Disability in rural America
November 26, 2017 9:22 AM   Subscribe

 
I read some of this before the posting here. If some of the stories weren't so monumentally sad, I'd almost say that there was some underlying brilliant re-purposing going on here: turning a desperate life-line into a de facto safety net. America is truly a land of contrasts!
posted by Chitownfats at 9:40 AM on November 26 [1 favorite]


We need something like the WPA to give meaningful employment people who need help, rather than casting them off to the whims of private employment. Too bad most politicians can't think through the whole problem and see that what they want (the dignity of work) requires government assistance to get there.
posted by kokaku at 9:57 AM on November 26 [37 favorites]


Dreamland talks about this and how it ties into the opioid epidemic with the combination of unemployment and bodies broken from physical work creating a vicious cycle of buying and selling prescription and illicit opioids to deal with pain and poverty.
posted by Candleman at 10:10 AM on November 26 [24 favorites]


There was an episode of This American Life from May 2013 about this issue too. My basic understanding is that Clinton-era "welfare reform" shifted some of that money into a much more expansive and generous disability benefits program.

You could sort of look at it like a temporary fix, or a humanitarian "sleight of hand" that allowed Clinton to answer his conservative critics with "Well, I signed major welfare reform, y'all!" --- while not only providing some social safety netting, but also stealing back some of the GOP's rural base.

That Said: It's such an obviously flawed, "chewing gum and duct tape" solution to the problem that it's overdue for some adult legislating. (Maybe one day.)
posted by ProfLinusPauling at 10:15 AM on November 26 [8 favorites]


I subscribe to the WaPo, have read this series (thank you for posting it here!) and it filled me with a profound sadness. These people profiled have been pretty much given a pittance and left to rot. And the grandmother profiled in Part 2 is crab-bucketing her grandkids instead of being ambitious and hopeful for them like an emotionally healthy parent would.

This is why I think we need a "social capital" WPA as well as a jobs program and a mincome. I'd like to see everyone in this series get rehab, therapy, the psych meds many of them desperately need, and a decent education for their children and themselves. So what if that doesn't get all of them, or even any of them, off disability - what I want for them is to get in a better place mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, and for them to be connected to society instead of festering in isolation.

People ask why so many who can flee small towns and rural areas do - the fact that many (#Not All Rural Areas) are such pits of despair is one reason. Why would anyone who had the option want to live there, other than perhaps faaaaaamily? And so the brain drain and vicious cycle of depopulation goes - people leave, which makes these areas less livable, so those with options leave, which makes them even more unlivable...

What we need is a full-on Marshall Plan for our own damn country. I am ashamed that the richest country in the world allows people to live like this.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 10:24 AM on November 26 [83 favorites]


It's simultaneously sad and maddening. The individual suffering is gutting, but these profiles are all happening in Trump country, and at least some of those profiled are likely his supporters that end up being further behind the 8-ball as a result of the policies they are ostensibly supporting. I hope they get what they need, starting with a clue.
posted by askmehow at 10:34 AM on November 26 [12 favorites]


This is what happens when unchecked capitalism works people to death. When people start feeling the effects of heavy manual labor, they discover they can't afford not to work, their paid time off is a joke, healthcare inadequate and expensive, job retraining non-existant, and their cost of living just exceeds a full time paycheck. So they make the only choice they have, keep working through the pain and hazards until their bodies literally won't let them.

I see a lot of people go through SSI who probably could work if the systems were in place, or could have avoided disability if the systems had been in place, but I end up writing a lot of letters in support of their disability because practically speaking, their only real option is SSI which allows them to survive in abject poverty, rather than die homeless.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 10:35 AM on November 26 [48 favorites]


And not many are Trump supporters here on the deep blue west coast, but most are very cynical about politics, and there are certainly some very vocal Trump supporters which just boggles my mind.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 10:37 AM on November 26




askmehow: That was what I was trying to say with my "land of contrasts" comment, but, on reflection, how true is it really? Trump's language was and is an appeal to these people, but wasn't he really elected by suburban and urban middle-class folks, the kind of people that Trump seemed to promise to that he would turn off these dribbly little spigots of ur-socialism?
posted by Chitownfats at 10:41 AM on November 26 [10 favorites]


Chitownfats: you are correct. Trump voters were (mostly) pretty well-off. I surmise that most really poor rural folks don't vote at all.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 10:45 AM on November 26 [11 favorites]


The individual suffering is gutting, but these profiles are all happening in Trump country, and at least some of those profiled are likely his supporters that end up being further behind the 8-ball as a result of the policies they are ostensibly supporting. I hope they get what they need, starting with a clue.

I'm not optimistic. I did a brief stint working SSI cases and while I had no reason to doubt their need for disability support, there were far more than I would've liked that I also felt it important to distinguish themselves to me (unasked, I add) how they were different from the mythical urban welfare queen they've made up in their minds and politicians conjure up to make folks like these feel better about themselves.

They're different because they actually deserve it. Not like those people.
posted by Karaage at 10:54 AM on November 26 [45 favorites]


I see a lot of people go through SSI who probably could work if the systems were in place, or could have avoided disability if the systems had been in place, but I end up writing a lot of letters in support of their disability because practically speaking, their only real option is SSI which allows them to survive in abject poverty, rather than die homeless.

This. I have a relative on SSI who, after years of treatment, has had their condition improve to a point where they could likely work a full-time job - and they would like to. However, if they make over $22.6k in a year, they not only lose their SSI but also Medicaid. Through Medicaid, they have access to the medications and treatments that have allowed them to get to a level of functioning where they could have a full-time job in the first place. Those same treatments would either be unavailable or unaffordable on a conventional workplace insurance plan, and so if they abandoned SSI and Medicaid and went into the private sector, it would be incredibly likely that their condition would worsen to the point where they would no longer be able to work full time. As it stands, they are held back from working in order to get the treatments that in a sane society would allow them to work.

It's a real-life Catch-22, and it's ugly.
posted by I EAT TAPAS at 10:58 AM on November 26 [119 favorites]


Why are these people getting medicaid automatically if they have no income? Are other states that shitty? I was laid off and I got it immediately when my severance pay ran out. I am not disabled.
posted by AFABulous at 11:02 AM on November 26


Are other states that shitty?

States that didn't do the ACA Medicaid expansion are, yes, which includes most of the south. Even in states that did the expansion, it can still require a fair amount of hoop-jumping. But the whole point of the ACA Medicaid expansion was that before that, you usually couldn't get Medicaid as an adult without dependents no matter how poor you were, unless you were disabled.
posted by Sequence at 11:17 AM on November 26 [13 favorites]


Missed the edit window: should have been "why aren't these people getting medicaid automatically..."
posted by AFABulous at 11:17 AM on November 26 [9 favorites]


Missouri is totally that shitty.

Pemiscot county is a hole. I've driven through it twice this year.
posted by fluttering hellfire at 11:27 AM on November 26 [1 favorite]


medicaid is state by state. Here in the glorious Socialist Republic of Cascadia, to get any direct financial assistance you need to show nominally that you can’t work. The bar is much lower than getting SSI but Medicaid is intended to be temporary until you are able to go to work. If you haven’t gone back to work in 2 years, you are required to apply for SSI, which most people have done because the wait for SSI is so long.

Medicaid still can take a few weeks to get all your paperwork through, or can be rushed if you’re like in the hospital after getting hit by a truck and you don’t have insurance and the hospital wants to make sure they get paid.

You can get “Medicaid” even if you’re not disabled, but basically this just gives you health insurance and maybe a voucher to get on a list for public housing, which if you’re not pregnant or a family, can be years long. No financial support.

If you do claim “disabled”, you get health insurance, a place on a public housing list, and get this, last time I checked a whopping $130 a month. Hence, so many people living under I-5 in Seattle. SSI is the holy grail for these people and is doled out miserly.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 11:28 AM on November 26 [6 favorites]


Also Medicaid /= unemployment insurance.

Unemployment Benefits are usually given only right after you’ve been fired/laid off and are usually scaled to your previous income and is usually a larger amount than Medicaid benefits. Unemployment benefits usually make you poor enough to qualify for Medicaid Health insurance.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 11:31 AM on November 26 [2 favorites]


very ugly: I was mining SSA and academic research into SSI-employment demographics earlier this week to determine the "optimal", lawful way to respond to pre-employment disability declarations found in every job application. Boilerplate definition of disability presented is insanely broad, in the order of "are you now or have you ever been" unable to perform "major life functions" such as toileting among others. The response options are, [ ] No, [ ] Yes, [ ] I prefer not to respond.

My truthful response implicates employer hiring preference and my future standing to litigate memedy of a violation of ADA by that employer.

The latest data I could locate (BLS) imputed from ACS and work force data, less than 5% of SSI beneficiaries are also employed, and private-sector does is not reporting disabled employed population demographics by meaningful manner, not even for the purported tax benefit. Moreover, EEOC advises the public that pre-employment declaration of disability is unlawful under ADA.
posted by marycatherine at 11:32 AM on November 26 [2 favorites]


Oh and one last thing — it is near impossible to get SSI around here without a lawyer. Now, go be a homeless person or nearly homeless person where your shelter/low cost housing/car that you sleep in is over here, the food bank is across town, your medical doctor is in the next county, your mental health provider is downtown, the Medicaid office where your paperwork goes is over here but is closed on Mondays and Fridays, and the Federal Building where your SSI paperwork goes is in the closest major city.

Now go get cleaned up and walk into a lawyer’s office who will take your case.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 11:44 AM on November 26 [29 favorites]


And yes, Pemiscot County voted Republican by about a two to one ratio.

Same with Weber County.

Maybe the people in the article are in the non-voting contingent, but at the very least a lot of their friends and neighbors are voting to keep their lives miserable.
posted by Candleman at 11:50 AM on November 26 [5 favorites]


Yes, I don't begrudge these folks government support, but I do begrudge them government support in a form that allows them to pretend that they're uniquely worthy recipients of it, or that they aren't "really" getting welfare at all and are better than those who do. In that sense, this shift fits nicely into the recasting of all the government handouts white people get into "not taking a dime from anyone." And I don't have a lot of patience for that.

walk into a lawyer’s office who will take your case

This is actually much less of an issue than you'd think, as lawyers assisting with disability applications can take a contingency fee out of the ultimate award. There's usually not a shortage, at least in reasonably populated areas, if the person is cognitively and socially capable enough to connect with a lawyer. Obviously, not a trivial "if."

Boilerplate definition of disability presented is insanely broad, in the order of "are you now or have you ever been" unable to perform "major life functions" such as toileting among others.

...that literally just tracks the federal definition of disability?
posted by praemunire at 11:55 AM on November 26 [14 favorites]


I was mining SSA and academic research into SSI-employment demographics earlier this week to determine the "optimal", lawful way to respond to pre-employment disability declarations found in every job application. Boilerplate definition of disability presented is insanely broad, in the order of "are you now or have you ever been" unable to perform "major life functions" such as toileting among others. The response options are, [ ] No, [ ] Yes, [ ] I prefer not to respond.

Why would anyone ever say "yes" to this question, assuming the vast majority of employers would rather not hire a disabled person if they have other options?
posted by AFABulous at 12:03 PM on November 26


That first article is just heartbreaking. It really doesn't need to be like this.
posted by bleep at 12:08 PM on November 26 [3 favorites]


Why would anyone ever say "yes" to this question

Federal agencies are required to have specific hiring and advancement plans for people with disabilities. Federal contractors and subcontractors also have similar requirements. Non-Federal employers can get tax benefits. So depending on the employer, ticking 'Yes' when it applies might not hurt and may help.
posted by halation at 12:18 PM on November 26 [4 favorites]


Exactly, AFABulous.

Subsequently, ADA employment protection and so-called "preference hiring" mandate produces garbage data.
posted by marycatherine at 12:48 PM on November 26


Federal agencies are required to have specific hiring and advancement plans for people with disabilities.

Additionally, if you deny having a disability, you will have a very hard time making a legal case that you weren't hired because of it. You will also have a harder time proving that you were illegally denied an accommodation if you are hired.
posted by praemunire at 12:53 PM on November 26 [1 favorite]


To be clear there is a vast difference between SSI and SSDI. SSI is the safety net program for people who are disabled and never managed to pay 10 years worth of income taxes. SSDI bases what you get based on your reported income. It also qualifies one for medicare (provided you paid medicare taxes... some jobs don't do this) and has less strict asset limits and such.

SSI is the program from those who usually have little too no work history, work under the table type jobs, and those born with disabilities that impair them from working.
posted by AlexiaSky at 1:09 PM on November 26 [1 favorite]


It's like a cobbled together version of Universal Basic Income.
posted by mecran01 at 1:33 PM on November 26 [10 favorites]


It was infuriating to read about how ill many of these people were, yet they lived on cigarettes and soda. Manual labor is not the only thing that has harmed these bodies.
posted by nirblegee at 2:18 PM on November 26 [5 favorites]


It was infuriating to read about how ill many of these people were, yet they lived on cigarettes and soda. Manual labor is not the only thing that has harmed these bodies.

I wouldn't say I was infuriated by it, but I was shocked to read, "He collected ... three 12-packs of Mountain Dew for Harris, who he knows can go through 24 cans in a day."
posted by trillian at 2:29 PM on November 26 [5 favorites]


The stuff’s cheap and if you’re in a poor rural area, it seems you’d be likely to try to find whatever pleasures can be found in life, no matter how small.
posted by DoctorFedora at 2:46 PM on November 26 [29 favorites]


Maybe let's not go down the familiar road of "people in a cycle of systemic poverty should have made better food and drink choices!"
posted by colorblock sock at 2:56 PM on November 26 [65 favorites]


Maybe let's not go down the familiar road of "people in a cycle of systemic poverty should have made better food and drink choices!"

Lauren Berlant's Slow Death is an interesting read for those wondering about the whole Mountain Dew angle.
posted by halation at 3:01 PM on November 26 [7 favorites]


AlexiaSky, that information is incorrect. There is no vast difference in eligibility requirements for SSI and SSDI. Everyone has to supply proof of income and disability.
WHO IS ELIGIBLE FOR SSI
Anyone who is:
aged (age 65 or older);
blind; or
disabled.
And, who:
has limited income; and
has limited resources; and
is a U.S. citizen or national, or in one of certain categories of aliens;
WHO IS ELIGIBLE FOR SSDI
The same medical criteria apply to SSDI applicants 18 - 65.
There is a difference between benefit amounts paid by SSI and SSDI. SSI benefit amount is fixed by HH income size. SSDI benefit may be derived from the applicant's taxable earned income over the prior 40 quarters up to the date of disability claim.

Four earned "credits", or $5,200, per year: That is "limited income" by any standard, and five years of tax returns prove FICA withholding up to the date of disability satisfies the minimum qualification for an adult claim. Minor applicants' qualification derives from parents' paid in FICA withholding.

The salient points to retain is this: A vocal majority of SSDI applicants are adults injured at work, and replacing earned income is a harsh task. Public assistance benefits, eg. Medicaid (in addition to early Medicare claim), TANF, SNAP, etc administered by states, are difficult to obtain and maintain before age 65 and lately without applicants satisfying work requirements attached to the benefit payment.
posted by marycatherine at 3:04 PM on November 26


24 cans of Mountain Dew a day? My poor bladder is cringing in my abdominal cavity just thinking about that. But I think the ciggies and Mountain Dew are a form of cheap energy for worn-out people who can't afford and/or don't comprehend proper food and rest.

Slarty Bartfast: When people start feeling the effects of heavy manual labor, they discover they can't afford not to work, their paid time off is a joke, healthcare inadequate and expensive, job retraining non-existant, and their cost of living just exceeds a full time paycheck. So they make the only choice they have, keep working through the pain and hazards until their bodies literally won't let them.

Not to mention this was the perfect foot in the door for the opioid epidemic, and why the US leads the world in pain pill prescriptions. Great Britain, the Netherlands, Australia, the Scandinavian countries, etc. - who all have decent-to-terrific healthcare systems - manage to prescribe fewer opioids and yet are not hellscapes of pain. They don't wear out their people like we do. So we have lots of people with worn-out bodies from manual labor, and along comes Purdue Pharma saying "OxyContin is great for chronic pain, and not addictive, nosireebob, not addictive at all!" and next thing we know much of rural America is in an addiction crisis. (And this is where a social capital WPA can come in, with rehab and physical therapy and helping people find ways of taking care of themselves better.)
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 3:27 PM on November 26 [7 favorites]


Maybe let's not go down the familiar road of "people in a cycle of systemic poverty should have made better food and drink choices!"

That's certainly not the road I was driving down. I would say the same about anybody who wants to work and can't because they are in poor health. Actively harming one's health through bad nutrition, smoking, and drinking is counter-productive. It's not a past-tense "should have", it's still going on, and it's exrutiating to watch.

I feel bad for these people, and it seems terribly obvious that someone who is drinking 24 cans of mountain dew per day is actively harming their own health and assuring that they don't feel well enough to work, as well as preventing themselves from having a remotely decent quality of life.

People who smoke are actively harming their ability to recover from injury. Smoking can easily be the difference between being able to work and not being able to work. Between, again, having a remotely decent quality of life and not.

Reading these articles, especially the first one, was much like watching someone stroll down the street hitting themselves with a hammer and wondering aloud why they have a headache.

Yes, OBVIOUSLY there are other dynamics at play, but this is something that can be controlled, and it would greatly benefit the people profiled in these articles were they to take care of their health. I find it paternalistic to argue that poor people can't possibly be tasked with doing so.

As for "can't afford", cigarettes are way expensive. Let's say $5 per pack in a rural area. The more you smoke, the less nutritious food you can buy.
posted by nirblegee at 3:32 PM on November 26 [3 favorites]


Mountain Dew, coffee, and energy drinks are how stressed, over-worked people make it through the work week, now that it's not legal for company doctors to give out methamphetamine anymore.
posted by LindsayIrene at 3:41 PM on November 26 [37 favorites]


The more you smoke, the less you want to eat. It has been known for decades that cigarettes are an economical appetite suppressant for people living in poverty.
posted by saucysault at 3:42 PM on November 26 [29 favorites]


Are they economical? They’re like $6 a pack. If you have a pack-a-day habit, that’s $42 a week, which is easily a week’s worth of groceries for one person if you buy known budget-stretchers like pasta and peanut butter. That’s not economical at all. An economical appetite suppressant that *can* be had easily and in plenty is coffee.
posted by Autumnheart at 3:51 PM on November 26 [2 favorites]


Sometimes desperate situations force people into less economical choices.
posted by mochapickle at 3:56 PM on November 26 [8 favorites]


Actively harming one's health through bad nutrition, smoking, and drinking is counter-productive.

So, in your opinion, are they dumb, or are they lazy? And how much should they be punished for it?
posted by praemunire at 4:03 PM on November 26 [28 favorites]


After doing a bunch of volunteer work with a formerly homeless population in a relatively week of region, my take on smoking shifted: I now believe nicotine is one of the cheapest most effective anti-psychotic drugs out there, and the large number of smoking poor is testament to the failure of the mental health industry to come up with better solutions for a population that's desperately seeking a solution.

Self-medication is a real thing, and nicotine can keep the anxieties and terrors at bay.
posted by straw at 4:04 PM on November 26 [62 favorites]


it's not legal for company doctors to give out methamphetamine anymore.

It is if your doctor works for the USAF. Some problems can ensue. And maybe not Meth/Desoxyn anymore. But I'm not certain.
posted by meehawl at 4:06 PM on November 26


So they’re trying to save money because food is expensive, but they buy items that are more expensive than food because they’re desperate? That makes no sense at all. Maybe they’re just addicted to nicotine and sugar. It happens. Let’s not pretend that there’s some sort of logic and practicality behind that decision.

I’m going to go with “dumb, not lazy” but considering the GOP has gone to great lengths to make everyone dumber and less able to access reliable information, it doesn’t mean they’re not capable of understanding correct information. Just that they’re being indoctrinated.
posted by Autumnheart at 4:07 PM on November 26


Mountain Dew strikes me as an easy way to get a caffeine fix without the work of making coffee (which not everyone is able to do, and takes electricity they may not be able to afford).
posted by Pallas Athena at 4:15 PM on November 26 [9 favorites]


I would forego proper food for the benefits of a sweet, icy and heavily caffeinated Mountain Dew. Their lives aren't going to improve that much by eating proper food, whereas sugary pop cheers me right up and will get me through the day.
posted by kitten magic at 4:20 PM on November 26 [3 favorites]


Oh and one last thing — it is near impossible to get SSI around here without a lawyer.

Slarty, can you at least mention the state?
posted by Beholder at 5:01 PM on November 26 [1 favorite]


I’m going to go with “dumb, not lazy”

Well, I'm gonna go with that's pretty insulting either way. How about not dumb, not lazy, but fucking desperate, and desperate people make bad choices. As straw puts it above, a lot of this is self-medication, a chance to get just a moment of release, a rush of sugar or nicotine as one of the few bright moments in a lifetime of suck.

They're not dumb, they know this shit is bad for them, but mostly it's bad in the long run, and in the long run we're all dead, so might as well smoke 'em if you got 'em.
posted by soundguy99 at 5:02 PM on November 26 [48 favorites]


You people do know that smoking is addictive, right? I've known people in well middle-class, economically safe lives struggle for years or even decades to quit smoking.
posted by octothorpe at 5:30 PM on November 26 [16 favorites]


That was a very depressing read. The system traps people and then people seem to learn to accept so little. I am surprised by the number of people that are getting approved in these areas even with a lawyer.

I have been on SSDI for 28 years. I would have loved to work part-time or whatever I could have done. If I was just on SSDI I could have done that but I also have private LTD Insurance which has been a blessing but forbids any earned income. I will be transitioning to regular SS retirement in the next year and will be able to work without losing income. I am really looking forward to working again.

For the record, SSI is for people who have not paid enough into the system to qualify for SSDI which has a higher reimbursement rate depending on how much you have paid into the system. Your assets do not count against you with SSDI like they do with SSI. It is a hard way to live and I fear will only get harder for the poor.
posted by cairnoflore at 5:57 PM on November 26 [3 favorites]


I’m going to go with “dumb, not lazy”

Well, I'd rather be dumb OR lazy than someone with the ignorance and disgraceful lack of character that leads to judgment from a position of comfort of how those in desperate straits try to manage the deep misery of their situations. But, rather obviously in this case, YMMV.
posted by praemunire at 6:00 PM on November 26 [31 favorites]



Oh and one last thing — it is near impossible to get SSI around here without a lawyer.

Slarty, can you at least mention the state?


I live in the great Evergreen State, Washington.

Re: POOR PEEPLE JUST NEED TO SPEND MONEY SMARTUR. If I’m living in my car, scrounging food banks and discarded bus transfers to get around, and no hope for a month of cell phone service or the sliding scale fee at my poor folks clinic... if my estranged brother gave me $20, damn right I’m gonna spend it on Red Bull, a case of Busch, and a pack of cigarettes because what else can I spend $20 on that’s going to keep me sane for a week? I dare you to say you’d spend it on something different that would actually improve your situation.

Twenty bucks. What, three McDonalds dinners? Half a monthly bus pass? Share a shit hole motel room with a buddy for one night?
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 6:16 PM on November 26 [24 favorites]


Your assets do not count against you with SSDI like they do with SSI.

Assets, such as cash or assets such as home/transportation?
posted by Beholder at 6:22 PM on November 26 [1 favorite]


Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. How many of you judgey people who don't know anything about poverty have ever thought to yourself at the end of a bad day, "I deserve (or need) a glass of wine/a pizza/some cake?" How many have splurged on something you can't really afford because it will make you feel better? Now multiply that bad day times most days. And imagine other people pathologizing your coping mechanisms.

Mountain Dew guy almost certainly isn't disabled because he drinks Mountain Dew. People with terrible diets and middle class health care and gym memberships aren't disabled.

I also wonder if any of you who have the gall to be infuriated by other people's habits have ever tried to quit smoking or tried to stick to "well-known budget stretchers" while dealing with a disabling condition and poverty. Sure, there are people who do, but it's so hard a lot of people just can't do it. I mean, I am imagining telling one of my schizophrenic clients to buy more pasta and peanut butter. Smoking is often the least of these folks problems.
posted by Mavri at 6:41 PM on November 26 [32 favorites]


As much as I think articles like this are important, and that poor people in rural areas are all too often invisible, I also think it's worth noting, as the series does, that most of the people living on disability are doing so in suburban and urban areas.

There's been a lot of focus on poor white folks in the rust belt and Appalachia since last year. That's all well and good, but I have a feeling that a similar series of articles about the struggles of people in cities or poor, rural people of color either won't be written, or if it is, wouldn't get the same degree of sympathy or attention.

Anyhow, here's to an as-yet hypothetical future in which entry-level jobs offer a living wage and the social safety net doesn't tie people's employment to their ability to access basic services.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 6:50 PM on November 26 [13 favorites]


"Re: POOR PEEPLE JUST NEED TO SPEND MONEY SMARTUR. If I’m living in my car, scrounging food banks and discarded bus transfers to get around, and no hope for a month of cell phone service or the sliding scale fee at my poor folks clinic... if my estranged brother gave me $20, damn right I’m gonna spend it on Red Bull, a case of Busch, and a pack of cigarettes because what else can I spend $20 on that’s going to keep me sane for a week?"

People who think otherwise need to go dig up a copy of the classic The Uses of Literacy by Richard Hoggart, who is mostly writing about how the mass culture imposed from above is replacing the popular culture of the working classes in Britain, but also does a really nice job explaining why people in poverty make purchases that seem "irrational" to middle class people, but are actually quite rational. Some of them are highly culturally specific (funeral insurance for children in a time of much higher child mortality, in a culture that measured how much you loved your children by the pomp of their funerals, and counted how much you loved your children towards your fitness for jobs and other opportunities), but others are pretty universal, like spending on "little luxuries" like cigarettes and booze that seem frivolous but are quite rational responses to the constraints of the life they live.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:57 PM on November 26 [17 favorites]


Beholder, you can be a billionaire and get SSDI. SSI has limits on cash, cars and housing. Basically you have to have nothing and can't get or keep anything.
posted by cairnoflore at 7:11 PM on November 26


I was wrong, it is SSDI 5 years of work history where taxes are paid.

SSI (and Medicaid) are full of long complicated rules on assets.
The biggest one is no more than 2000 in cash, ever. Or the SSI stops. A car, and home property don't count . There are trusts and such that can be created, but it's complicated process with all kinds of rules on what the money can and cannot be spent on.

For most adults on SSI it's just the 735 (should change in Jan 1 by a dollar or two) a month.

If SSI takes a long time to approve, a person will get a back payment at approval. However, they have 9 months to spend it below the asset limit (at least in IL).
posted by AlexiaSky at 7:12 PM on November 26


Should lung cancer patients not get disability because they caused it by smoking? Should someone with diabetes who is in a wheelchair not get help because they can't get their diet on track?

No. Fuck that. Stop assigning moral value to food choices and weight. If at that particular moment, the person isn't able to work and needs help, then they need help. EVEN if they could "make better choices." Because NO ONE says, "Hey, I'll just drink a shit ton of Mountain Dew and take up smoking so I can not work."

I am disabled and chronically ill. I'm a small, skinny, petite young woman. I ate entire bag of Swedish fish and popcorn yesterday. No one would bat an eye at my choices because I'm thin, but they might because I'm sick and disabled. I don't need anyone telling me that if I just eat less sugar all my problems will go away. They won't. I tried that one.

(Also I skimmed the articles, because all of this hits a bit too close to home. But work programs, flexible and online work, social acceptance, and help are what people need. Not diet shaming.)
posted by Crystalinne at 8:05 PM on November 26 [37 favorites]


If we can't find ways to pass judgment on strangers based on an incredibly superficial reading, can it ever be truly America?
posted by DoctorFedora at 8:57 PM on November 26 [9 favorites]


Thank you, Crystalinne. Reading through umpteen judgy posts on what disabled poor people eat and drink felt very very from the point of these articles.
posted by xyzzy at 9:37 PM on November 26 [12 favorites]


The “multiple generations of disability” article came out the week ADAPT activists were being hauled from their wheelchairs and cuffed in the halls of Congress, and every disabled and healthcare activist I know saw it as a fucked up attempt to demonize ill and disabled people and help kill the ACA. It’s disturbing to me that only a few months later, people on the Blue are reading it as a compassionate take in comparison to some of the comments here.

With regards to Mountain Dew, shitty stimulants, and pantry staples: I’m sure someone with a better link to stats than me can come up with a food desert map of some of the places profiled here. I’ll wait. I also seem to recall a huge jump in investigative journalism discussing the poverty line and working class meth epidemic starting about ten years ago, including the book “Methland,” that explored the way people working multiple jobs to survive used meth and other unsafe stimulants to stay awake and alert through the work week, and how it wasn't easy to kill that habit if they became too disabled to work or were laid off, or if the jobs in their area dried up. This cycle applies to legal stimulants like caffeine, taurine, and nicotine as well. I’m not sure why we’re going through the “let's try to understand why poverty is unhealthy” discussion right now; these people might be morally culpable for voting for Trump but that doesn’t change food desert and malnutrition stats. Come on. We can do better than this.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 10:13 PM on November 26 [15 favorites]


Healthcare, access to food and shelter need to be your right as a citizen, all this means-testing hoop-jumping bullshit needs to be set on fire.
posted by emjaybee at 11:19 PM on November 26 [12 favorites]


$42 a week to eat beans and rice and other shit that you have to spend a lot of time cooking and cleaning up after sounds awful. i'd buy cigarettes and booze too.

because i know shit ain't gonna change if i keep on eating my $42 a week worth of groceries.

i'm gonna at least feel good for "self medicated" value of feel good.

jfc why do we have to have this discussion any time something comes up about poor people?

being poor in America for most people who are poor is NOT a temporary thing. i was "poor" for a while during and after college - several years of barely making ends meet. i didn't have family to support me.

i made a lot of shitty financial decisions. sometimes i spent $7 on a taco bell meal because i wanted to indulge. i got delivery pizza because i was too exhausted to make decisions about food and shopping and just nothing was easy. i bought alcohol at the bar instead of drinking at home because i wanted to fucking enjoy myself for a few hours rather than be home alone with the damn tv.

i have not been poor by any real stretch of the imagination, but i understand the desperation and the numbing that comes with thinking that there is no reason for anything to change.

choosing cigarettes, booze, and mountain dew is not the reason they are poor or continue to be poor.

all the reasons they are poor are laid out very well by many of the fine comments and articles in this post.
posted by sio42 at 2:09 AM on November 27 [21 favorites]


Ken Loach's film I, Daniel Blake shows very well what happens when your body gives way, making you unfit for the meat grinder of capitalism... and then you seek assistance from the state agencies that are supposed to help you.

Small, quiet, powerful film. Should be required viewing for all Americans who think it can't happen to them.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 4:59 AM on November 27


As someone who has mental health issues myself and has frequently self-medicated with a lot of unhealthy food to try to deal with them (gaining 20 pounds in the process) and someone who knows what it feels like to not have energy and motivation to do much of anything, I understand -- and my "shocked" remark above was meant more as, "Oh my god, 24 cans is a LOT of Mountain Dew," in a surprised way, along with concern for Harris, who's described as a "thin, ashen woman" and certainly does not look well in the photos. That's 1,000 g of sugar and 1,300 mg of caffeine, when the recommended limits per day are 25 g and 400 mg -- and you can die from consuming too much caffeine. That was more what I meant by my quick remark than, "That isn't what she should be buying from the Piggly Wiggly; she should clearly be buying xyz instead."

And related to that: Interestingly, the thinking that food deserts are the cause of unhealthy diets , and research is showing that poor people are dying sooner because of the stress from living in poverty, not because of their health choices.
posted by trillian at 5:56 AM on November 27 [4 favorites]


However, if they make over $22.6k in a year, they not only lose their SSI but also Medicaid. Through Medicaid, they have access to the medications and treatments that have allowed them to get to a level of functioning where they could have a full-time job in the first place.

Don't forget the clawbacks! One description: Medi-Cal, and many other state Medicaid programs include a ‘claw-back’ provision for recovery of costs incurred by the state to provide medical care. While there is much variation in particulars from one state to another, the bottom line is these costs include a monthly ‘administrative fee’

The ‘claw-back’ mechanism functions via the state placing ‘liens’ on individual assets at the point the Medicaid recipient reaches age 55, then recovers the money at the point the Medicaid recipient dies by ‘seizing’ the money from the estate.


Medicaid clawbacks - keeps them poors STAYING poor!
posted by rough ashlar at 6:35 AM on November 27 [1 favorite]


But I think the ciggies and Mountain Dew are a form of cheap energy for worn-out people who can't afford and/or don't comprehend proper food and rest.

First - Should sugar be called a drug?
Second - Ya'll remember that Mountain Dew was originally a mixer for whisky, right?
posted by rough ashlar at 6:48 AM on November 27


Ya'll remember that Mountain Dew was originally a mixer for whisky, right?

No I do not remember that. But I remember Wink.
posted by thelonius at 7:45 AM on November 27


Sometimes I really love MetaFilter. Except for the times when we talk about poor people, because it seems like some people here really can't resist the urge to be extremely judgmental about the ways that poor people spend their meager pennies. Often, the people making the worst judgments are the people who have never been poor, never had to decide if they were going to spend their last bit of money on some low-quality food that would last them for one meal, or some tobacco that they could stretch out for several days and which would help keep them from feeling the hunger.

The world doesn't need more privileged assholes making uninformed judgments about others, y'all. Empathy costs you nothing.
posted by palomar at 7:46 AM on November 27 [27 favorites]


"are you now or have you ever been" unable to perform "major life functions" such as toileting among others.

Well, i was an infant for a while.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 7:54 AM on November 27 [5 favorites]


There was an excellent article a few years ago on the blue from a woman who is very very poor and who smokes. Part of the article dealt with a lot of the same questions raised in this one, but the whole thing was firsthand.

I feel like there were fewer MeFites being judgmental dicks that time, but maybe my memory's faulty.

I have an aunt, and had a father, who received disability pretty much their entire lives. They make and made what appear to me to have been a lot of stupid choices about their diets, habits, ways of spending their time. A lot of it is on them, in some sense; they both came from better economic circumstances than myself and my siblings, but we all ended up being pretty solidly middle class and functional, while my father died in abject poverty and my aunt will certainly follow suit.

People in chronic pain make choices that don't make sense from outside. There's a lot of overlap with addiction. But everybody makes choices that don't make sense. People make weird decisions based on religion or personal prejudice or predilection for porcelain sculpture that seem nonsensical or destructive to others.

If you feel compelled to judge people's habits of consumption, maybe start at the top of the chain instead of the bottom.
posted by aspersioncast at 8:09 AM on November 27 [12 favorites]


Linda Tirado is the woman you're thinking of, aspersioncast, and given that her article was 90% calling out that kind of judgement... well, I am tempted to dig out the link so you can see for yourself, but I wouldn't call the response all that much better.

That should probably go to the grey, though. Jesus.
posted by sciatrix at 8:14 AM on November 27 [3 favorites]


Yeah, friendly reminder that there are disabled poor people here (hi y'all!!). I smoke, I eat like shit. I make poor money decisions. I panic when I have money as it is never enough anyway. A friend and I just talked about how when we get down to our last 100 dollars for the month (usually in the first week after we get disability which just got raised to about 1030 a month from 947 - which you have to pay rent/heat/water/food out of -) we just blow it cause what's the point of trying to budget it properly when there isn't enough to last the entire month even if we were perfect. After rent I have 500 bucks and then after bills (tho I guess as a poor person I shouldn't have internet) about 250 to get food for an entire month. So yeah I smoke expensive cigarettes and drink pop because being poor is soul crushing. Make judgements when you've been in a place where for two weeks you are eating rice and beans and only have water in the house. sure it's healthy but come live on that for a month and see how soul crushing it is. Cigarettes and pop and chocolate bars and crap food at least make me temporarily happy and hey, I'm going to die in poverty so might as well enjoy it. It ain't fun knowing the world looks down on you because your brain and body failed and you can't work. Especially if the reason your brain is broken is because of being abused as a kid as in my case. So many of my mentally ill friends self-medicate. Cause if we didn't I think all of us would just give in and end it which is what value judgements of our habits make us feel is what society would prefer we do. So, I know it is hard that this is a website but poors have internet now and we walk amongst you! So unless you want to bring receipts showing you are living perfectly and never spent one dime on anything that brings you pleasure over function some empathy would be good.
posted by kanata at 9:38 AM on November 27 [31 favorites]


Oh that should read: 250 to get food, gas, dog food, bathroom products, female bodied products, and clothe myself. See, even here I feel the need to justify it in case people reading $250 for food take it as that's a lot of money. Oh, and I'm celiac so all my food prices go up coz no one gives GF food to the food bank.
posted by kanata at 9:40 AM on November 27 [10 favorites]


Spencer and Harris finished the barbecue, hugged their relatives goodbye and got back into the truck. He drove to a strip mall that had a Shoppers Value Foods, a Check Into Cash and a title loan shop. He glanced at a sign outside a Sonic fast-food restaurant: “Now Hiring All Shifts.” He sometimes considered applying for a fast-food job. But how, after making $20 an hour at some jobs, could he take one paying $7.25?

I don't get this. Yes, I fully understand that disability and/or welfare often pays better than a minimum wage job and you often lose benefits if you go above some absurdly low income. But this isn't written as if he knows all those things, which I would totally understand. This is written as if he is too proud to even apply for a minimum wage job, and as if we should have sympathy for a white man forced to work in fast food - forced to even consider it. Why?? A job is a job and he says earlier in the article that "going to work every day and coming home is a good feeling." I understand all the bigger social forces going on here but this tiny thing digs at me.
posted by nakedmolerats at 11:12 AM on November 27 [4 favorites]


I grew up in a place like this and went back for the holidays. My family smokes (which makes wife and kids asthma much worse- yay for me to hear them all cough and complain) but has somehow avoided disability even though they have done heavy physical work for 30 years. Mom has a terrible cough - probably COPD, but she swears it's allergies.

The town in smaller now as the elderly have died off and people have less kids, and is noticeably worse off too. I'm not sure it's applicable to every small town, but it feels to me like sub-urbanization is part of the problem, as the new stores are now far from the center of town, and everything is a drive away in a town of 1400 people. The elderly like it in its dilapidated state - they don't want out-of-towners even stopping and visiting I guess and are scared of higher taxes. Every asset is completely underutilized. The church we went to for a funeral had handicap stairs now - never had that while I was growing up.

The wealthy all live on the outskirts on large ranch properties - they bring everything they need from elsewhere.

The Trump support is a given. Here are the issues they are concerned about: Gun control is a waste of time, Trump signing the Paris Climate Accord is no big deal because a signature doesn't change anything, and the Obama's childrens' real dad is fighting for custody.

The thing is they really are all hard workers- but all the hard work they do is dodgey because they don't have the capital or resources to do anything once and do it correctly. That means plumbing, cars, everything. For example they spent 2 hours on Thanksgiving cutting up a fallen tree for a neighbor with a handsaw because no-one had a working chainsaw. 2 hours was enough time to cut in half to unblock the driveway and push each side out of the way.
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:15 AM on November 27 [2 favorites]


I understand all the bigger social forces going on here but this tiny thing digs at me.

So... apparently you missed the parts of the article that talked about his prison time, his physical injuries that were never treated by a doctor due to lack of insurance, the times he'd applied for work and been turned down, but one off-hand mention of the beaten-down feeling a man gets when he has no hope of a better life and you can't get past it. You write the man off because a journalist didn't do an adequate job of communicating the horror of this man's life to you in a way that makes you feel less like judging him.

Ugh.
posted by palomar at 11:23 AM on November 27 [6 favorites]


I'm trying, hopefully, to be clear that I'm not just saying "hurf durf get a job." I have more issue with the way that quote is used and framed in the article than with the actual person, where there's no guarantee he'd get that job anyway, or be able to get to it, etc. I am more annoyed with the framing in the article that comes across to me as "good white men deserve better than working at Sonic."
posted by nakedmolerats at 11:25 AM on November 27 [2 favorites]


So maybe work harder to communicate that your ire is directed at the journalist, because currently it comes off as you looking down your nose at this guy for not doing what you think he should.
posted by palomar at 11:27 AM on November 27 [1 favorite]


How about "good adults deserve better than working at Sonic"?
I mean, c'mon, it's a kid's job. You pay for the beater car or the prom dress with those jobs.
posted by Chitownfats at 11:42 AM on November 27


I mean, c'mon, it's a kid's job. You pay for the beater car or the prom dress with those jobs.

You know, I hear this assertion an awful lot when I talk about raising minimum wages, and it always makes my head spin in a goddamn circle. Fast food restaurants run on a business model of being available to customers at all hours. My local Sonic, for example, is open from 6AM to 11PM almost every day of the week--they're only open at 7AM on Sundays--and offers routine incentives to get people to come in early, like half-priced drinks before 8AM.

When the hell are high school kids supposed to be working at Sonic? After school? We're expecting them to drown in homework and extracurriculars at those hours these days, but even if you assume that those kids are planning to blow off college entirely and do something entirely different when they graduate... well, golly gee, my high school had us on a bus at 7AM and out of school only around 3PM or 3:30PM. Even if the local Sonic is staffed entirely by part-time high schoolers from opening--usually, by the way, about an hour before a shop opens, so from 6AM to 7AM, let's say--to close as long as school is not in session, logically all of its workers between 7AM and, say, 4PM would have to be adult human beings who are not in school. Yes? And not every town has a supply of college kids to fill those jobs, which means that actual human people who are not currently in school have to.

In a society that has theoretically banned child labor, there can be no such fucking thing as a kid's job. Not for any business that plans to open during school hours, and not for any business that opens late either--you'd hope, unless I guess you want to see sixteen year olds closing up the Sonic alone at 11PM and only getting home to their families around maybe 11:30 at best.

If you want these businesses to exist--and I don't know about you, but I do like the convenience of a slushy now and again as a treat or a quick meal when I don't have time--you gotta accept that they have to employ actual fucking adults, and that those actual adults probably also deserve to be able to afford adult things like regular housing for themselves and possibly children, or a general living wage.

Jesus fuck, man. Think about this for five minutes at a time.
posted by sciatrix at 12:38 PM on November 27 [39 favorites]


The ‘claw-back’ mechanism functions via the state placing ‘liens’ on individual assets at the point the Medicaid recipient reaches age 55, then recovers the money at the point the Medicaid recipient dies by ‘seizing’ the money from the estate.

Medicaid clawbacks - keeps them poors STAYING poor


So the elderly mom, who's had a bad run of luck, can't even pass her home down to her child. Meanwhile, the rich hide zillions offshore.
posted by Beholder at 12:43 PM on November 27 [5 favorites]


And so help me, if you tell me that the adults who are working those jobs aren't good adults, I promise you I'm going to spit some fucking nails. I know too many people working those jobs and trying to get by for that.

Now. If the gentleman in question is going "I used to make $20/hour, and now I'd have to make $7.25, and I can't do that," he's probably got an actual reason for saying that. And that reason is probably that those fucking jobs aren't paid as if adults are supposed to work them, which means that if you're on disability as he is--as the journalist clearly knows, and as I'm pretty sure he does know too--it doesn't make economic success to take one.
posted by sciatrix at 12:44 PM on November 27 [4 favorites]


Hoo boy. This hit home. I own some rental property in rural northern California, where the tenants, an elderly and disabled Native couple, can no longer pay rent and have nowhere to go. Social Security and Medicare simply do not provide enough to live on. These folks have worked their whole lives, and predictably they have no money to show for it.

No more money comes in because the husband's hands are too arthritic for him to carry in firewood or fix his pickup. When I called the county human services agency, they told me there was absolutely no money to help them pay rent, and literally advised I secure a lawyer to evict them and call the sheriff if they do not cooperate. He said their best bet was to go to the Bay Area, where the agencies have more money.

And they support Trump, as do most of the neighbors. They do not know my political leanings, and I have decided not to tell them, given their view of left-leaning educated folks.

This situation is deeply fucked. For whatever reasons, folks like these do not trust us, and do not trust our ideas for wealth redistribution, no matter how strongly we believe they would benefit them. It's sad and bizarre, and I'm not sure exactly what to do with it.
posted by andrewpcone at 12:53 PM on November 27 [12 favorites]


Now. If the gentleman in question

The guy in question wasn't actually on disability yet -- he'd been trying to find a place that would hire him despite his broken body, but hadn't been able to get work. And when you're staring down the barrel of trying to get hired at a Sonic for a position that will exacerbate any physical disability (like the busted-ass knee this guy had from falling off a roof in his previous job), for pay that won't even cover your basic living expenses... of course he makes the decision to apply for disability. It's either do that, pray that you get a job that will destroy your body further while not paying you enough to live on, or crawl into a ditch and die. And apparently here in America, you're garbage unless you're willing to destroy yourself to satisfy judgmental people who never have to spend a day living your life.
posted by palomar at 12:55 PM on November 27 [11 favorites]


If the gentleman in question is going "I used to make $20/hour, and now I'd have to make $7.25, and I can't do that," he's probably got an actual reason for saying that.

Yeah, the guy who can't afford to take the minimum wage job is being perfectly rational. It's the business that is so understaffed that it's hiring for all shifts, yet refuses to raise its wage, that is being irrational. Clearly the demand for labor outstrips the supply at the $7.25/hr price point, so the business needs to pay a higher price for labor.

Going without labor is being penny-wise, pound-foolish, because it lowers the business's revenue (albeit even while decreasing expenses), and depresses the area economy, which further decreases the business's customer base's ability to buy. It also depresses tax revenue while putting a higher burden on the revenue that the government does collect.

Yet again, rentier capitalism tries to defy basic microeconomics. Because some business owners want to believe they're above the law -- even the law of supply and demand. It's darkly funny, in its own way.

Personally, I think the nitpicking over how people in dire straits spend tiny amounts of money is just a way to deflect from the thought that "there but for the grace of God go I." But the truth is, it could be any one of us in those dire straits, and it very likely will be, at one point in our lives or another. Which is the whole point of programs like SS and disability insurance.

And personally, I think it's grotesque that tiny decisions, like whether to have a soda or not (!), could somehow become so politicized and outsized in importance that a person's whole financial/physical well-being can be thought to hinge on them. Who CARES why and how someone is drinking a soda rather than a water or a coffee or whatever else? I am sorry, but I know that every single one of us, aside from soda manufacturers maybe, have better things to do with our time that worry about that.
posted by rue72 at 2:04 PM on November 27 [8 favorites]


I started writing a bunch of stuff but frankly this is probably too close to home for me. I watched my mom date and support someone for years who was unemployed and said he wanted a job, any job, but never applied to the McDonald's within walking distance with hiring signs. I am a first-gen college student from a working class family. I made friends with other students who were the same. We all worked minimum wage jobs. We all knew if push came to shove we'd be taking time off to work said jobs and hopefully go back to school. We all at some time felt that people were looking down on us and/or felt ashamed that those jobs were "beneath us." But we still did them. I would have worked at that goddamn mcdonald's if I needed a job. I had no sympathy for a grown-ass man who was too proud to do the same. That all probably makes it too close to me.

I have no problem with someone choosing to take any kind of welfare they qualify for. I do have a problem, I guess, with what I've perceived as a stream of media narratives about how white men are good hard workers who just need a job, but not those jobs, presented as if we should all nod and agree that a white man should never have to work those jobs. The entire rest of the piece is a good overview of the entrenched issues at work here. All the author had to say was "he thought about applying to Sonic but minimum wage is less money than a disability payment" or even "he thought about it but knew his bad knee couldn't take standing that long". Instead it's left at "he thought about it but he used to make more money than that". Yes, that niggles at me and yes, I'm probably too close to a personal thing that's clouding me.

I don't know how to explain it any better so I guess I'll have to be okay with folks thinking I'm sitting here calling people garbage.
posted by nakedmolerats at 2:27 PM on November 27 [12 favorites]


I don't know, maybe your complaints would have gone over better if you'd started out by complaining about the narrative and not the man whose story was being told.
posted by palomar at 3:00 PM on November 27 [1 favorite]


> I have no problem with someone choosing to take any kind of welfare they qualify for. I do have a problem, I guess, with what I've perceived as a stream of media narratives about how white men are good hard workers who just need a job, but not those jobs, presented as if we should all nod and agree that a white man should never have to work those jobs. The entire rest of the piece is a good overview of the entrenched issues at work here. All the author had to say was "he thought about applying to Sonic but minimum wage is less money than a disability payment" or even "he thought about it but knew his bad knee couldn't take standing that long". Instead it's left at "he thought about it but he used to make more money than that". Yes, that niggles at me and yes, I'm probably too close to a personal thing that's clouding me.

One thing I think that people lose sight of in these conversations is who benefits from people choosing, for whatever reason, to not participate in the workforce. Oftentimes people are quick to jump to a "police the system against freeloaders" stance — i.e. a stance like "I have worked a job like [job x], how come [freeloader y] thinks they're too good for that?"

Really, though, we as workers benefit when the supply of labor is reduced. The more people think of themselves as "too good" to work at Sonic or whatever, the tighter the labor supply gets, and the tighter the labor supply gets, the higher the demand for labor becomes, meaning it becomes easier to (individually or collectively) bargain for higher wages. We should therefore support any program or scheme that allows people to step out of the labor market, for however long they want.

There is nothing virtuous about performing work for low pay. And someone who refuses to work for low pay is not less virtuous than someone who takes low-paying jobs.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 4:19 PM on November 27 [17 favorites]


That is an interesting thought. Huh. In the near view, with my family finances precarious, I'd be pretty aggravated with any household members who didn't do their damnedest to bring in at least some income. (But on the other hand... student loans count, which is another point.)

That said, I also note that a belief that any given person is "too good" to work a low income job often goes along with scorn for the people who do work it, whether or not they have any other option. We gotta eat, you know? So that's a double edged sword as conflicts go. I'm pretty sure that's the explanation for most of the hackles and aggravation here--respect for people who do work low status, low paying jobs versus respect for people who see the shit pay and inability to sustain the job for any significant time and make a sensible decision that isn't immediately obvious to someone from a different background.

So here's my question: how do we keep that double edged sword balanced at the obvious inequalities we see around us, towards the people who benefit from an unfair system and away from hungry people quarrelling over scarce resources and abundant judgement?
posted by sciatrix at 4:55 PM on November 27 [1 favorite]


When I was a home health field nurse, these people were my patients. They were in and out of the hospital because controlling their chronic medical issues (diabetes, congestive heart failure, COPD, etc.) with the resources they had available to them was just never going to work. Like when you can't always get a ride to the pharmacy to pick up your meds. Or you owe the home oxygen company money for the equipment that got wrecked when your trailer flooded. Or the nearest thing to a grocery store in your small town is a Dollar General. Oh, and your dentures haven't fit right in years, so it's difficult to eat anything you have to chew. If you don't have family to live with, you're renting a room or a basement in a stranger's house.
posted by shiny blue object at 5:54 PM on November 27 [8 favorites]


sciatrix: My previous (extremely reasonable and unheated) response to you was deleted, so I will just say that I stand by what I said, and that I will stand even more against what I didn't say and what you imputed.
posted by Chitownfats at 10:52 PM on November 27 [1 favorite]


I also note that a belief that any given person is "too good" to work a low income job often goes along with scorn for the people who do work it

It's also an interesting display in middle class loathing or whatever, I guess if you take a broad look. If someone whose house fell in value by 50% then it's too bad so sad - most were probably crooks with liar loans, but if someone used to earn $20 an hour and now is only worth $8 at McDonalds, then it's somehow different. Sorry but those $20 a hour jobs are gone just the same.
posted by The_Vegetables at 6:47 AM on November 28


So here's my question: how do we keep that double edged sword balanced at the obvious inequalities we see around us, towards the people who benefit from an unfair system and away from hungry people quarrelling over scarce resources and abundant judgement?

Tie the highest income to the lowest, cap lifetime earnings at $100 million, raise corporate tax to 50%, drop military spending by about 85%, make third homes illegal?
posted by aspersioncast at 12:17 PM on November 28 [2 favorites]


Oh and UBI/Universal healthcare.
posted by aspersioncast at 12:18 PM on November 28 [2 favorites]


Oh and I'll stop, but on shitty fast food jobs I had this to say a while back.
posted by aspersioncast at 12:19 PM on November 28 [2 favorites]


Tie the highest income to the lowest, cap lifetime earnings at $100 million, raise corporate tax to 50%, drop military spending by about 85%, make third homes illegal?

I like the general concepts; they wouldn't work well in practice. (If you can't own a third "home," what does that mean for landlords? Or is there an exception for owning an apartment building but not separate houses?)

I am in favor of tying government salaries to the minimum wage and tying corporate salaries to the lowest-waged employees, at the same percentage max as gov't salaries / minimum wage. (Including tipped wages. If waitresses make $2.35/hour "plus tips," gov't workers can make a multiple of that, with the fact of the perqs of office being their "plus tips.")

I dunno about capping lifetime earnings... but how about a flat no-deductions 50% income tax rate for all earnings above a lifetime max? So you have incentive to keep earning money but it benefits the country as much as it does you.

I have no idea how much corporate tax "should be," and 50% seems very high for small companies, but it's a starting point for discussion. And 85% is too big a drop in military spending all at once, but I could happily support "drop military spending by 5% per year until it's no more than 20% of the discretionary budget, and no more than 5% of the total budget." Phase it out slowly to figure out where to employ all the people who aren't going to have jobs there anymore, along with all the other companies that won't be selling parts to them.

And take the first money produced by this to have a massive wave of education about expected US standards of living, disability awareness, and basic health care info.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 2:14 PM on November 28 [1 favorite]


> I like the general concepts; they wouldn't work well in practice. (If you can't own a third "home," what does that mean for landlords? Or is there an exception for owning an apartment building but not separate houses?)
So the question is "what do we do about landlords?" Is that the question? Because if that's the question, I've got a ton of answers. The most polite one of these answers is "outlaw landlordship."

There is no inherent social good in enabling people to make a living off of owning real estate, and there's no reason to put in place special protections for people who make their living from owning things instead of from working. Owning things is not a job.

(but seriously, the landlord/tenant relationship is inherently unjust and inherently intolerable. Moving to a model where paying to live in a place also gets you equity in the cooperative that runs it is necessary for establishing a more just society; laws like the one above, that make landlordship largely illegal, would give us a healthy shove toward that model.)
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 5:12 PM on November 28 [3 favorites]


I've thought long and hard about weighing in on this post, because the issues are so fundamental to what's wrong with vast swaths of America and the reality on the ground in so many places left behind by seemingly the entire 21st century. But I haven't been able to get over the disaster porn / bizarrely victim blaming framing of the narrative from the Washington Post in all of these pieces. Because this from upthread is very true:

The “multiple generations of disability” article came out the week ADAPT activists were being hauled from their wheelchairs and cuffed in the halls of Congress, and every disabled and healthcare activist I know saw it as a fucked up attempt to demonize ill and disabled people and help kill the ACA.

and the Post's tone in all of these has a distinct air of "why can't they use their own bootstraps" about it. And the Post has a long history of being the goto placement for stories attacking Social Security and proposing cutting benefits. The solutions they allude to in this series are the same as always, and consistently from the right wing playbook, work incentives, tightening the definitions, waste/abuse, etc. Particularly the Part 1 piece was totally fucked and a grabbag of rightwing falsehoods and inaccuracies and outright fabricated numbers, right as Mick Mulvaney was proposing slashing Disability Insurance. No discussion of these pieces is complete without a side-by-side timeline of the rightwing talking points being pushed contemporaneously by the Trump administration.

The problem in rural areas is people work harder jobs with worse access to healthcare, of course they're sicker and disabled at higher rates. Sick people generally are too sick go back to work, and it's hard to get on SSI/SSDI, and punitive to get off, therefore work incentives are fantasies. The SS regs are already littered with failed incentives even the people in the field cannot understand or apply consistently. The backlogs are not due to fraudulent claims, but demographics and economics combined with systematic and intentional underfunding by Republican Congresses with little pushback from Democrats. Hire enough people to do the work and it will get done, or don't and it won't, it's an easy equation. Further complicating is the legacy of "welfare reform" under Clinton, which pushed marginal populations from a defined system of assistance onto the only alternative they had left, attempting to establish a medical basis for disability.
posted by T.D. Strange at 6:27 PM on November 28 [4 favorites]


If you can't own a third "home," what does that mean for landlords?
There is very little ethical justification for rent-seeking in any form. "Property is theft" is a cliche, but it's not actually wrong.
posted by aspersioncast at 8:44 PM on November 28 [2 favorites]


And you know what else doesn't work well in practice? The actual thing that's being practiced right now, for literally almost everyone.
posted by aspersioncast at 8:45 PM on November 28


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