universality and targeting

I ran across this LA Times article today, about (formerly) middle-class workers who have lost their jobs and are shocked to discover that their families don't qualify for most public benefit programs.  In many cases it's because with unemployment benefits, their incomes are still too high to qualify for food stamps or cash assistance; in other cases, they would qualify based on income, but have too much assets — especially cars — to qualify.

I don't know whether this makes those rejected for benefits more or less supportive of these programs.  I can imagine some people thinking "gee, if I can't live on this, how can people live on far less?" and supporting expansion and other people thinking "well, if these programs won't help me when I really need it, what good are they?" and supporting cuts.

Since the Recovery Act passed, I've been spending a lot of my time at work writing about the temporary assistance (TANF) provisions and trying to convince states to use that money to expand benefits for the neediest families.  It's been a tough sell.  Even though any increases would be 80 percent federally funded, state budgets are so tight that in many cases, they're saying they can't find the 20 percent.  And states are nervous about expanding programs with money that is designed to be temporary, because it's always hard politically to cut services back later.  I'm frustrated, but I get it — I know how hard it is to sell any expansion of "welfare."

That said, I'm really shocked by how hard it is in some states, including Virginia, to get the unemployment insurance expansions passed.  For those who believe that welfare is bad, but contributory social insurance, like social security, is good, UI should fall on the "good" side of that divide — it's based on wages and subject to a history of employment. The fact that it's still under fire makes me somewhat more skeptical about the claims that making programs universal will protect them from being attacked as "welfare."

27 Responses to “universality and targeting”

  1. carosgram Says:

    It is amazing to me what people think are essentials. Most of the programs to help people are set up to ensure that no one starves, not so they can continue to live a lifestyle they never could afford. If you aren’t able to save 10 – 20% of your income you are trying to live a lifestyle you cannot afford. Oh, and as my grandfather told me, savings means cash – not stocks, bonds, or credit cards. Not everyone gets to take vacations, buy clothes in the latest styles, have more than 3 outfits in their wardrobes, eat out at restaurants, see cable tv, have cell phones, have the internet in their homes with personal computers, have a car, etc. What many people take as necessary are really luxuries and unemployment benefits were not designed to provide them. Neither were welfare benefits. I remember my grandparents telling me how they used to rent out their bedrooms to other people during the depression. It enable them to keep their house and for the other people to have shelter. Maybe people need to be thinking about those choices rather than expecting the state to provide more than the bare essentials.

  2. Amy P Says:

    “That said, I’m really shocked by how hard it is in some states, including Virginia, to get the unemployment insurance expansions passed.”
    Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t it true that self-employed people are not eligible for unemployment? If so, it may be the case that the people suffering worst in the current economy are not eligible for unemployment benefits: realtors, contractors, etc.

  3. bj Says:

    “I can imagine some people thinking “gee, if I can’t live on this, how can people live on far less?” and supporting expansion and other people thinking “well, if these programs won’t help me when I really need it, what good are they?” and supporting cuts.”
    I’m pretty sure that most people would go with #2. I think carosgram is right that the programs are supposed to provide a baseline, but people think that they deserve more than a baseline — that they worked hard to set up a certain life, and that if they get thrown for a loop (and the family profiled has been, with two recession-related job losses, an unlikely diagnosis of cancer, and significant medical care — that wouldn’t have been possible, perhaps even if they lived somewhere other than next to MD Anderson, and certainly if they’d lived in a different time), they should have help.
    But the loop that family has been thrown into isn’t necessarily one that we can realistically help with, unless we vastly expand health care coverage (and yes, I support a vast expansion). They’ve already received 2M in benefits, just for their son, from a policy that they paid $400/month (let’s say, for 20 years, 400X12X20=96K). 96K does not have an expected value of 2M. I don’t know what it would cost to provide that level of coverage for every American, but it would be expensive, and it would really have to be universal, because if there was any tendency to pay into the system only as necessary, it would fall apart.

  4. lisa Says:

    My partner was laid off from 05-07. There is a law here that exempts small employers from UI-so he didn’t get compensation. Despite never having made more that 40k in his whole career (lots of overseas development work) he lived on savings and odd jobs for 18 months and even paid $500/month for health insurance. He moved in with me mid 07 and got a new job late 07-but he was always self supporting.
    Me, I save 12% (it was more, before adoption expenses), but I have a mortgage and 2 kids-I would need the UI to hold it together for more than a few months.
    As a nonprofit manager, I have been laid off a few times in my career and never qualified for more than UI. Other programs turned me down even in desperate times-no kids, no substance abuse, graduate level education-the intake people practically rolled their eyes at me.
    We did receive a large donation last fall from a woman who stopped by our office on her way home after being laid off. She said “I can afford to ride this out, but lots of people can’t. I want to help.”
    So, my thoughts are mixed.

  5. amy Says:

    Amy P,
    Yes, you’re correct — if you’re self-employed, then unless you’ve paid self-employment taxes on your own behalf, you’re ineligible. Some states are experimenting with the definition of “contractor” v. “employee”, which is well-meant, but can have fairly disastrous effects for telecommute workers — all it’ll mean is that companies will cherrypick states in which to hire contractors.
    I’ve never claimed unemployment — just never thought of it before, though I’ve been eligible. My usual mode has been to live inexpensively and, when a job ends, go get another one (or three), or make one. I find that most people really don’t know how to jobhunt aggressively or become entrepreneurs.
    Elizabeth, as you know, I’m no great fan of blithe expansions of “neediest” spending because the culture of social services at retail level so fetishizes need and is, perversely, resentful of the able. But keep in mind that UI isn’t really a universal benefit. It pays out only if you’re unemployed from loss of the least enterprising work. I bet that if you look at how the unemployment numbers shake out, it’s those with least education, fewest skills, and the greatest tendency towards lack-of-doing-for-self who’re hardest hit. At this point most of my (overeducated) friends are employed, even though a local client who employed a few dozen of them just went bust. They up and started working the freelance contacts, while aggressively jobhunting, and most of them now have solid gigs that’ll tide them over the next few months. Some of those gigs actually pay better than their salaried jobs did, monthly.
    I think most of the gimlet eye you’re getting there has to do with two things: One, the fact that people in general do one hell of a lot of whining; and two, the fact that we’re broke. Brokety broke broke broke. So save the (nonexistant) money for those who genuinely cannot make it despite knocking themselves out trying.
    I also think we have already paid for a gigantic UI plan in the form of the gigonza stimulus package, anyway; I notice that university hiring’s starting to thaw, so I imagine the (watered-down) money’s hitting other capillaries, too.
    Lisa, I have a mortgage and one kid, and I pay about $450/mo out of pocket for dynamite health insurance. I was continuously employed freelance from my return to work in ’06 until February, after which I started jobhunting aggressively and putting together a couple of small businesses. Those businesses are on hold now while I take care of some of the best and most lucrative freelance jobs I’ve had. They should let me replenish some savings. Back in November, I also hedged hard by putting away a year’s worth of food and cutting other expenses wherever possible. And I’m still hedging; the networking and apps haven’t stopped, and the peppers and tomatoes are looking good. Like the song says, I’m no superman. But I’ve been making it work.

  6. urbanartiste Says:

    I wonder what the threshold will be for a state to be forced to extend unemployment benefits and other types of public services. This is extreme, but will it take mass homelessness, street pandering, a significant rise in crime, abandoned neighborhoods, etc?
    One thing that concerns me is middle class people with some level of higher education needing public assistance; where will that leave low-wage workers? Low-wage workers struggle to save and many don’t even consider higher ed to aquire skills to move into the middle class. There are so many other factors, particularly a lack of family support system due to many baby boomers having to work well past the age of retirement.
    I was laid while in college from a very good paying job and took unemployment insurance. Another time a company was trying to get rid of part-timers and laid me off and I claimed unemployment. Both times the assistance was helpful and I quickly found work. I believe very few people want to be on lifetime public assistance. Most people would rather make more money and have a better standard of living. The main question is how can people aquire better skills or education to get better jobs. People are not always equipped with the all the information or with the skills to aquire the information.
    Some people within my family were on welfare upon emigrating to the United States and they hated it. (This was when Clinton made people clean highways if they were getting a welfare check. They did not mind working, but felt that there should have been more variety of jobs. That probably was not possible, but for those people with low-skills it could help them aquire some diverse skills.) Welfare was necessary to help them transition into American society. The only reason they were able to get off of welfare is because they came to this country very highly educated and once English was learned and exams passed for their profession, they were on their way to very lucrative salaries. I don’t think that is the norm for most on welfare. They have since paid back in taxes more than they ever took from welfare.
    I just dislike the scornful attitude towards those on public assistance – it is so 1980s Reagan republican.

  7. jim Says:

    But people don’t believe that some redistributory programs are good and some bad. In general, people “on the right” believe they’re all bad. They just use different arguments against different programs: Social Security is a Ponzi scheme, AFDC enables welfare queens in Chicago to ride Cadillacs and UI extensions are just unaffordable.

  8. Amy P Says:

    “I wonder what the threshold will be for a state to be forced to extend unemployment benefits and other types of public services. This is extreme, but will it take mass homelessness, street pandering, a significant rise in crime, abandoned neighborhoods, etc?”
    You can’t have both these things all at the same time–mass homelessness and abandoned neighborhoods. Even now, there are stories in the press about squaters moving into abandoned homes, sometimes aided by community groups. The banks have been moving very slowly on foreclosures.
    Also, if the US falls into the sort of chaotic situation you describe 1) there won’t be any cash money for more social services 2) no one is going to be willing to lend the US government money on favorable terms and 3) no one will be able to lend the US government money. We can just start printing money in the situation you describe, but then we go Zimbabwe.

  9. Amy P Says:

    “They just use different arguments against different programs: Social Security is a Ponzi scheme, AFDC enables welfare queens in Chicago to ride Cadillacs and UI extensions are just unaffordable.”
    But there does come a point beyond which it doesn’t make sense to extend unemployment. If you’ve been unemployed for more than a year, maybe it’s time for some major life changes–career choice, region, etc.

  10. amy Says:

    “But people don’t believe that some redistributory programs are good and some bad. In general, people “on the right” believe they’re all bad.”
    Not so, which is why so many of them engage in substantial voluntary redistribution. They write checks to charities they believe will use the money well, pay for other people’s children to go to college, and help needy neighbors.
    The problem is the involuntary redistribution programs. My experience in serving on a board funding social service agencies is that a sense of entitlement to salary lines (and program funding) grows up with lighting speed, and that there develop both a remarkable blindness to the idea that there are any other priorities and a near-messianic sense of Doing Good, which means that of course this work is most important, and everyone else is grasping and petty. The myopia is extraordinary. Then the salaried actively look for ways to expand the mission of giving other people’s money away. At retail level…well, I live in a pretty straight-arrow kind of place, and even here, the ethical and legal breaches I’ve seen in trying to shepherd bodies into programs do take the breath away.
    All this I’m not so keen on.
    In general I prefer volunteer-run agencies that operate professionally and stay close to donors. They tend not to take the money for granted. If the management gets sketchy, you can move your money to an organization that does better.

  11. amy Says:

    bj, you say you were laid off, took unemployment, and quickly found work again.
    This is exactly the sort of situation I would want to avoid feeding more UI money to, esp. when we don’t have the money to feed. You found work quickly. Odds are you’d have been able to get by without the UI until then if you’d had to. You’d have borrowed from friends or family, sold things, stalled the landlady. It wouldn’t have been any fun, but you’d have managed.

  12. urbanartiste Says:

    Amy, I had lived paycheck to paycheck and was unable to borrow money from family. Sold things – not much to sell, I was 19. I chose to go to city college and my parents were paying for it, money they had saved, but if something happened to them I would have dropped out. People who don’t have money usually don’t come from money! When I moved out I had a crate of belongings, that is it. I get it – life sucks and we should all just deal with it, but I hope to have a little more empathy for other people.
    That is why I brought up my immigrant family, the money they saved in their homeland was just to get here and they had little support financially. These programs may have gotten out of control, but there was a reason they were implemented.
    “The world is long on judgment and short on understanding. Judging is easy and self-satisfying. Understanding requires perspective, experience, and empathy.”

  13. urbanartiste Says:

    Just wanted to add that the disdain for public assistance is very convenient when applied to financial issues and labour. Apply this theory to say, a food supply collapse and I bet the same hands that are against public assistance would be in line for bread. And please, don’t say it is unrealistic, it has happened before in this country and global warming, 30+ years of pesticides and bee colony collapse were not even in the equation.
    The negative view of government aid and emphasis on people’s responsibility of work is a very socialist idea. There were legal penalties for those who took a day off of work in the former U.S.S.R. and I have been told by family members that were former refugees. There should be a balance of course and in my experience taking a day off for the flu is a luxury.

  14. amy Says:

    bj, had you gotten desperate, at 19 you’d have gone home to them, found a job, and eventually found your way back into school. I am sorry to sound so hard. But look up, and see the state of the nation. The money is not there. It hasn’t been there for a long, long time. You’re going to start hearing fights in the news about inflation, about inflation policy. And that’s because there is tremendous political pressure to ignore, for now — oh, just for now! — the way that inflation can ravage a country, very quickly. When there isn’t enough silver to sell, when even the loan sharks are getting cagy, what a nation does is to start running the presses. Then the story goes fast and doesn’t usually end well.
    There’s still a lot to lose, and it’s rare. What we take for granted here, even in a time like this, is rare and loseable. Nationhood is just one form of poker.
    I was also broke and unemployed at 19 — actually I’d just turned 20. I was done with school, had never heard of unemployment insurance, and in any case my last job had been a temporary gig in England. I wasn’t allowed to move home and there were no handouts from home, and Chainsaw Al was on the loose, cutting 20,000 jobs here, 15,000 jobs there. So I busted my ass and stayed receptive to luck, and tried not to walk around much in the rain. Two years later I catapulted myself out of the rust belt and never looked back. It was a horrible experience and I’m very serious about not repeating it, esp. with a child here.
    I have mementos from that time. An extravagant department-store mug bought for $6, a Keith Haring poster from a US-USSR summit, two prints, a broken nose, a copy of the magazine I published, record of Rhapsody in Blue taken (with permission) from the music library I managed for a while. The prints are on the wall opposite me now. Back then there was an art store downtown and I used to go in and browse, and at some point I decided that my fuck-you to poverty would be to become an art collector. So I found the best things there and arranged to pay for them three dollars, five dollars at a time. Nevermind that I didn’t have health insurance and was fixing my shoes with duct tape. Then when I’d paid off the prints I paid again to have them framed. It was a regular Rumer Godden story. The prints are OK, nothing great, art-school teacher stuff. The frame jobs are cheap. Frankly, it’s a little depressing sometimes, looking at them. But they measure distance and they’re from a very real part of my life — and also, they’re not bad. Not too good, but not bad.
    Maybe I should buy some better art I can’t afford.
    I was two generations from the immigrant family, who also had nothing. I understand poverty, though not poverty with children; I haven’t been there and hope never to be. I understand disability, physical and mental. But I also appreciate broke and the value of global primacy, not to mention the value of this constitutional experiment. This country does not exist in a vacuum, and what holds it up in the world, primarily, is money. Just like every top nation before it.
    But I’ve said all this before here.

  15. Amy P Says:

    “…when even the loan sharks are getting cagy…”
    Down at the retail level, that’s roughly what’s happening. I’ve seen a number of news stories saying that pawnshop owners have lots of stuff right now. What they don’t have is buyers, so they need to be careful about what items they lend on.

  16. jen Says:

    I’m struck by the fact that people seem to have different ideas of the goal behind unemployment insurance. Is it to help people minimize disruptions in their lives, so they can return to employment quickly? Or is it to keep people from starving?
    In my opinion bj’s use of unemployment is exactly the purpose of unemployment — to make the unemployment experience minimally disruptive to the economy as a whole. When people lose jobs, walk out on leases or mortgages on very short notice, relocate multiple times within a year in order to live with relatives while they put it all back to gether — these are bad things. These leave the landlords in the lurch, make educating any involved children very difficult, and stress our social infrastructure. Much better to give people enough to get by on for a few months until they’re over the crisis.

  17. Imee Says:

    This bothers me. It’s good that there’s programs to help people out, but… Is it just me, or are more and more people becoming DEPENDENT on these programs rather than using them just for TEMPORARY AID…?

  18. bj Says:

    Oops, I’ve lost who did successfully use unemployment insurance and then found work, but it wasn’t me. I have, in general, lived a life of pretty extreme privilege, and at 19, was supported by family & grants to go to school full time, followed by summer “fellowship” appointments where I got to do cool things while charitable foundations and others paid my salary. I can’t claim any personal knowledge of how unemployment works (for good or ill).
    I do think that example (which should be attributed to someone else? urbanartiste?) does raise interesting questions about unemployment insurance — i.e. is it to keep you on your feet so that while you’re looking for a job you don’t start a spiral of downward mobility(i.e. loosing a car, house, health) that then makes you permanently unemployable? and, is it “insurance” (i.e. you pay into it so that you can collect on it if something catastrophic — job loss — happens, or is job loss likely, and thus it’s really a forced savings plan?).
    I think the worry about dependency is the same old worry, we always have when we see people in need during periods of distress. Isn’t that what welfare reform, and especially, it’s support by the DNC (non-liberal democrats) was about? I suspect that there is a real group of people who are dependent, who cannot work or support themselves under any circumstances. Some of these will be suffering from mental health or physical issues that make them unsuitable workers. I think we haven’t figured out how we will deal with that group as a society. I think here’s another group in a gray range who are employable when times are good, and employers need to reach deep into the labor pool, but loose their jobs when times are tough. They are the less educated, less reliable, . . . . They’re behavior might be influenced by the demands we place on them, but it’s all a big cost/reward maximization game, and we can never be sure what the cost for a particular individual is to be able to do a particular job.

  19. urbanartiste Says:

    What is wrong with taking a short-term unemployment check once or twice in a lifetime when one has paid pretty high taxes. If government did not have so much wasteful spending maybe there would be some money in a surplus to help people in a job-loss time and prevent them from moving from unemployment to a welfare check.
    Disability, social security and medicare are some programs that are vacuuming out money from the system. Most of the people I know that are unemployed for over a year and unemployment benefits have ended are living on home equity, not a smart move. These are people not part of the subprime mess and could easily move into welfare. Which is less expensive in the long run – unemployment or welfare? The people I feel the most sympathy for are boomers too young to retire, do not possess the new technology skills and have physical ailments that prevent them from doing low-wage work. I have seen countless seniors behind registers struggling to stand up, but have to work due to lost retirement benefits.
    The big problem, which will not be solved by unemployment, is that many of these jobs are gone and if new industries are not created many will remain out of work for a long time.

  20. bj Says:

    “Is it just me, or are more and more people becoming DEPENDENT on these programs rather than using them just for TEMPORARY AID…?”
    So, I’m guessing that this is not true, based on the welfare reform, that benefits are pretty limited in time, and do not offer long term support. Elizabeth?

  21. Amy P Says:

    “What is wrong with taking a short-term unemployment check once or twice in a lifetime when one has paid pretty high taxes.”
    Unemployment in the state of Oregon is now 12% (that’s apparently second worst in the country, just behind Michigan). There are 18 states with 9% unemployment or higher. Anyway, that level of unemployment could easily destabilize a state, high taxes or no high taxes. Remember, the more unemployed people there are, the less revenue is flowing in to the state government.

  22. amy Says:

    bj, they’re designed to offer short-term support, and they’re supposed to be paid for with premiums collected in the form of taxes from employers. (Why employees are not asked to contribute I don’t understand.) It becomes long-term when people go to members of Congress saying “Hey, you have to extend it. Throw some tax/borrowed/fresh-printed money in there.”

  23. amy Says:

    “What is wrong with taking a short-term unemployment check once or twice in a lifetime when one has paid pretty high taxes.”
    Bah, my post vanished. urbanartiste, what’s wrong is that we don’t have the money. If you and your employer want to insure your income, I say terrific, go for it. Pay those premiums. And let the law go after any insurer who fails to pay out as agreed. But to print up more money, or borrow more, no. There are some who are truly unable; fine. But printing up money or borrowing to save people from tapping savings? That’s incredibly short-sighted.
    If new industries are not created one could, you know, invent some businesses. I don’t see why you have to sit around and wait for other people to invent these things and create the jobs for you. Even artists have markets. Finland’s managed to do a hell of a job marketing design to the rest of the world.
    As for boomers too young to retire, with physical ailments, etc: In 2000 I had a disability that prevented me from working enough to support myself. I was in chronic pain, couldn’t sit for more than a few minutes at a time, couldn’t carry much. So I went back to school part-time (I cut up my textbooks and carried only a few pages at a time in a lightweight plastic briefcase, and stood through lectures or lay on the lecture-room floors; one prof brought in a Thermarest for me), got a forgiving part-time student job in a computing center, built some setups that let me work on computers while standing, sitting, and lying down, and taught myself to build websites. I then built a commercial website related to my schooling that made money; I was able to work on it whenever I was physically able to work — at home, at my job, anywhere on campus. You will also find among the states programs supporting disabled people who are trying to work — they offer assistive technology and other supports that allow them to run their own home-based businesses.
    One of my daughter’s favorite bedtime stories, btw, was about her great-grandfather, whom I wish she’d been able to meet. My grandfather had a bad hip and a habit of work, and he wasn’t inclined to pay attention to things that stopped him from working. He was not an educated man; he built up and ran grocery stores, and he’d be up at 3 am or so to go to the fish and veg markets. The result was an emergency hip replacement and a cadre of people attempting to tie him down afterwards so he wouldn’t go back to work too soon. (This was in the days before physical therapy and getting the patient up and around.) This proved impossible, and the result was that he limped around with a cane forever. He didn’t care; he figured he was already old; he just wanted to get back to work.
    There’s a big difference between generosity and encouraging people to give up too easily.

  24. dave.s. Says:

    Both AmyP and not-P Amy are tending towards the castor oil, here. And Imee is in the same camp. I’m kind of a castor oil guy, myself, but I also think you can go too far with it. How do you rescue people in trouble without giving lots of people permission to act irresponsibly? And how do you ensure that the innocent children of irresponsible people don’t get destroyed, starve, etc.?
    Workhouses, and nasty invasive individuals as the gatekeepers and dispensers of poor relief, and humiliation-shame, and barely-adequate doles are one strategy, and it has kept the caseloads down where tried. It’s maybe the Victorian England – Mississippi – Utah strategy. VEMUS. Has benefits: lots of people strive to stay out of the clutches of the welfare system, and take dreadful jobs to do it, and then work hard to get into better ones. Has drawbacks: kids who have come up through it feel bad about it. They don’t get orthodontia. You probably lose human potential, when a kid whose parents were not making it and who could have made a success of college doesn’t do it, but instead accepts the first plausible offer of marriage or cohabitation to get out of his/her rough family situation. Here’s a story I hadn’t thought about in years, came to mind last week: friend of mine in the late 70s told me this story of her grandmother, family was eager to get out of the shtot and go to America, they had no money. She was a cute little thing, 13, and there was a businessman in his 50s, wanted a young wife, paid the family’s way to America. The payment was they gave him their daughter in marriage. Her grandma had died not too long before in her 90s, so this places the events around the turn of the last century. He got a cute wife, and sex, and a late family. She got out and her family out, and a family, and a 30-year widowhood, and a long period of geezer maintenance while still a relatively young woman. Not a dreadful deal, in the spectrum of things, but one that would not have been made in a situation of greater income equality. My friend never met her grandfather, he was dead long before she was born.
    Then there’s the New York – California – Massachusetts strategy. NYCMAS. You think there are people for whom making it on their own is not going to happen, and you want to ease things for them, and to enable their kids to better themselves. Benefits: women don’t have to stay with abusive husbands/boyfriends. Families are not so likely to sell their 13-year-olds to old husbands. A kid who has college in him/her may be able to go. People can get rescued, and don’t have to be necessarily heroes to do it. Flaws: people can relax into the system, it’s not so bad, and don’t strive heroically to get out of it. There are dreadful effects on the community when kids see very few people going off to work in the morning. We all pay huge taxes to maintain people who aren’t working, and who could be. There are Rawls assumptions behind Nycmas – that from behind the screen we would all choose a system where the least advantaged are better off.
    You can always find advantages of crap results from either Vemus or Nycmas: the woman with irresponsibly-conceived children and coke-addled boyfriend who gets up at noon every day and sells her food stamps for money to get drugs, and the family who worked hard and lost a parent to illness, and the support was so niggardly that the kids couldn’t make a success of their lives and a second generation was lost. We have assumptions about the extent to which people really CAN change their circumstances, the Amys and Imee I think are implicitly saying that people can muster the will and competence to make their lives work and will do so only if there’s castor oil in the welfare system. I think that’s sometimes true and sometimes not, and that either system will fail some of the people who come on hard times. People who could have raised their game with a little more goad and who don’t and squander their lives in welfare apartments and bunny slippers till noon watching Oprah are just as much a loss caused by Nycmas as are people who just couldn’t get it together no how no way and whose lives are made miserable by Vemus.

  25. amy Says:

    dave, I think you go too far, at least in my case. My approach is a sorting approach, neither Vemus nor nycmas. I am well aware that there are people who genuinely cannot do for themselves, and that the children of both those who can and those who can’t are innocent victims. So my approach says “make ’em wait.” See who genuinely cannot before you start throwing the money. Funding (some) welfare programs and (some) children’s services make sure these people survive while also making it unattractive to stay on the system. Frankly, I’d say fund more children’s services (of specific varieties), but all you’d end up doing is breeding tremendous resentment in the parents, who’d passive-aggressively work against you.
    Once it’s more or less clear who’s genuinely unable, fine, take care of them to the extent financially possible. But every so often, I say make them test themselves. Ten years ago I could not run without pain and setbacks, and I had to resign myself to the idea that I might never be able to run again. But as I started to get a little better I’d test, and test — is it still true that I can’t run? — and then: How far can I go without hurting myself (badly)? I didn’t do anything virtuous to get better — just used whatever therapies happened to help — but the willingness to push and try, within reason, was valuable. I run fine now (unlike my car).
    We are sliding here from a UI conversation to a welfare conversation, but people on the left often wonder why working-class people, single mothers, the disabled, and others who’d seem to be likely victims chronically vote right, and attribute the votes to ignorance. The presumption is that these votes are against our own interest. I think what’s overlooked is that these are the votes of people who made it work, and who know what’s possible. Not for all, but for a good many who claim they can’t. Because we live with those who claim they can’t — we see it up close and personal, and we know the costs of supporting these people when we’re not rich ourselves. Consider the difference between a tidy blue-collar neighborhood and a stretch of welfare apartments. We know there are real costs to letting the lines go slack in the name of help. And, frankly, we are the ones who pay.
    When my city encourages landlords to go Section 8 to “help poor people”, they will find some greedy landlords who rent property near my house, and other landlords near my rental property. Result: Arrests of gun-toting, crack-dealing thugs 200 feet from the path where I walk with my daughter, five blocks from my house. Violent crimes committed in the building next door to my tenants. I am sitting here watching the unchecked growth of Section-8-related crime nearby, and the likely redistricting of my neighborhood so that it falls into the “school with thugs’ kids” zone, and I am wondering where I take a bigger bath: on a fire sale of my home plus new mortgage costs, or on staying put and watching the house value plummet. I wonder how long it’ll be before my tenants decide not to renew the lease because they don’t feel safe in the building, and whether I’ll have to sell a property that I’d hoped would go on supporting the income here. Will I make the money back somehow? I don’t know. It seems unlikely as a writer and single mother. I suppose I could go marry some guy for his income, or give up my work, and in either case live miserably. But why should I do either just because someone who doesn’t have to live near these thugs, or send a kid to school with theirs, feels charitable and clucking towards them? My sense of it is — hey, if you want to give up your work or get married for money in order to help these people, go for it. But leave me out of it.
    (Actually the usual response of the social-service type is that I should then be grateful for the chance to live in subsidized housing myself, leaving me free to remain single and do my own work. Because clearly this is better, overall, than my keeping my daughter happily in a neat middle-class neighborhood with a good school, being free to remain single, and do my own work. It is my obligation, you see, to give up the middle-class neighborhood for the good of the collective. To atone for ability. Ability makes others feel bad (though, curiously, the zillions of runners here didn’t leave me feeling despondent when I couldn’t run — what I could and couldn’t do was clear to me. I found I enjoyed watching sports more, watching the skill and athleticism of the players; I didn’t get so itchy and leave to go do them myself when it wasn’t in the cards. Just did my physical therapy instead, with the tennis players for motivation).
    When the well-meaning redistrict my neighborhood in the name of “educational equity”, it means my daughter sits by twiddling her thumbs while the teachers attempt triage on kids whose mothers wouldn’t read a book if they got a thousand-dollar prize at the end, smack the kids around, leave them to run wild, and feed them Taco Bell every night. It means she gets lumped into social programs that treat her as though she’s in desperate need of Christian-pity-laced help, and treat me as though I smack her around, leave her to run wild, and feed her Taco Bell every night. (And yet these same schools will murmuringly refuse to expel kids who beat up other kids, on the premise that it won’t help the young thugs. Nevermind what it’d do for the kids on the receiving end of the beatings.)
    So this is why you hear the prescription for castor oil in the case of most, dave. It’s nothing too terribly abstract.
    At this point someone will bring up the example of European social democracies, and I say fine. If that is the flavor of a society, fine. I don’t believe it’s the flavor of this one (which is one reason why there’s still brain drain from Europe to the US, despite Homeland Security). And you have to keep in mind that unless someone is going out and successfully practicing raw capitalism somewhere, the social democracies have no taxes, and no way to carry on with the social programs. I have an Icelandic friend who’s talking about going home and going back to work, despite having three young children; she’s planning on relying on the wonderful Scandinavian state nurseries and the 9-4 workday. Which is terrific, but last I heard, Iceland was so broke it was being sold off for parts, and young people were leaving for Europe. And subsidized 9-4 workdays hardly sound like IMF style. So I wonder where the money comes from.
    In any case it’s a delicate situation.
    As I have something to lose (property, freedoms I cherish), and someone to protect, I rather prefer a situation in which the populace is a little pathologically wary of government and sits there like a pappy with a shotgun when legislators and taxmen come around. (Yes, that’s a metaphorical shotgun, I am not advocating actually picking them off.)

  26. urbanartiste Says:

    Amy, maybe if things in education for well-distributed and everyone had a fair shot at life, you would not be dealing with potential thugs. If that means I will have to sacrafice a little so other kids have a shot at success so be it.
    We are not living in a society that has an even playing field and some may be able to overcome difficult odds, but I think it is unfair to expect the same outcomes for every individual. The challenges are sometimes impossible to deal with and not everyone has people they can fall back on.

  27. amy Says:

    urbanartiste, my grandparents grew up in tenements during the Depression and went to public schools with thugs and forebears of thugs. Neither of my father’s parents finished school. My grandma was sickly most of her childhood. And yet. Successful businesses, property, public service, etc. And they are no rare birds. My father grew up in a working-class neighborhood where the usual two career paths were cop and thug, and wound up sending scientific experiments into space.
    What they did have was a home culture that prized work, education, intelligence, ethical behavior, skepticism, and community, and respected laws as potent things. This you cannot tax for and you cannot impose. Section 8 vouchers will not help here. This a group, a community, must make for itself. We also likely had some nice genes, and this you can’t do anything about either, though I have a pet theory that says anti-Semites have done some very good selection work with us.
    I think I’ve said clearly that I understand that there are impossible challenges and that I’m in favor of helping those who truly cannot.

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