Monday, August 13, 2012


i have my own perspective. 

almost all of my clients receive either medicaid/welfare or medicare/disability benefits. this means most do not work, receive monthly support checks and housing vouchers and food stamps, are covered under state health care.

i see generational dependence. parents don't work, their adult children don't work. i don't like that one bit. i drive through housing projects and i look at many able bodied people who could and should work and don't.

but there is more: my perspective to be sure, but i offer it not as fodder for the right or the left of politics, but as a piece of a puzzle that seems to be unattended, over and over again.

1. at least half any maybe three quarters of my clients would work, some willingly and some reluctantly, if there were jobs. there aren't. 

2. without cars, and don't believe those folks who talk about welfare studs driving cadillacs, most of my clients don't have cars, travel to and from work often requires two, sometimes three, bus changes. that sounds doable, perhaps, until you think about your 18 year old daughter or yourself walking four blocks to catch a bus to catch a bus to catch a bus. 

3. without skills, hourly earnings tend to average $ 8 or 9 dollars an hour. let's stretch it to $10. that's 
$ 400 a week. let's say, for a family of four. that means you will likely lose housing vouchers, lose food stamps, lose benefits, lose health insurance. a two bedroom apartment will cost at least $ 900 and more like $ 1100/month. it is too often an all or nothing choice, so people work under the table, if they work at all.

4. if you are single without kids, in my state, you will get a disability or SSI check averaging $ 700 a month. you'll get food from a local pantry. yes you will pay for a cell phone and maybe you smoke. but $ 700 a month doesn't offer an independent place or space for anyone. $ 700 a month is poverty.

the solution? i don't favor the increase in government dependence and i don't favor eliminating preventive supportive programs that provide basic needs. what i do favor is insisting that able bodied people who can work do work; that the government supplement their earnings so they and their children can live above the poverty level. what happened to welfare to work? i know: it was too expensive to implement. so instead: a political debate that misses the point altogether.

my perspective here doesn't begin address the middle class; those folks who have been laid off for two, three years, looking for work, unable to pay their bills. no jobs? no jobs. at least not enough jobs. 

surely this is solvable in one generation.'s not to be. 

i shake my head.

your comments and opinions are most welcomed in this debate.



  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. This was a well thought out post. I think we need real opportunities for people and encouragment to work. This would mean not cutting benefits because someone gets a slightly higher pay raise, because often they are still struggling.

  3. A very good perspective on the problem. As long as some of America's chief exports are employment opportunities (jobs), it will be very had for the nation to recover. For any kind of recovery to take place, ordinary people need to have cash in their hands, and to feel relatively secure, so they will buy things. But when the law of capitalism says the only job of a corporation is to make a big a profit as possible for share holders, American companies give jobs to people who will work for less. Meaning people outside America. That is not the road to recovery. And the people with whom you work will not be able to help with the recovery — of the nation or their lives — simply because they have neither enough money, or a feeling of security.

  4. Because of the woman that brought me up I have known about generational welfare for decades. It's that third generation that the thinking changes from one of "I wish I could do more" to "This is what I have and if nothing else I will learn the system and get every dime out of it they will give me." When we lost that second generation to poverty and acceptance of that poverty is where the system ran out of control.

    I have a unique perspective where I sit, most of the able bodied men are either disabled (getting shot will do that to some people) or ex-convicts, the convicts come out of prison and really do want to work and re-integrate but how does one at the very bottom of the pool do that in a place with a stated unemployment of 20.1% and a real rate approaching 45-50%?

    They apply for food aid and get it, a cash stipend and get it, and then turn their hand to doing whatever they can to raise cash. Some work at this or that for cash, some go back to the street life and some hook up with others and they strip houses of everything sale-able.

    These are fourth generation men, mostly the product of single parent female head of household families. They are no danger to me nor I them we live life and let life live.

    It is the fourth generation females that are the true masters at gaming and pulling every dime out of the system. Work is not on nor has ever been on their radar here. There are easier ways to pull off getting benefits, multiple aged children from a variety of males. When it comes down to losing a benefit: housing say because there are not enough bedrooms to accommodate male and female children. some ship one gender or another to a family member for either foster care or adoption and then that family member receives the state support money for that foster/adopted child.

    *shrug* it is a slum life but then it is the system as it has evolved. One cannot logically say "Oh those evil welfare queens" at the same time you have overcrowded schools because for decades a spot on the school board was a way to personal enrichment.

    Having more people who qualified for federal allowances supplied through the state made for a larger block grant to the state for that subsidy, but the state gets to apportion all block grants and education for twenty five years has not been a priority.

    This is how you enroll 200,000 kids year over year and only graduate 50,000 and of that 50,000 because State policy is social promotion not ability based, 10,000 can get into a junior college but have to spend a portion in remedial programs which is very frustrating at that "I want this now" age. Some stick to it and succeed and some don't.

  5. So what's it been now? 30 years we have been working towards privatizing the education system. The charter schools do two things, first bust the union, and second cherry pick who they will or will not accept. So there will always be a subset group of children destined to illiteracy and that always equals poverty and that always ends up for most of the men as a path to prison and the women a path back to generational dependance on the system.

    So in Detroit, there is the Catherine Ferguson Academy, A Detroit public school (may reopen as a charter this year) was on the chopping block and not parents but the students protested and forced the emergency financial managers hand to keep it open. It is a model that works and has been quietly at work to address the issue of generational assistance. Generally they have a 99% graduation rate and about 75% college enrollment. It works because it addresses the causes early and hard.

    Catherine Ferguson

    So all that said what is the answer, our new republican governor in order to fix his budget pushed off every person who has received assistance for more than the Federal mandated 60 months, which was rarely enforced, and then cut the eligibility to 48 months. That is one solution. Of course the result is that the most impoverished areas of the city now rate a 10 on a 1-10(10= worst) scale in homicide and other violent crime, home invasions, assaults and robberies and a 7 in general livability.

    His answer is wrong because at the same time he opens the prison doors to them who have served their minimum time and then cuts the parole budget. So the pain is all inclusive male/female/resident/ and the city at large. The MA micro economic of this is those smaller cities that say were once great shoe producers or mills that went bust through out sourcing.

    Take that same small town and raise it by a factor of five and you have Detroit, a place that NEVER prized education of it's children because up until 1980 you could be of age and able to read or not, you could have middle class money for putting bumpers on cars 400 times a shift. It has always been that way as far back as the collective memory goes. during WWII this city had a population of 1.9 million and a poverty rate well below 4%.

    Now it has stayed the same size area wise but shrunk to 700,000 in population, mired in debt left over from as far back as 1960, a smaller tax base and the highest tax rate in the state for property owners.


  6. Solutions there are only two,

    1) Continue to force people to survive with no education and now a limited social safety net and watch the nation as a whole become Detroit times a Trillion, because gun violence will rise proportionally. with inability to secure cash to live.

    2) Send the whole idea of social safety net for the impoverished to rehab. Rethink (I believe we do still think at some universities) what Johnson's goal was in 1964. It sure as hell wasn't a measurable percentage year after year living strictly off of government largesse.

    It wasn't for votes.

    It was simply to ensure that base needs were met, food,clothing, shelter and education. That by having these four things work in concert people will have the skills and desire to be productive contributors to society. But by the time (if there ever will be a time)all the civil rights issues from the Black civil rights to defendants Miranda warning to Roe v Wade got sorted out we already had burned through a half of that first generation living strictly on government aid.

    Rehab the system by fixing the first three base needs so that the fourth can be met. It is a harsh solution but I think there is a model that can work. Anyone who times out of the system at 60 months is sent part and parcel children and all to a central place. No guns allowed, all meals are communal, all housing is purchased by credits given for community service, Education becomes the central theme of these communities. Older adults learn skills as well as basic literacy to the 9th grade level, welding, construction, plumbing and the kids are in classrooms of no more than 15-20. All federal and state portion dollars paid for welfare for them in this place, go to the running of this community. The United States military is trained in all of these areas including policing. *shrug* Posse Comitatus is already breached.

    Yes it is socialism at its most basic form. But it is a radical departure from what has been tried already. Will cost no more than what it does already and the community becomes self sufficient. When someone demonstrates a proven ability to work, they can go off the reservation and work and live in the larger society if they want. You can always build Detroit UP but there is no more room to build it out. Yes I would like this system in my home. I would be dead before that tree ever bore fruit but if it is tended right and not robbed by politicians it is basic and will work.

    *Shrug* I too, kj, see what you see.

  7. Ah mark, I followed every word of this. And I mean followed.

    What a mess it's come to. I'll read this again later.


  8. Kj, It is a mess. I for one took 2 and 3 buses to work when I lived in San Fransisco, I lived at poverty level and still do and I have never taken a dime from the goverment. Having said that, there are people that need help. They should allow people to work and still help them out.I know there are choices in life, like how many children to have, don't have them if you can't afford them! There are people who have mental and physical reasons for not being able to work, I know one man who gets 600 a month, if he works they take his medical care away. How is someone supposed to live on 600 a month!? His grandmother helps him out, but she does not have much either. I say give the right help to those that need it and everyone else can get work. I made my own job when I could not find one, I am not saying it's easy, but it is possible. I am rambling.This is not an easy topic, hope I made some sense. xoxo

  9. What interests me most is that you appear to be a person of means, yet you work with the impoverished. I should think that would be emotionally challenging in the same manner as when an American comes back from a Third World vacation during which he or she saw severe poverty for the first time. I've often wondered how this juxtaposition with which you live affects you.

  10. Snow, I'm not seeing poverty ( or trauma ) for the first time. I was in new Orleans 3 weeks after Katrina helping modest and middle class families face that their homes were gone forever . Helping other cultures and a 'class' of people different from me has been a privilege. What a way to meet and learn about people -and I'm good at it. I fit and belong and I am welcomed. Because the bottom line is people are people

    All that said, emotionally challenging is almost an understatement. I see very sad plights .but I also see growth and humanity.

    That's my answer :-)


    1. I'm sorry, dear, I didn't make myself clear. I know that you have been working with some significantly challenged people for a long time. I just meant to point out that you move between two worlds, one of wealth, comfort, and freedom, and the other of poverty, desperation, and hopelessness. I would expect this to be more mentally stimulating and emotionally challenging than a lot of people would be up for.

  11. It's a big problem with no easy answers. To spout off as I we have one means I better be part of the solution, not part of the problem. So lacking any real solution I tend to keep my mouth shut in a public forum. Plus I'm just a fraidy cat anyway. But.....BUT...I have had that image on my phone for close to a year now. I absolutely love it, as it embodies all I am trying to accomplish, as well as the broken and run down things that move me. Nice choice :)

    1. When deciding whether or not to speak out when I'm afraid to do so, it comes down to deciding whether it will be easier to live with myself if I remain silent, or easier to live with other people's reactions if I don't. On matters of principal, I am nearly always obliged to speak out. On matters of pure self-interest where no clear principal is involved, I tend to bog down until such time as it is my option is to either speak or explode.

  12. I am fortunate enough to say my failings have been of my own doing--not enough drive, or ambition or indecision. I am fortunate enough to say it wasn't due to poverty or lack of education. I wish there were enough people in social services to help those who want help...

  13. Very interesting debate.Americans pride themselves in their freedom,that was not always so for people of colour was it. That Obama was elected was a a great achievement it seems to me. I think you could do no better than to elect him again as he seems the only intelligent choice.Our society in the west generally is based on consumerism which means we educate people to want more than we need to have a decent life in order to maintain growth.Try as I may I feel that we will survive only if we change our goals. We are heading for disaster if we sacrifice the have nots to the alter of our greed.The world is finite.