. All of these can be traumatic economic events for a family with little or no savings and no margin for error — events that most families recover from, with time. But then the next crisis hits. And in the US, you can’t necessarily count on the social safety net to be there for you when you need it. And you’ll need it.

We can’t hope to address a problem if we misdiagnose it, and one of the virtues of thinking more clearly about what poverty actually looks like is that a better diagnosis might alter the political landscape.

Don’t fight poverty because you feel sorry for other people; fight poverty because the odds are increasingly high that you and your family will be poor someday, too.
One can argue that precarity is not a new phenomenon in capitalism:
Fordism, not neoliberalism, was the exception to capitalist rule. Both before and after this short-lived period of relative prosperity, precarity remained the norm. Whatever stability and prosperity were achieved during the auferious era of capitalism, they were built upon ecologically devastating consumer lifestyles, neocolonial exploitation of the “Third World,” a racialized underclass and the exploitation of women in the home. They also depended on cheap fossil fuels, easy access to credit and an explosive urbanization process, all of which are growth factors impossible to reproduce today. Although these benefits were never extended to more than a fraction of the world’s population, they were and still are the primary justification for global capitalism.
Jack London's The People of the Abyss gives a window into precarious conditions in 1903 London:
To the young working-man or working-woman, or married couple, there is no assurance of happy or healthy middle life, nor of solvent old age. Work as they will, they cannot make their future secure. It is all a matter of chance. Everything depends upon the thing happening, the thing with which they have nothing to do. Precaution cannot fend it off, nor can wiles evade it.
posted by eviemath (65 comments total) 66 users marked this as a favorite

 
I like the idea of recognizing that poverty is something that people experience, rather than there being a separate kind of people who are poor people. On the other hand, as much as it sucks to have no dough, my experience of technically being in poverty (which I am) is far removed from that of many. I have a college degree, I could easily get a job, I could borrow money or comfortably move in with family. I think both aspects are important to address. Fight poverty because "anyone" can find themselves poor, but also recognize that in some communities or for some individuals, poverty is much more debilitating and harder to escape.
posted by snofoam at 3:53 PM on June 29 [24 favorites]


I've seen this distinction described as the difference between being poor and being broke. You're broke if you don't have any money, but you're not poor if you have a reasonable expectation that this condition is temporary.
posted by baf at 4:23 PM on June 29 [24 favorites]


I dunno, the article spun my head around with the the numbers it was tossing out from various sources so I want to be clear this is just my feeling. My feeling is the author is working with a definition of poor that is designed to get the result he wanted. You can see chronic long term poverty in some neighborhoods in Philly or in West Virginia. If your definition of poverty can't see the difference between that and temporary money problems (which can also be life destroying, don't get me wrong), then it isn't quite the right definition.

I'm not saying the article is on the wrong track as far as a lot more people suffering than we think, but I don't know if "poor" is the right word for a middle class person fucked by our economy.

The economy is poor. The country is poor. And I don't care what the stock market says. I don't care if we can still spend Eleventy trillion dollars on warfare. If we can't deliver jobs to people who need them when we have work to be done, we are poor. That is the life of the average citizen, economic desperation.

Hrm, I think I started out arguing against the article and then ended up agreeing with it. Well, carry on.
posted by Drinky Die at 4:32 PM on June 29 [15 favorites]


People move in and out of poverty but it is mostly the same people.
posted by srboisvert at 4:56 PM on June 29 [7 favorites]


I read TFA three times and I still have no idea what he said. I think Mr. Pimpare, and no slight to you eviemath, but when Mr. Pimpare says "poverty in America is fluid, and people move in and out of poverty over the course of a year and over the course of their lives." he demonstrates a weird lack of understanding of the condition of poverty.
posted by vapidave at 5:19 PM on June 29 [13 favorites]


People move in and out of poverty but it is mostly the same people.

But I do think it's a larger variety of people than most folks know or want to admit. If people voted with an eye towards their actual probability of ending up on food stamps, many more people would vote for politicians who were in favor of increased food benefits. But--well, I've always existed in that sort of realm of the poor/working/lower-middle classes, where you definitely can move between them, and you see a lot more working and lower-middle class people who think they can retire as millionaires than you do people from those same groups who think that they're likely to end up on food stamps at least once in their lifetimes.

It's not so fluid that you routinely see upper-middle-class people ending up in poverty, because their families provide safety nets. Their families pay for school or at least help, their families are there if they lose their jobs, their connections still exist when they need to go back into the workforce after a divorce, in ways that the lower classes don't have access to. But there's definitely a lot of truth to the lower end of the not-impoverished thinking that poor people are Other People when their kids could very well end up there. My mom still likes to pretend that I don't really NEED to be on Medicaid--but it's not like she's got the cash to pay for my health insurance, either.
posted by Sequence at 5:25 PM on June 29 [10 favorites]


Policy naturally reflects the fact that the generationally poor and their custodians are a potent, permanent lobby. The beneficiaries don't tend to move, have a strong sense of group identity and purpose, and are reliable at voting. Their custodians -- the people and companies which operate the infrastructure of welfare, social services, housing, health care, and law enforcement / prisons make a lot of people a lot of money (or at least, nice middle class livings).

We saw this vividly in Congress in the last couple of years. Republicans were able to make modest reductions in extended unemployment and food stamps, two benefits which are distinguished by being available to the temporary victims of precarity (extended unemployment being available ONLY to them, in fact), but couldn't lay a finger (haven't even really tried, AFAIK) to touch Section 8, public housing, or TANF, all of which are overwhelmingly for the benefit of the permanent underclass.
posted by MattD at 5:28 PM on June 29 [1 favorite]


Policy naturally reflects the fact that the generationally poor and their custodians are a potent, permanent lobby. The beneficiaries don't tend to move, have a strong sense of group identity and purpose, and are reliable at voting.

If only that were even remotely true.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 5:35 PM on June 29 [19 favorites]


MattD, so you're saying that since poor people vote, their elected representatives are working to address their needs. Interesting. Also notable for how that's the entire point of democracy.
posted by elwoodwiles at 5:38 PM on June 29 [5 favorites]


"Policy naturally reflects the fact that the generationally poor and their custodians are a potent, permanent lobby."

This week, in bizarro world!
posted by wobdev at 5:39 PM on June 29 [8 favorites]


kind of like how women and black people were potent, permanent political lobbies in 19th century America
posted by DoctorFedora at 5:43 PM on June 29 [11 favorites]


The chronically poor: the most powerful people in America.
posted by snofoam at 5:44 PM on June 29 [34 favorites]


Their custodians -- the people and companies which operate the infrastructure of welfare, social services, housing, health care, and law enforcement / prisons make a lot of people a lot of money...

If these are the "custodians", then no doubt some of them (prisons, for example) make a lot of money and have a lot of lobbying power. I wouldn't group them together with the "generationally poor", however. Also, quis custodiet etc.
posted by uosuaq at 5:50 PM on June 29 [2 favorites]


Their custodians -- the people and companies which operate the infrastructure of welfare, social services, housing, health care, and law enforcement / prisons make a lot of people a lot of money (or at least, nice middle class livings).

I love how you manage to put the vast majority of the "custodians" in your parenthetical statement. Yes, some people are making "a lot of money" -- those are the ones who have successfully used the lot of money they already have to lobby the government to privatize social services, particularly the prison-industrial complex.

But this idea that you allude to quite strongly, this idea that the underpaid, overworked public servants who work in actual social-service agencies are part of a longstanding -- yeah, I'm gonna say it -- conspiracy to keep the poors down so they can keep making that sweet, sweet, middle-class living... is there a word that combines "absurd" and "offensive"? Abfensive? Offensurd?
posted by Etrigan at 6:38 PM on June 29 [10 favorites]


Republicans were able to make modest reductions in extended unemployment and food stamps, two benefits which are distinguished by being available to the temporary victims of precarity (extended unemployment being available ONLY to them, in fact), but couldn't lay a finger (haven't even really tried, AFAIK) to touch Section 8, public housing, or TANF, all of which are overwhelmingly for the benefit of the permanent underclass.

You don't think Section 8/public housing benefits help people move out of poverty? Aside from perhaps healthcare, I can't imagine a more drastic way to improve anyone's finances than to make housing more affordable. In contrast, the morgage deduction is overwhelmingly for the benefit of the middle and upper classes and provides very little (if any, but I'm not sure how the majority of the rural poor are housed) benefit whatsoever to very poor.
posted by maryr at 6:44 PM on June 29 [3 favorites]


You can see chronic long term poverty in some neighborhoods in Philly or in West Virginia.

And in a lot of other places, too, but I can easily believe that it is a fairly small percentage of the population who fell into a rigorous definition of permanent, multi-generational poverty, while a far larger percentage slips in and out of it situationally. I can especially see that with acquaintances who have adult children who haven't gone to college -- the children move on and off of food stamps and other programs, and in and out of their parents' basements, depending on seasonal employment, pregnancies, etc, but then moving back into solvency for a while.

I don't know all that much about the details of the safety net programs, honestly -- I wonder how much is targeted at people needing temporary help, versus programs that take a long time to get on and are meant to meet long term needs?
posted by Dip Flash at 7:06 PM on June 29 [2 favorites]


So "Fordism" is, the pay-the-workers-more-and-they-will-buy-cars, post-war to 70's boom era? Blue-collar guys with houses and pensions, sending their kids to college, all that stuff?
posted by thelonius at 7:14 PM on June 29 [2 favorites]


Republicans were able to make modest reductions in extended unemployment

Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) Expired on January 1, 2014

Individuals who exhaust regular state unemployment compensation (UC) after December 21, 2013 (in NY, December 22, 2013) are NOT eligible for EUC.
posted by Room 641-A at 7:44 PM on June 29 [1 favorite]


And in a lot of other places, too, but I can easily believe that it is a fairly small percentage of the population who fell into a rigorous definition of permanent, multi-generational poverty, while a far larger percentage slips in and out of it situationally.

This.

Realize all it takes to make the article's low percentage numbers work is for people in poverty to be temporarily employed for 2 months every 3 years. Achieve that wonder of financial stability and you are no longer term impoverished!

According to the article 60 percent of people are untouched by poverty and 30 percent are impoverished at any point in time. That leaves just 10 percent space for bouncing.

Poor are poor and rich are rich. I don't think things are as fluid as the article is trying to say. It is just that the group that is poor is bigger than some people think.
posted by srboisvert at 8:10 PM on June 29 [6 favorites]


The problem I have with an article like this is that it convinces no one. All who agree with it already know the facts and figures; all the reasons to support policies that help lift some of THE WEIGHT. Those who remain unconvinced will continue to believe the worst of those living in poverty, no matter what people say.

Be damned if I know what to do about it.
posted by ob1quixote at 8:13 PM on June 29 [4 favorites]


Public housing and Section 8 vouchers have long waiting lists and very low turnover rates. They are a core benefit of the generationally poor, and essentially unavailable to the temporarily hard up. With that, and their tendency to lock people into living in places where they are poorly suited to the job market, they are as untransitional as can be.

I am amazed to see people doubt the power of the welfare-industrial complex. How else could something so unpopular among taxpayers and so toxic to the moral fiber of its beneficiaries have kept its huge budget lines so long?
posted by MattD at 9:20 PM on June 29 [1 favorite]


so toxic to the moral fiber of its beneficiaries

Yes, poverty is a problem of the moral fiber of the poor. Do go on.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:24 PM on June 29 [17 favorites]


MattD: huge budget lines

[citation needed]

Let me help you out. In 2012, all of HUD's budget ($41.6B) was less than 3% of the $1.4T federal budget. People who like to pat themselves on the back and call themselves taxpayers may have a special disregard for programs that actually help keep people from sleeping under bridges, but that doesn't mean they get to co-opt the "industrial complex" framing for an agency that costs 4% of what military/security-related programs do.

I also don't remember seeing the National Council of Poor Unemployed Persons listed on any top campaign contribution lists among the Exxons and General Dynamicses. Or is that lobbying shop going by another name these days?

If you have a case, please support it with some hard evidence that can't be debunked with a half a minute of googling.
posted by tonycpsu at 11:03 PM on June 29 [5 favorites]


Tonycpsu, those numbers are pretty huge. Consider, the article mentions 46 Million US folk in poverty. You point out 1.4 trillion a year spent on HUD to ostensibly help get families above the poverty line; which now stands at $27k a year for a family. So, take HUD's budget and simply write checks directly to the poor. Divide it evenly. Each of those 46 million Americans would get a check for $30k. Per year. Per individual. And we've ended poverty.

MattD maybe on to something. Mathematically speaking, we can eliminate poverty in America tomorrow by simply bypassing the infrastructure of middle people and assorted stuff all hanging around ostensibly helping the poor folk. Of course it's more complicated but the math suggests it's worth pondering.

Maybe the mechanics of poverty are worthy of scrutiny. Give them bank accounts instead of cake and circus?
posted by astrobiophysican at 2:13 AM on June 30 [1 favorite]


Edit: on second sleepy glance, I grabbed the wrong number from above. If we redistributed the whole federal budget, that would end poverty. Interesting how those numbers align. Poverty in America is roughly equivalent to our federal budget. HUD is only 1k per individual. Consider any point I had crushed by the mechanics of my own sleep poverty.
posted by astrobiophysican at 2:28 AM on June 30 [4 favorites]


Although it would have been a more complicated article, I think it could have successfully addressed multiple aspects of poverty, and even connected them:

Increasing economic fragility makes it more likely for a relatively broad spectrum of Americans to experience at least temporary poverty. One reason to fight poverty is it could be you.

Chronic poverty is more debilitating than that. Imagine hitting a rough patch without having friends and family with the resources to help you get back on your feet.

If the trend continues, a larger portion of the population, having been financially depleted by slipping in and out of poverty themselves, will be unable to help friends and family during a crisis.

Tomorrow you could be broke, but worse, in a generation your kids could be poor.
posted by snofoam at 3:08 AM on June 30 [1 favorite]


Realize all it takes to make the article's low percentage numbers work is for people in poverty to be temporarily employed for 2 months every 3 years. Achieve that wonder of financial stability and you are no longer term impoverished!

This is probably the most important observation in this thread.
posted by snofoam at 3:12 AM on June 30 [5 favorites]


With that, and their tendency to lock people into living in places where they are poorly suited to the job market, they are as untransitional as can be.

It's not as if refusing to provide subsidized or cheap housing will suddenly create lots of cheap housing elsewhere, or that moving costs will suddenly become more manageable for the poor once the government is gone. Moving to an area where you don't yet have a job takes financial and social capital.

Additionally, dense urban areas have plenty of jobs that, in theory, are a good fit for unskilled and entry-level laborers. Maintenance and cleaning services, retail work, food service, and the like are all jobs that often pay low and part-time wages but also keep everything else running.

The problem is that the associated costs of living in such areas keeps rising, making it harder and harder for these service workers who keep a metropolis running to actually live in or near it. It's less the job market than it is the housing market in these areas, hence the provision of subsidized housing, rent control, and so forth. The steady removal of full-time, long-term, and advancement opportunities at the lower end of the wage scale also contributes to these problems.
posted by kewb at 5:58 AM on June 30 [3 favorites]


I read (most) of the comments and I think most people understand "poverty" has two meanings. The first is the legal definition is income <= 11670/yr. The second is the cluster of factors which, all things being equal, contribute to the low income. Things like hand to mouth income not permitting savings and diminished employment opportunities for the chronically unemployed/underemployed. At which point these problems become nested into a whole lot of smaller interrelated problems. Opps--I'd explain more but I got to go catch the bus to get to work because I can't afford my car anymore. And even though I don't have to be to work until 1 (that late because I work part-time), the bus takes three hours to get to a location I could get to in 25 minutes with a car. But that's where the jobs are at. Good thing I'm not married and don't have kids, otherwise I'd be really screwed--they'd never see me, and all they'd want from me is money. Ahh. Dad, now I understand...I've broken the circle...but I'm alone and still screwed...oooh soft blue glow...
posted by xtian at 6:26 AM on June 30 [2 favorites]


I am amazed to see people doubt the power of the welfare-industrial complex. How else could something so unpopular among taxpayers and so toxic to the moral fiber of its beneficiaries have kept its huge budget lines so long?

It's all politics, the never-ending reelection cycle and pandering for the vote. If the liberals down in DC would just stop stonewalling legitimate efforts to disenfranchise the poor, we just might be able to bring that special interest group into line and take back control of our government for the people.
posted by snofoam at 6:31 AM on June 30


I don't know if "poor" is the right word for a middle class person fucked by our economy.

The problem America faces is that it has spent so long ignoring and steadfastly refusing to look at class, that now that it needs to, it still can't.

There is a difference between being a member of the class "the poor", and someone suffering in what used to be termed "genteel poverty." The two have diffent causes, different solutions, and far different outcomes. I wish we could get past our taboos and just talk about that openly.
posted by corb at 6:32 AM on June 30 [1 favorite]


...essentially unavailable to the temporarily hard up...

This is so wantonly incorrect. These are available to the temporarily hard up. You go down the office and fill out the forms. Not that hard!
posted by Mister_A at 7:37 AM on June 30 [4 favorites]


Well right corb, the "genteel poor" have some at least theoretical way out. They present well in job interviews and may have some modest family resources and support etc. "The poor" tend to live in places without access to education and cultural enrichment, and will throw off all the "wrong" signals, in general, for any but the most menial of jobs.
posted by Mister_A at 7:40 AM on June 30


> I wish we could get past our taboos and just talk about that openly.

Simultaneous to talking about poverty's taboos we must also dive into employment taboos such as...ageism and employment! previously, previously, and recent BBC audio documentary (mp3).

Or my favorite, the legal frameworks which force employment severance into just quit, fired, and laid-off. Not very reflective of the moires of employment environments with out-of-career employment (do you have what it takes to be a sales person? Let's see...nope. You're fired!), or company cultural differences (hierarchical vs. flat organizations--speak up or shut up? Opps. Said the wrong thing to the wrong person. We don't need you anymore...aka. fired). Do these scenarios even apply with At Will Employment?
posted by xtian at 7:41 AM on June 30 [2 favorites]


And here's a "older" link to Precarity.
posted by xtian at 7:45 AM on June 30


kewb: “Additionally, dense urban areas have plenty of jobs that, in theory, are a good fit for unskilled and entry-level laborers. Maintenance and cleaning services, retail work, food service, and the like are all jobs that often pay low and part-time wages but also keep everything else running.”
This made me think of a huge problem, at least around here. The people without jobs aren't all "unskilled." It's just that their skills aren't suited to the job market in the area that they live.

There aren't any decent jobs nearby for someone like my brother. He's an accomplished artist, an AWS certified welder, and has run his own retail business. Of course he doesn't have a degree and can't program in node.js or whatever language is au courant this week. So he gets treated by potential employers as if his only qualification is an ability to hold up a broom.
posted by ob1quixote at 8:07 AM on June 30


Do these scenarios even apply with At Will Employment?

They do when it comes to figuring out whether a former employee qualifies for unemployment benefits, for example.
posted by Handstand Devil at 8:32 AM on June 30 [2 favorites]


Folks, if there's something you think we're not talking about openly that would help us discuss this issue better, then... that's kind of what this site is for, right? Talking? So be the change you seek and start a conversation. Saying that we haven't solved poverty because we aren't talking about it the right way or looking at class the right way seems remarkably naive to me, but if that's your position, let's talk about it in detail so we can better understand it.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:52 AM on June 30


Sorry, when I say "we" I mean "Americans", not "Mefites".
posted by corb at 9:13 AM on June 30


> They do when it comes to figuring out whether a former employee qualifies for unemployment benefits, for example.

Exactly my point. And it also matters to new employers, but in a curious way. Its never a smart thing to say you were fired from a job to a prospective employer. But what then do you say? You can gloss over the label, but hiring managers processing applicants see right through obfuscation. You can omit the job, but then you have a hole in your experience.

Naively I'd say we don't have the language to speak about modern employment in ways which both resolve the circumstances or development of our work experience together with the rigid facts of a chronology. There's a logical gap and good luck.

Here tonycpsu says poverty is a problem to be 'solved'. The OP article author says poverty is a problem that needs to be 'diagnosed'. And yet many of the constituent parts, such as employment, are issues which need to be 'communicated'.

Which returns to how is poverty represented? As a formula, r>g? As different clusters (40+ high-tech workers, educated middle class workers straddling working/white collar careers, displaced manufacturing workers--to name a few. And each problem context further complicated by race, gender, sexual orientation, education, marital status).

Oddly as I write this, I'm struck by the thought cited above: "generationally poor and their custodians are a potent, permanent lobby." I do see potency when the only rational way to tackle poverty is one issue, one problem, one group at a time and the number of people effected continues to grow and touch more and more people in society.
posted by xtian at 9:31 AM on June 30


Whenever I'm forced to go into the office for a benefits review, there is usually a few middle class soccer moms with the looks of fear, confusion, and grief upon their faces. They do not understand how they ended up seeking benefits. When the economy crashed, more than half the people at the welfare office were in nice clothing, driving nice cars, desperate to hold onto their nice houses AND get some food in their kids bellies. The weak safety-net that had helped me survive while disabled was torn apart by the sudden overwhelming need. The safety-net in my state fell apart and hasn't yet recovered.

I do believe if the general population understood how close they were to needing benefits (one job loss, one medical event, one major factory closing, etc) then the "safety-nets" would be built stronger. But, as long as it's the poverty of people who are just "losers" (can't get out of generational poverty, must be their own fault), few will care.
posted by _paegan_ at 10:52 AM on June 30 [5 favorites]


With that, and their tendency to lock people into living in places where they are poorly suited to the job market, they are as untransitional as can be.

Where do you think these people are supposed to move? Where are they better suited to the job market? Do they move before getting a new job or afterward? What money are they supposed to use to move? Who takes care of their children if they move away from the support network? Who takes care of their parents if they move away?

I am amazed to see people doubt the power of the welfare-industrial complex. How else could something so unpopular among taxpayers and so toxic to the moral fiber of its beneficiaries have kept its huge budget lines so long?

Replace "welfare" with "military". See how you feel.
posted by maryr at 12:01 PM on June 30 [1 favorite]


I am amazed to see people doubt the power of the welfare-industrial complex. How else could something so unpopular among taxpayers and so toxic to the moral fiber of its beneficiaries have kept its huge budget lines so long?

Because enough people still have souls.
posted by Etrigan at 12:09 PM on June 30 [3 favorites]


I don't understand how people can say this isn't an important distinction. I learned about this distinction in college, and I thought it explained everything about the distance between Republicans and Democrats.

30% of Americans are impoverished during any given year. But honestly all but the richest can remember some point in their life when they felt temporary poverty. And all but a very small fraction are able to escape poverty.

Democrats recognize their informal institutions and networks for pulling them out of that poverty. Republicans recognize their hard work and the opportunities available through the market. Bootstrapping feels sufficient because in many cases, it is sufficient.

I've always thought Democrats would do better if they would acknowledge the validity in the incentives and opportunity provided by the market. That market failures are the exception and not the norm, and that proposed policies should augment rather than undermine the market. Coupled with a stern reminder of the obligations of Christian Charity, I think you could eke out a quorum.

(And blah blah blah, gridlock is the Republicans fault. Humanizing them and treating them like they aren't the enemy seems like a better way of getting through gridlock, than trying to out gridlock them. Gridlock is inherently a conservative win. Always.)
posted by politikitty at 12:54 PM on June 30 [1 favorite]


politikitty, do you not remember Clintonomics? "Ending welfare as we know it?" Did you miss how many times Obama has name-checked Saint Ronnie Reagan and the power of the free market? And on the other side, the non-stop stream of invective that they hurl toward Democrats who for the most part want nothing other than market-based solutions as long as they have a chance of trickling down past the yacht class? And you complain that it's the Democrats who are dehumanizing the enemy?

We're all entitled to our views, but I've never seen the world you're describing.
posted by tonycpsu at 1:59 PM on June 30 [3 favorites]


That market failures are the exception and not the norm, and that proposed policies should augment rather than undermine the market.

The market has never adequately supported the poor. That's why we have the poor, because the market doesn't care about them.

Coupled with a stern reminder of the obligations of Christian Charity, I think you could eke out a quorum.

I'm in favor of a stronger social safety net and of you (and everyone else) getting religion out of my government. The last major push for compassion came at the behest of a guy who absolutely fucking gutted the ability of everyone to lend a helping hand.
posted by Etrigan at 2:04 PM on June 30 [6 favorites]


> With that, and their tendency to lock people into living in places where they are poorly suited to the job market, they are as untransitional as can be.

There's more to this statement than can be accessed on the surface. Sure, user maryr is right. The logistics of actually moving are daunting. But that's not what I think this is really telling us.

The affordable housing ratio is supposed to be about 30-33% of your income [Wikipedia]. After living in my current apartment for the past 5 years, if I needed to move for some reason, I'd have to earn 166% more per month to afford what is generally considered the basic rate (from what I hear and if I take craigslist average). Make the same argument about a car. If your car was demolished in an accident (god forbid) and you needed one to get to work, could you afford to replace it?

That's another way to look at being locked into your life. Not just the inconveniences (uprooting family), or the uncertainties (can I find what I need when I need it), but the very structure of our economy where the income to rent ratio prohibits mobility.

Add to this the ever increasing cost of gasoline. Otherwise I think you'd see a whole lot of people buying vans and moving about.

Heck. The right place for you may just be a few towns over. And I see this a lot.
posted by xtian at 4:45 PM on June 30 [1 favorite]


Both sides dehumanize each other. However it doesn't make sense to come to Metafilter to list out all the reasons the two Republican users should be nicer to liberals. It also seems that most users are already familiar with the many ways the Republicans dehumanize the left.

One of the failures of PRWORA was that it created a carve-out for generational poverty. The carve-out was pretty close to the natural size of generational poverty. (Sorry to say my source is an old text book and not a quick link) The problem was that states were able to override those carve-outs and make reform a great deal harsher than it was ever meant to be.

While Obama might not be as liberal as you'd like, the fact that he finds income inequality to be the defining problem of our era is a huge F*ck You to the right and capitalists. Inequality is a Progressive code-word that broadcasts F*ck the Rich rather than Help the Poor. I understand it has immense appeal to the base, but when that drives your safety net rhetoric, I can't really say Democrats are preaching Rah-Rah-Reaganomics.

Also, you can easily appeal to a voter's belief in Christian Charity, without actually mixing church and state. They should support Food Stamps because Jesus wouldn't want people to starve. The reach of the church and non-profits is limited, while the government has the resources and information to identify those most in need who might be too proud to ask for help.
posted by politikitty at 7:05 PM on June 30 [1 favorite]


Inequality is a Progressive code-word that broadcasts F*ck the Rich rather than Help the Poor.

I think it broadcasts more "Get the Rich to Contribute to Society a Little Bit More So We Can Collectively Help the Poor" than "Fuck the Rich," but your mileage may vary.

Also, you can easily appeal to a voter's belief in Christian Charity, without actually mixing church and state.

Speaking of code-words -- even if the result of it isn't mixing church and state, it's definitely excluding people who aren't Christian. Isn't it better to appeal to a voter's belief in a just and equitable society, regardless of what they do on a Sunday morning?
posted by Etrigan at 11:57 AM on July 1 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I can definitely say that even though I don't support a lot of government spending, I'd be more easily persuaded to hold my nose and endorse it if it didn't have these "Fuck the Rich" or "Force the Rich" bows tied all over it.
posted by corb at 12:26 PM on July 1


I think of it as "fuck the rich for constantly thwarting efforts to help the poor." And, frankly, I don't give a fuck how the rich feel about that, because the idea that things would be better if only liberals used different language is one of the most concern troll-ish things I've read. John Boehner and Mitch McConnell are going to be the very same obstructionists whether Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid speak full-on Reaganite Free Marketspeak or whether they talk about fighting for the 99%.

Words don't matter, actions do, and all of this talk about how Democrats need to talk nicer is pure concern-trolling.
posted by tonycpsu at 12:27 PM on July 1 [3 favorites]


I'm sorry. I should have said "I'd be more easily persuaded if I didn't think Democrats actually wanted to fuck or force the rich." Actions do matter, and the way the Democrats tripped over themselves to coopt Occupy did not suggest a distancing from the "Screw the rich" philosophy.
posted by corb at 12:42 PM on July 1


I wasn't responding to you, I was responding to politikitty. Sorry if that wasn't clear.

But since we're here... how exactly did the Democrats embrace Occupy? There's an actual Tea Party caucus in Congress. Where's the Occupy caucus? Many of the Democratic party's biggest leaders, including Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, are full-on water-carriers for Wall Street. At the margin, maybe a few Anthony Weiner / Alan Grayson types may have embraced Occupy rhetoric, but if you think the party itself moved in that direction in any tangible way, please show your work.
posted by tonycpsu at 12:45 PM on July 1 [1 favorite]


tonycpsu:Did you miss how many times Obama has name-checked Saint Ronnie Reagan and the power of the free market?

tonycpsu: Words don't matter, actions do, and all of this talk about how Democrats need to talk nicer is pure concern-trolling

If words don't matter, you'd think you wouldn't bring it up in the first place. You asked where Obama isn't being the milquetoast Reagan cheerleader. I provided evidence. Income inequality as a political issue goes much farther than The War on Poverty or The New Deal. Income inequality isn't about the poor. It's about the rich. Progressive taxation to fund the government safety net is old hat. Progressive taxation designed to keep the rich from getting 'too rich' is radical.

It doesn't matter that gridlock makes that rhetoric dead in the water.

Those dicks at Hobby Lobby believe in a fair living wage. They guarantee that every full time employee makes 30k a year. Their view on birth control makes them repugnant to me. But they're also powerful conservatives who share a common belief with Democrats. Gridlock is a part of our current political climate, and change is hard. But I don't believe that means it's a foregone conclusion in perpetuity.
posted by politikitty at 1:55 PM on July 1


Those dicks at Hobby Lobby believe in a fair living wage. They guarantee that every full time employee makes 30k a year.

And a baby.
posted by Etrigan at 2:00 PM on July 1


politikiity, I mentioned three things, two of which were actual policies enacted into law, one of which was rhetoric. You cherry-picked the one piece of rhetoric, which I mentioned only because you've focused on nothing but how the left is being too antagonistic in its rhetoric.

I'm not going here to play Calvinball. If you want to have a good faith discussion, then please don't dishonestly cherry-pick my comments.

As it turns out, I could have mentioned many other market-oriented Democratic policies, including Obamacare, the inadequate and supply-side tax cut-focused ARRA, the "looking forward, not backward" approach to letting Wall Street off the hook for their many abuses throughout the Bush years, etc. These are actual things that happened, not words. But you're the one leading with how Democrats need to soften their language, so I mixed in a point about appealing to free market ideology. It is my position -- not yet refuted by any single piece of evidence from your side -- that the Democrats are market-oriented in both their policies and their rhetoric. Don't try this sort of gotcha bullshit, please.
posted by tonycpsu at 2:06 PM on July 1


I didn't focus on one point. You only followed up on one point. Let's review:

do you not remember Clintonomics? "Ending welfare as we know it?" One of the failures of PRWORA was that it created a carve-out for generational poverty. The carve-out was pretty close to the natural size of generational poverty. (Sorry to say my source is an old text book and not a quick link) The problem was that states were able to override those carve-outs and make reform a great deal harsher than it was ever meant to be.

Did you miss how many times Obama has name-checked Saint Ronnie Reagan and the power of the free market? While Obama might not be as liberal as you'd like, the fact that he finds income inequality to be the defining problem of our era is a huge F*ck You to the right and capitalists. Inequality is a Progressive code-word that broadcasts F*ck the Rich rather than Help the Poor. I understand it has immense appeal to the base, but when that drives your safety net rhetoric, I can't really say Democrats are preaching Rah-Rah-Reaganomics.

And on the other side, the non-stop stream of invective that they hurl toward Democrats who for the most part want nothing other than market-based solutions as long as they have a chance of trickling down past the yacht class? Both sides dehumanize each other. However it doesn't make sense to come to Metafilter to list out all the reasons the two Republican users should be nicer to liberals. It also seems that most users are already familiar with the many ways the Republicans dehumanize the left.

Welfare reform happened 18 years ago. Clinton hasn't been in office for almost 15 years. You don't get to talk about his presidency as though that's the world we're living in. I'm a huge fan of Third Way Democrats and the defunct DLC. But that is history. Might as well say Republicans are aces on civil rights because Lincoln was a Republican.
posted by politikitty at 3:43 PM on July 1


Welfare reform happened 18 years ago. Clinton hasn't been in office for almost 15 years. You don't get to talk about his presidency as though that's the world we're living in. I'm a huge fan of Third Way Democrats and the defunct DLC. But that is history. Might as well say Republicans are aces on civil rights because Lincoln was a Republican.

If we weren't about to elect Mary Todd Lincoln, you might be right. But not all past is past.
posted by Etrigan at 4:00 PM on July 1


The idea that Hilary Clinton has to be a carbon clone of her husband is offensive and sexist, and you should feel bad that you feel she has no agency for herself.
posted by politikitty at 4:03 PM on July 1


That's a rather interesting interpretation of the text with the exact opposite of good faith behind it.
posted by Etrigan at 4:06 PM on July 1


Hillary Clinton is economically more liberal than her husband. She didn't support NAFTA, she supported the gas windfall tax, she's more liberal on unions. That she might be the next candidate says nothing about a potential reprise of Clintonomics.

Your comment is predicated entirely on who she married with no regard to the content of her candidacy.
posted by politikitty at 4:56 PM on July 1


Yeah, but yours tries to make the numbers 15 and 150 equivalent, so I'm not too worried about mine being the more willfully obtuse one here.
posted by Etrigan at 5:15 PM on July 1


Comparing two periods in time is not saying they are equivalent. It is highlighting the fact that the past is not a good indicator of the present. A Democrat filibustered against the Civil Rights Act. A Democrat campaigned for segregation. A Republican formed the EPA. A Republican appointed the first woman to the Supreme Court. The last federal minimum wage increase was signed by a Republican president.

George H.W. Bush passed the Clean Air Act after Reagan let it lapse. George W Bush increased the level of arsenic allowed in tap water.

The past is not the present. Family is not an indication of ideology. And even if I am willfully obtuse, that doesn't grant a free pass for one sexist statement.
posted by politikitty at 6:02 PM on July 1


Hmm, I suppose when I was telling a friend about the first linked article, and his first response was, "doesn't that depend on how you define poverty?", I should have expected this derail. I think what folks are getting at is that there is a distinction between economic class and social class. Poverty is an economic category, but because we have lots of conflation of culture and economic class, and lots of stereotypes of poor people in Western culture, it can be hard to talk about economic class separately from social class, or the combined effect of socioeconomic class. The first article in the FPP tries to make this distinction, arguing that we should look at actual data on household economics, and arguing that this data does not entirely conform to stereotypes or common assumptions about even economic class, based on our ideas of socioeconomic class.

The second, third, and fourth links in the post actually deal with this, or exactly the argument that has been the main content of the comment thread here so far. This idea of a socioeconomic class "the Precariat" was proposed, as separate from the Proletariat. Because I have been working on crafting essays in FPP form, I've included links that argue against this idea and in favor of focusing instead on economic class, and the economic distinctions within different groups that were categorized as the Precariat, and similarities between some of the Precariat and some of the Proletariat. Might I humbly suggest that these links from the FPP are also worth a read?

But, even if we consider socioeconomic class not merely economic class, let's look at this idea of "generational poverty". It was referred to in a comment above and has been cited on the blue before that there are different behavioral norms and different knowledge bases of different social classes - i.e. the idea of social class is a real thing, with groups of people distinguished by cultural variation, and having some power ranking between them (that is, some social classes having more power within society than others). And there's a connection between this and economic class divisions, where lack of knowledge of the dominate or elite culture can impede economic mobility as well as social mobility (the social and the economic are intricately tied together, as the term socioeconomic class implies).

The thing is, these cultural differences come into play as impediments to economic mobility when one is attempting a large change: attempting higher levels of higher ed (eg. at fancy private schools or in post-baccalaureate study) from a lower-middle-class/working class background, or attempting any higher ed from a much poorer background; seeking professional work from a non-upper-middle-class/professional class background. Less so for folks from a working class background going to community college and attempting a career in the trades or other traditional blue collar work, and even less so for folks from any working class or poor background entering (generally poorly-paid and shitty) service sector jobs. In fact, sometimes folks from upper middle class backgrounds are at a disadvantage for such jobs, because they don't know how to act in a sufficiently subservient fashion and get their entitled selves fired, or don't know how to stretch a dollar or other non-financial skills involved in keeping a roof over one's (and one's family's) head and food on the table when there simply isn't enough money. It's not socially valued the way that an upper class knowledge base is, but the working class or poor social classes also involve their own unique and valuable knowledge bases, skill sets, and, well, values. (Seriously, don't get me started on this upper middle class idea that saving up for retirement and ensuring one's own financial safety net is more important or more moral than helping others in the present and creating a social safety net of community connections.)

So as I see it, there is not a problem with people growing up in "generational poverty" and not knowing how to get and keep any old job. The problem is that the jobs available on this lower end are precarious labor, and are not going to be enough for anyone, no matter their cultural background or skill set, to work their way out of poverty.

In my experience, in fact, most of the people I know who come from poor backgrounds and have remained poor - those who could, economically, be described with the term "generational poverty" - do work hard, know how to get a job and keep one to the extent that jobs are available, and so do their parents. But the type of jobs they know how to get or do are those that pay sub-poverty wages, or are only seasonal, or both. They and their families may go through relatively more prosperous periods where, if not middle class, they are at least working class or lower middle class. But then, as Jack London phrases it, the Thing happens - an illness or injury, the vagaries of low-wage employers removing jobs from a community, environmental problems affecting seasonal resource industries that they work in. Or they get targeted by police for their race or class, end up with a criminal record for something minor, but then can't get work. Or the Thing happens to a family member whose safety net they are a part of.

In other words, not only does the face of (the economic category of) poverty look different than policy makers and the general public assume, but there is not necessarily this clear distinction between the "generationally poor" and those who move in and out of poverty over the course of a year or several years or a lifetime. And this group that moves in and out of poverty is not primarily people who are temporarily broke due to time-of-life, such as students with financially secure families and good post-graduation job prospects due to the socioeconomic connections of their financially secure families. In my experience.
posted by eviemath at 12:07 PM on July 3 [2 favorites]


But the type of jobs they know how to get or do are those that pay sub-poverty wages, or are only seasonal, or both.

This.

I remember sitting near a place that was providing a job assistance workshop, and the man in charge was shouting at the extremely low-income individuals there and essentially telling them to act like subservient nothings. Don't look employers directly in the eye, don't ever argue or "talk back", don't ask for anything, just take what they give you. And I was absolutely shocked - but it is probably right that in those really terrible jobs, that is what they want. But you're never going to come from that practice with the confidence to go for more middle class jobs, where they want to feel like you're at least a rough peer and they want you to challenge things and use mental labor. I could never get one of those jobs - but the jobs that I do know how to get are probably higher paying.
posted by corb at 12:59 PM on July 3


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