It can't happen here
September 5, 2015 8:31 PM   Subscribe

How over a million American families live on $2 per day, by Dylan Matthews, VOX

Kathryn Edin's (previously) and H. Luke Shaefer's new book, $2 A Day, is based on their paper Extreme Poverty in the United States, 1996 to 2011 [PDF] and reviewed in The Huffington Post, Mother Jones, and The New York Times

Living on $2 a day in America
Ashley and her relatives were lucky in that the government was at least helping out with a place to live, but they lacked that crucial ingredient for survival in America: cash. This extended family had spent the last few months on cash income so meager that it added up to less than $2 per person per day.

Their story is far from unique. In fact, we estimate that in 2011 there were 1.5 million households with 3 million children scraping by on cash incomes of no more than $2 per person per day, up 130% from 15 years earlier. That's about one of every 25 families with children living in a kind of poverty so deep that most Americans don't think it even exists here.
posted by the man of twists and turns (46 comments total) 62 users marked this as a favorite
 
Thank you for this post!
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 8:47 PM on September 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't want to go there and denounce Bill Clinton in crude sexual terms, but yeah, his legacy will forever be tainted by his so-called welfare reform.
posted by monospace at 9:20 PM on September 5, 2015 [18 favorites]


Selling plasma long term is terrible. Doing it twice a week for for an extended period leaves you feeling really worn out every day.
posted by Ferreous at 9:22 PM on September 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


Rae McCormack, after months and months of having nothing and being in very dangerous double-up situations, went in and applied for TANF, and her caseworker told her, "We don't have enough to go around for everyone. Come back next year." She took that as a no, but the caseloads in Ohio in particular are quite low.

It's your job to help Rae, caseworker! How can you lie and turn her away?
posted by Monochrome at 9:22 PM on September 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


Selling plasma long term is terrible. Doing it twice a week for for an extended period leaves you feeling really worn out every day.

doing it once fucking wipes out your day. I used to sell plasma in the morning and use the proceeds for a huge tex-mex meal and a liter bottle of whiskey. You can't do that for very long before you hit a wall.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 9:24 PM on September 5, 2015 [13 favorites]


I'm kind of depressed by how carefully they reassured at the end that they weren't advocating for cash benefit not tied to work. Oh no, not that!

:(
posted by R343L at 9:25 PM on September 5, 2015 [39 favorites]


How can you lie and turn her away?

Because this:
Part of that is a result of the way the program is structured. TANF is structured as a block grant. If the rolls are low, it makes it a lot easier for the states to meet the requirements of the program imposed by federal law, but they also can reallocate the money they don't spend on cash assistance to other things. Some states are just wholesale reallocating part of the money to things they were going to spend on otherwise.

Which was the thing that pissed me off more than anything else in the article (though it was a close call...).
posted by Weeping_angel at 9:26 PM on September 5, 2015 [26 favorites]


And doing god awful body killing work, like water damage remediation where you're exposed to mold, mildew and a shit ton of asbestos are common on the low end of jobs. You're trading years of your life for a pittance.
posted by Ferreous at 9:29 PM on September 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


> Bill Clinton can go fuck himself up the ass for all I care. There's a reason I don't want to vote for Hillary, but I will because I know the evils that lie ahead for those who have not even a pretense of giving a fuck for the poorest, at least Hillary has that.

At the time, Bill Clinton also gave a pretense of giving a fuck for the poorest - he convinced me at the time, but I was younger and dumber than I am now.

If you recall, Hillary not only participated whole-heartedly in Bill's welfare reform, she was pushing it as one of her accomplishments in the 2008 primaries.

If the policies described in this article bother you, voting for one of the architects of those policies because she is now pretending she didn't mean it seems like an odd idea to me.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:22 PM on September 5, 2015 [18 favorites]


I know people who manage to live in New York City on a small number of dollars per day. It's pretty amazing how little you can spend if you pay nothing for rent and dumpster dive. If you're young and healthy and have a community around you, it's something like a real life. But even in that best case it takes a toll. People age about two years for every year. At a certain point, you tend to pick up a case of something - a chronic disease, an addiction, a mental illness. If you don't have access to washing facilities, you start to get a permanent smell which even a shower can't fix. Your horizons become limited - your perceptions stunted.

It's disconcerting to talk to someone you think of as a generation older than you and realize that they are younger than you...

Forget about the human compassionate cost (which means nothing to the conservatives) - you're pissing away all the money society has invested in bringing this person to adulthood, and for nothing. It's institutionalized madness, and a sign of a sick society.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:29 PM on September 5, 2015 [24 favorites]


[Sorry folks, a couple comments deleted. Let's try to stay reasonably in bounds (vs youtube type comments) and avoid angry sexual insults that start derails about language / homophobia / talking or jokes about someone's specific sex life. Thanks.]
posted by taz (staff) at 10:32 PM on September 5, 2015


I don't so much have a problem tying cash benefits to work as not counting looking for work as being just as good as actually working/having recently worked. I'd be much happier with the program if rather than require people previously have had employment that we have them do public service one or two days a week (providing childcare as necessary to facilitate this, and assuming the applicant is able) and allow them to use the rest of the week to look for regular employment. I'd be even happier with a guaranteed minimum income, but there is no way you can sell that to Republicans. You can convince Republicans of the benefit of a different kind of "workfare". (I hate that term, but use it anyway since I don't have a better one at hand) Most of them don't have a problem with extending a helping hand, but they have been convinced that cash welfare without a work requirement is heavily abused, despite the evidence to the contrary.

TANF is broken, but as the article points out many times, the work requirement is the least of the ways in which it is broken. If states refuse to spend the money they are given for it on TANF and caseworkers discourage people from applying even when they should qualify, it doesn't matter how much money the federal government allocates to it or what qualifications are applied. If we can't do anything else, we can at least fix these problems so that at least some people can get the help they need.
posted by wierdo at 11:02 PM on September 5, 2015 [7 favorites]


Guess they should have worked harder. Why should I have to pay for these people to be lazy?*




*Actual sentiment of about 50% of the US electorate.
posted by jnnla at 11:04 PM on September 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


I don't want to go there and denounce Bill Clinton in crude sexual terms, but yeah, his legacy will forever be tainted by his so-called welfare reform.

Don't forget him pushing through free trade. It's just as responsible. All of these issues are connected like a jigsaw puzzle. This is ultimately how Republicans block everything, by disconnecting each problem and blocking any attempt at comprehensive solutions. Then after isolating and watering down the legislation, they gleefully point out it's lack of effectiveness as proof that tax dollars can't help.
posted by Beholder at 11:10 PM on September 5, 2015 [19 favorites]


We can't afford to help theae people. We're spending all our money keeping 2.2 million of their relatives behind bars.
posted by benzenedream at 12:36 AM on September 6, 2015 [18 favorites]


Man, I love my body-wreckin' job.

Being on welfare and/or just food stamps was really terrible. I don't really want to eloquently and passionately recap, here, but I've openly talked about it before.

I did donate plasma for a while, basically converting my free bus pass into drinkin', smokin' and laundry money, and sometimes you'd show up and fail out of the physical test and hemoglobin tests and waste your whole day. Or the lobby would be totally full and there was a 3 hour wait for 20-ish bucks.

The whole process was weirdly humiliating like being a human battery, some kind of blood-cow getting milked.

I don't really have a problem with needles, but you had to keep an eye on your techs sometimes and make sure they didn't fuck up, which was the most nerve wracking part of it after the check-in and physical pass.

But I personally and probably uniquely found it kind of interesting and invigorating, actually kind of refreshing, like I'd just worked out while laying there watching a movie.

I started using it intentionally just to lose weight and burn calories. It never made me feel faint or dizzy or weird or tired, if anything I felt more energetic. I hate eating breakfast anyway so I'd skip it entirely and roll into the donation center on cigarettes and coffee and not care about eating until much later

It did make me take a little better care of myself because you have these constant metrics and weight checks, and since I was overweight and high blood pressure my draw and return cycles tended to be pretty quick, but it also made it more likely I'd fail the BP/pulse side of the check in test.

Actually, doing plasma is what finally made me quit smoking and switch to e-cigs. Burning a cigarette right before a physical is a great way to spike your BP and heart rate.

They should, however, be paying a lot more for those plasma "donations". The companies that harvest plasma make gigabucks off the practice.
posted by loquacious at 1:30 AM on September 6, 2015 [9 favorites]


Holy. Fucking. Shit.
In fact, the welfare system in Mississippi pays so little that you actually qualify as $2-a-day poor if you're on welfare. It's $185 a month for a family of three with no other income.
Holy. Fucking. Shit.

And how much of that $185 is federal? Fuuuck. Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 1:44 AM on September 6, 2015 [19 favorites]


It's $185 a month for a family of three with no other income.

Damn.
Really, damn.
posted by Mezentian at 3:01 AM on September 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


We're spending all our money on

Unnecessary wars.
Unnecessary military equipment.
Unnecessary tax cuts for the rich.
Unnecessary corporate welfare.
Unnecessary war on drugs.

As Michael Moore has pointed out, America isn't broke. The money to pay for healthcare, education, social security, and infrastructure is there. It's just been stolen, and the thieves just happen to have more political influence than everyone else even though they represent an almost microscopic portion of the population. Funny how that works out.
posted by Beholder at 3:02 AM on September 6, 2015 [69 favorites]


Well the good news is that Mississippi is closer to parity with Bangladesh than I thought. As soon as things are equal the manufacturing jobs will come back -although, of course the people working will all be independent contractors and most of their income from selling completed products back to their supplier will be eaten up by the rental fees they have to pay for access to the factory where they have to do their work.
posted by Jane the Brown at 4:38 AM on September 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


As Michael Moore has pointed out, America isn't broke. The money to pay for healthcare, education, social security, and infrastructure is there. It's just been stolen, and the thieves just happen to have more political influence than everyone else even though they represent an almost microscopic portion of the population.

See, there really is some truth to the Republican rhetoric about the takers who realize they can get free money from the government, so they keep voting for politicians who give it to them. It's just that it's the super-rich who do that, not the destitute.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 5:36 AM on September 6, 2015 [31 favorites]


Clinton's welfare reform was the thing that made me go naaaah, fuck that guy, and it wasn't until the horror of GWB that I thought, 'could have been worse.'

We need another Bobby Kennedy.
posted by angrycat at 6:05 AM on September 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


People do sell food stamps/ cards for drug money. That's a genuine problem because that family then doesn't have food for the addict or the other family members, and the addict participates in the very damaging drug trade. But continuing to punish people years after the fact is unjust and ineffective. It's hard to get food stamps unless you're old or have kids, and it's not a very generous benefit. So here we are in our wealthy nation, tsk-ing at people who live such painful lives. Get an education! Whoops, that's out of your reach because education funding has been slashed and because the loans are usurious. Get a job! Whoops, you can't afford child care, and the job has a random schedule and barely pays enough to cover the gas money to get there, and there isn't public transportation.

The Haves just keep accruing more, and are able to insulate themselves from the Havenots, and they see the world through a soft, fuzzy filter of entitlement and self-congratulation. And the message to the Havenots is, increasingly, and louder, Fuck off.
posted by theora55 at 6:35 AM on September 6, 2015 [11 favorites]


reach because education funding has been slashed and because the loans are usurious.

Or, one that happened to several friends of mine, "oops, you don't deserve federal loans or grants because you literally ever did drugs and were caught with them. Because we can't be giving money to drug addicts, even if it was just weed!"

I feel like a lot of people don't know that, but yea, federal financial aid is completely cut off from you if you got caught with a dime bag.

Combine that with stuff like stop and frisk, and well...
posted by emptythought at 8:24 AM on September 6, 2015 [6 favorites]


We're spending all our money on

Unnecessary wars.
Unnecessary military equipment.
Unnecessary tax cuts for the rich.
Unnecessary corporate welfare.
Unnecessary war on drugs.

As Michael Moore has pointed out....


Actually, according to the OMB, we're spending most of our money on health and transfer payments (SS, welfare, pensions, etc.).

Which is not to applaud the waste of monies, efforts, and lives that go to your list.

As to whether we are solidly enough in the black (currently we are not) that we can keep up or even increase spending of whatever kind into the indefinite future, well, there are arguments against that, Michael Moore's polemics notwithstanding.

Interestingly, conservative Milton Friedman was an early proponents of a Negative Income Tax, and the Nixon White House tried to get it through Congress. (It was later watered down into the Earned Income Tax Credit, and yes, the one link is not enough to do justice to some complex politics, history, economics and policy on the issue. FPP, anyone?)
posted by IndigoJones at 8:29 AM on September 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Right, she's exchanging sex for food. That story is horrible by itself, but I think the thing that sets the Mississippi Delta apart is when it came to light that this happened, not only does that teacher not get criminally prosecuted, he isn't even forced to leave the school. After a lot of pushing he's not forced to stop being in the classroom. It's just a whole order of magnitude less in terms of anybody looking out for these families.

As to people selling food stamps for money: as the article points out, people do this because you need cash for things, whether school stuff for the kids, tampons, soap, anything you can't get on food stamps. Sometimes people do it for booze or drugs, but frankly I'm not going to tell someone who has the old boot stamping their human face forever that they're a criminal for buying a forty.

I know people who have sold food stamps for various reasons. I know people who have swapped food stamps straight up for cash, which is what most people do when they have family/friends who are more stable and are able to get enough to eat but just need to buy, say, tampons or advil.

That's what I want to emphasize: food stamps are only for food.

Another thing - these are the economies of the broke. When people have offered to sell me foodstamps, I have just bought them stuff out of my pocket. BUT that's because I am employed. Not everyone has an employed social network. AND it's humiliating for the person on benefits. People on benefits want to be able to pick up the tab once in a while just like a normal human, not always to be begging.

When Clinton proposed all this stuff, everyone who had any familiarity with social policy knew what would happen - you can look back at plenty of stuff that was published at the time. This wasn't a failure of knowledge, it was a willful move to take money from the vulnerable. And all that has happened since is that society has moved on to expropriating the poor and the merely middle class in ever greater ways. First they came for the welfare recipients, but we derived too much pleasure from contemplating their suffering to help; then they came for everyone else but the one percent, but it was too late.
posted by Frowner at 8:46 AM on September 6, 2015 [20 favorites]


It blows my mind how much *simply surviving* is a more than full time job for needy families. Getting the kids to school across town because the shelter you got into was 2 hours away by bus but the kids' school is the one constant in their lives so it's important. Getting to the food bank right when it opens because all the good shits gone in 20 minutes. Getting to the welfare office because your crappy $200 a month was taken away because one of a myriad of forms wasn't filed on time, or worse, misfiled. Getting to court because you missed your initial court date due to all of the above and instead of a vagrancy charge for sleeping in your car you are now threatened with jail time. And of course if you are going to jail, you need to find some relative willing to take the kids and do this on the down low because you *really* don't want CPS involved again. But that's hard to do because your government provided cell phone that came with 200 minutes a month is out of time because you spent 60 minutes on hold yesterday trying to see why your EBT card was denied. I guess getting to the plasma center to get some cash for the kids' school clothes is going to have to wait till tomorrow. Maybe there's still time to stop by the clinic before we need to get in line for the shelter because man, my stomach ulcer is really bothering me for some reason and my antidepressant is really not working.

Yeah, it's too bad these lazy people aren't even *looking* for work. I work hard, why can't they?
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 8:47 AM on September 6, 2015 [44 favorites]


we're spending most of our money on health and transfer payments (SS, welfare, pensions, etc.).

That's the problem. Some people consider transfer payments that are not. Pensions are not transfer payments. They are deferred earnings for work done. It is money taken out of a paycheck for retirement. The same is true of social security. Social security is somewhat progressive because low earners get a higher proportion of their earnings, but it is money taken out of paychecks for retirement, not a handout.
posted by JackFlash at 9:02 AM on September 6, 2015 [17 favorites]


I meant to post in the food stamp thread, sorry, the context is all off.
posted by theora55 at 9:03 AM on September 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


As to people selling food stamps for money: ... Sometimes people do it for booze or drugs.

Several states have imposed drug testing as a condition for welfare. Despite the high cost of drug testing, they have gotten positive drug tests on less than 1% of those applying for welfare. The state of Arizona tested 87,000 people over three years and got exactly one positive test.

The idea that druggies are taking all our welfare money is a nasty myth along the lines of Ronald Reagan "welfare queen." It it a hateful myth designed to generate hate for the poors.
posted by JackFlash at 9:13 AM on September 6, 2015 [23 favorites]


I say that some people sell food stamps for booze or drugs because I have known people to do so, and I don't think there's any point in lying about it. It's not what most people do, but it does happen, and I think it's much better to say that yes, in our society some people use drugs and drink, and some of those people are on food stamps. That way, we don't have any nasty surprises in the public discourse when this is discovered after we've pretended that no one on food stamps would ever do such a terrible, terrible thing.

A big underlying problem, to my mind, is our popular discourse that says that to deserve any kind of assistance or even justice in the courts, any non-rich person must be a virtual saint.
posted by Frowner at 9:24 AM on September 6, 2015 [20 favorites]


Its not just Mississippi. Syracuse NY is number one in the nation for black and hispanic poverty. 62% of blacks in Syracuse live in extreme poverty.
If you read the article's comments, try not to weep.
posted by SyraCarol at 10:16 AM on September 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


As to whether we are solidly enough in the black (currently we are not) that we can keep up or even increase spending of whatever kind into the indefinite future, well, there are arguments against that, Michael Moore's polemics notwithstanding.

Let's just undo all the millionaire and billionaire tax cuts since 1980. Then let's get out of the Middle East. Then let's slash our military by 50%. Then let's tax junk food and booze the same way we tax tobacco. Then let's stop throwing people in prison for non violent drug crimes. Then after we do all that, if we still can't afford to offer basic living conditions to all American citizens, I might reconsider your post.
posted by Beholder at 10:18 AM on September 6, 2015 [12 favorites]


Yeah, it's too bad these lazy people aren't even *looking* for work. I work hard, why can't they?

This was basically my cycle even when I was housed in Seattle. You were there for part of this, doc.

Many of you probably remember when I ended up in the ER with a collapsed lung while homeless a bit over five years ago. Several hundred mefites raised something like $6k to try to get me off the streets. Within a month $3,800 of it went in one check to pay for six months of rent plus deposit and first and last in a low income housing group building.

Along the lines someone decided arbitrarily that that money could only be used for rent. On the surface this is a wise, fine decision, but... not really, which I'll elaborate on as I go.

Later after the MeFi crowdfunding ran out I also ended up on Seattle's HEN program, which replaces the state/federal disability grant with a direct rent payment to my landlords, some help with utilities and basic cleaning supplies, a bus pass - but no cash, no cell phone assistance.

In both scenarios I was left to survive only with foodstamps and in a weird limbo place where I would lose or threaten my disability status by even attempting to look for work. The whole system was designed to punish you for trying to get enough money to move forward or seek work.

I tried anyway, scrapping together second-hand clothes and trying to raise enough money for laundry and other very basic needs just to try to show up at interviews.

Truth is even if I had landed a job it would have been difficult to afford to keep it, to be able to afford enough portable food, enough laundry to not show up to work looking/smelling like a hobo, even though I had housing I couldn't afford clean socks or laundry.

I spent so, so much time just in transport and waiting to make appointments. I did the math one day about how much waiting it took me to finally talk to a psychiatrist after a six month waiting list and we're talking dozens and dozens of hours of waiting, filling out forms, pre-interviews with case workers and more all for barely fifteen minutes of consultation time with a doctor that was tasked with trying to prescribe probably life-altering psychoactive drugs to a stranger with ongoing suicidal ideations that may be kicked into high gear by those very same drugs.

Yeah, there's nothing dangerous or fucked about that scenario at all.

And still, even trying to do everything right within the public health and safety net I still eventually lost the apartment. I kept falling in and out of the HEN and disability programs due to missing paperwork, appointments and such. I went through something like three or four cycles of extended pay-or-quits before finally getting fully evicted, which is fucked.

In a panic move I spent my last week or so there carefully sorting out my essential needs and packing and re-packing my bicycle, setting out in late fall to try to bike around the Olympics in Winter.

One half of me had wanted to do this for years, the other half was fully hoping and expecting that winter would kill me and solve all of my problems.

Instead I ended up finding a smaller town I absolutely fucking love, a minimum wage job I don't hate, that I'm good at and I've been off of food stamps since about last November.

But I'm stilll homeless and basically living on my bike and camping while working, and even this doesn't suck, either. Around here it's practically a badge of honor and a rite of passage, not a shameful, terrible thing. People are full on pioneer pirate wood nymphs around here, and I fit in like I might have actually died and gone to heaven.

Still not sure about that one. I'm afraid that if I try to leave just to visit friends in Seattle it'll all come crumbling down like the Truman Show, heh.

And what basic self sufficiency I've managed to accomplish here is a fucking miracle, very unique and not usually how my story of biking off into the sunset with no known destination or plan is supposed to end, or how it usually ends.

Sure, I've put in my hard work, but 90% of it has just been dumb luck and being in the right place at the right time and always saying yes willing to work my fucking tail off for it, but this is not a lift yourself by your own bootstraps story.

It took some financial help from friends to help me transition into working. It took me being childless and single and in relatively good shape, not to mention ever increasingly better mental health due to my drastically new and rewarding environment. It took me being very intelligent and well-spoken to be personable enough to do my job and overcome appearances, which thankfully are less important in this smaller town.

It took a lot of small details and a major attitude shift all lining up with one lucky break and running hard with that break.

Our public health care system is so deeply fucked I'm utterly terrified I'm going to be sucked back into it. I'd rather muck out cesspools than have to sit and wait for hours in the dingy lobby of a health/social services office ever again.

I have money in my pocket and my bank account. It's all mine. I earned it. The food I buy tastes sweeter. I have a day off and I'm about to go buy some basic work pants and carefully re-invest a little bit in myself, then I'm going to take some of my filthy tip money to my favorite local bar and restaurant and have someone else make me some very nice food and a couple of cocktails, maybe buy a round for some friends, and they will be sweet and guilt-free, too.

And, yeah, this story is unfortunately far too unique. It took a catastrophic panic survival move for me to break free and I could have only done it childless and solo. Not everyone would be able to do what I've done. I've learned that my skills and drive are probably much stronger than average when put to the test and this is the most valuable thing I own.
posted by loquacious at 11:12 AM on September 6, 2015 [85 favorites]


America is hell. There are other countries which treat their poor worse, much worse, but at least they don't pretend to care. In America, we claim we care, but the truth is that we turn social services into some sort of dystopian game loaded with traps and obstacles with the tantalizing prospect of help always out of reach, always just one hurdle away, and I'm reminded of the Texas mother who killed herself, and her two children, because she could no longer endure the stress of feeding her kids day to day with no guarantee that the help would be there tomorrow. America is hell.
posted by Beholder at 11:54 AM on September 6, 2015 [13 favorites]


Frowner: A big underlying problem, to my mind, is our popular discourse that says that to deserve any kind of assistance or even justice in the courts, any non-rich person must be a virtual saint.

More precisely, and per the comment I made in the other thread, it's the belief that every non-rich person must be a virtual saint in order for anyone to deserve assistance.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:04 PM on September 6, 2015 [6 favorites]


Thanks for the story loquacious. I live in a small community near Vancouver BC, which is prohibitively expensive for almost everyone who lives there, let alone anyone with an addiction or other mental illness or physical disability.

In our small community, despite being mostly wealthy, we have a number of people living openly with mental illnesses like schizophrenia, debilitation OCD, bipolar and addiction. We have a number of people who live rough, on leaky boats, or in the bush too.

And something about the intimacy of these folks - we all know them by name, we can hire them from time to time, give them the space they need, make sure our little food bank is stocked, help repair their small structures, drive them to appointments...

Small towns are probably not everyone's idea of idyllic situations, but having a place where you belong is very important, because it makes getting help easier, especially when the state has no interest in helping you out.

I remember talking to a friend who spent two decades working in refugee camps in eastern Africa. He was struck by the incredible frequency of the first question that all newcomers to the camps asked. Overwhelmingly, they asked not about their material needs, food or shelter or even about first aid. The most common question asked by people with PTSD and health issue who had escaped violence or drought was this:

"Is my family here? Are my friends here? Are there people from my village here?" If the answer was Yes to that question, their chance of survival was many times greater than if the answer was no, despite their state of mental and physical health.

I'm glad you're doing better loquacious, and glad you have the means and time to share this story with us all. Your little community is lucky to have you.
posted by salishsea at 12:15 PM on September 6, 2015 [9 favorites]


The Haves just keep accruing more, and are able to insulate themselves from the Havenots, and they see the world through a soft, fuzzy filter of entitlement and self-congratulation. And the message to the Havenots is, increasingly, and louder, Fuck off.

Even worse is that the Haves work to enact policies that create even more Have-Nots. America is a cynical game of Last Man Standing writ large on a national level.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:56 PM on September 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


In terms of human dignity, parts of the US South (such as the Missisippi Delta in the article) come across as barely above a US prison (and probably well below the prison systems of several European countries).
posted by acb at 3:46 PM on September 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'd be much happier with the program if rather than require people previously have had employment that we have them do public service one or two days a week (providing childcare as necessary to facilitate this, and assuming the applicant is able) and allow them to use the rest of the week to look for regular employment.

I would be perfectly happy to have welfare require people who are capable and no in school to do public service two days a week or five days a week, so long as they call it and treat it like what it is: Give these people a job. That means minimum wage laws, laws about time off and benefits and sick leave and parental leave etc. all apply. If there's a public workers union, then obviously these people are part of the union. If there isn't a union, they need to be paid the same as any other public servant, regardless.

I'm not ok with requiring people to do work for crap benefits that add up to $185/month and then using their labour to eliminate a well-paid public service job.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 6:33 PM on September 6, 2015 [14 favorites]


In terms of survival strategies, we documented the importance of the charitable sector and vital public spaces like public libraries. But we also show that these are disproportionately available in places with the most overall resources. There is a lot more available from the charitable sector in Chicago than there is in the Mississippi Delta.

It feels like I am always hearing criticisms of poor people moving to or staying in expensive places, but this gets at why it can make sense -- there are more resources there and more opportunities, compared to staying in a cheaper but poorer place.

Oftentimes these families often do have challenges that require jobs with a little give, and there are precious few jobs like that. In the old times, when you had a rich employer-employee relationship, someone might drive over and give Rae McCormick a ride to the Walmart, or might give her an advance on her next check so she can put more gas in her truck. That kind of relationship between the employer and employee is rarer and rarer.

Those old-style paternalistic employer/employee relationships had their advantages, but also came with no OSHA protections, no minimum wage, and no protections from sexual abuse. I don't think I would look to them as a model. Where you do still see that kind of flexibility is in many white-collar professional jobs, where you can "take a long lunch" or go to an appointment without anyone tracking your hours, things that are completely impossible for most people (and increasingly, are out of reach for many middle class people as well). That kind of flexibility is tremendously important in solving the most minor of issues before they become larger and more complicated, and it is really wrong that it is out of reach for almost everyone.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:56 PM on September 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


If I only had a penguin: Totally agreed regarding not eliminating existing public employees by using people on welfare. I don't really see the need to go quite as far as you do, although I do agree that the work should be compensated at better than minimum wage. After all, in that scenario they are getting the cash benefits to fall back on. I do agree that any public service requirement should come with exceptions for extenuating circumstances and allow for at least four weeks a year of not participating for whatever reason, including just "I want to take a vacation!"

I don't think that it should be a full public sector job with all the job protections thereof since it would theoretically be a temporary thing, with some structured way to move on to normal employment at some point. However, I do agree that exploiting people for $185 a month is not what we need to be doing.

Personally, I don't actually give a shit if someone wants to be a layabout getting poverty level cash assistance, housing, and food benefits. It isn't a pleasant existence subsisting on that amount of money, so chances are if someone is doing that they have health issues or other circumstances (that we would ideally help them with also) keeping them from gainful employment. But even if it is 100% choice, I can't believe the numbers would be high enough to be more than a drop in the bucket. The fact of the matter is that most people want to work and feel useful.
posted by wierdo at 8:44 PM on September 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Wierdo, I sort of see where you're coming from and had some thoughts along the same line myself -- about these jobs not having the same protections in terms of permanence, so people could be moved off the jobs if their situation changed such that in the absence of that job they would no longer need welfare.

Then I changed my mind about that because I was thinking about what "temporary" would mean, and it seems to me that it would mean "until they no longer needed welfare." Why would it be the case that "in that absence of that job they wouldn't need welfare?" Well, it would probably be because they got another job. People who get another job will quit anyway; you don't need to build in a loophole that allows you to lay them off more easily because when they find something better, they'll leave on their own. And if there is nothing better, well maybe something needs to be done about that and at least it would be clear that it's not this person's "fault." somehow that there are no better jobs.

And as far as it not being a full-on-public-sector job, the problem with it not being that is that if it's not a full-on job then it would cost the state less to quasi-hire someone who would be on welfare than it would to have a proper public servant. And if it costs the state less, then they're going to want as many welfare recipients as possible to replace as many full-on public servants as possible. So we're back to eliminating well-paid jobs and replacing them with crappy jobs.

The other benefit I can see here is that it might well force private employers to up their game: I mean let's just say every right-winger's nightmare comes true and people decide "hey, if I go on welfare I can get a cushy job for the government! I'm going to quit my job cleaning bathrooms at the gas station for minimum wage, no benefits and no protections and go get myself a cushy government job!!" If the gas station wants it's washrooms cleaned, then it's going to need to offer a living wage.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:46 PM on September 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


I doubt it would have such an effect on employers. All the right wing needs to do is amp up the noise machine about how welfare is un-American, and employers continue then have a pool of potential employees who would rather be exploited than go on welfare. Plus the already-existing pool of people who want to be paid under the table for whatever reason. A universal basic income is the only way to push wages up like that, I think.

I'm continually appalled by how little we in North America give to people on welfare and/or disability. How people can look at some struggling parent who cannot even feed their child and go "yep, that's good. That's what they deserve" is beyond me, and I'm an asshole. All people, sinners or saints, deserve a decent roof over their heads, a decent meal on the table, clothes on their backs, and ideally some sort of purpose in life. We need to do better, partly because it's the right thing to do, and partly because every time in history there's this level of inequality, violence follows.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:06 PM on September 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


I remember those days. I'm still low income, but I remember those days well.

I clearly remember being in 6th grade. Our teacher asked us to bring in egg cartons. Except I didn't eat at home very often. Sometimes my only meal was the school lunch. And eggs were expensive. More expensive than the frozen dinners that only cost $1 and you could eat every day.

Days passed. My teacher started getting irritated. She gave me the look that was usually reserved for lazy students. Then weeks passed, and I got plain ol' ignored. Finally, I asked a neighbour for an egg carton and got one just as the assignment was almost over.

I can still remember my teacher's angry glare.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 11:18 PM on September 6, 2015 [7 favorites]


I don't want to go there and denounce Bill Clinton in crude sexual terms, but yeah, his legacy will forever be tainted by his so-called welfare reform.

And his "violent crime" reform, and his sentencing reform, and his drug law reform, and ......
posted by blucevalo at 9:00 AM on September 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


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