A Straight Shot of Politics

A blog from a gentleman of the Liberal political persuasion dedicated to right reason, clear thinking, cogent argument, and the public good.

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Location: Columbus, Ohio, United States

I have returned from darkness and quiet. I used to style myself as "Joe Claus", Santa Claus’ younger brother because that is what I still look like. I wrote my heart out about liberal politics until June of 2006, when all that could be said had been said. I wrote until I could write no more and I wrote what I best liked to read when I was young and hopeful: the short familiar essays in Engish and American periodicals of 50 to 100 years ago. The archetype of them were those of G.K. Chesterton, written in newspapers and gathered into numerous small books. I am ready to write them again. I am ready to write about life as seen by the impoverished, by the mentally ill, by the thirty years and more of American Buddhist converts, and by the sharp eyed people [so few now in number] with the watcher's disease, the people who watch and watch and watch. I am all of these.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

The Real Problem of Poverty

Last night, as I was continuing through my blogroll to see what needs updating, I encountered a post at Centerfield on the Christian Right, the Bible, and poverty. A fine gentleman named Adam had this to say there:

Rather than just throwing money into failed programs or privatizing the whole thing, why don't we try to create programs that actually work? I think conservatives are right that it is important to place the burden of success on individuals and that many liberal programs discourage self-reliance.

And this was my reply:

I think most people who talk about poverty really do not have a clear view of the central problem of being poor, because they not only have "enough", they have more than enough, they have real "discretionary income" and, therefore, real choices.

I personally am poor, being only able to sustain part-time work due to mental illness, and this only when employers are not frightened by the "stigma" of Mental Illness, which fear I can assure you is all too common. This means that 80% of the time I have "enough".

Many, perhaps most, of the people who work at Wal-Mart, and have "How May I Help You?" splashed across their backs are in the same situation. They are the real poor for whom talk of "self-reliance" is simply an insult.

It is the other 20% of the time where the American system eviscerates the poor. An insane spike in gasoline prices, with corresponding insane petroleum profits (not "enough", not even "more than enough", but the largest such profits any society has ever seen!) simply obliterates the 80% of "enough" for any of the poor who work at Wal-Mart, when Wal-Mart, as it usually is, is nowhere near public transportation.

This is the key to poverty. You have no margin. I have no margin to go to a dentist for a cleaning and checkup with x-rays. I haven't had for years. My companion is totally medically disabled--which means she receives a generous stipend from SSA of all of $550.00 a month plus the maximum $149.00 in Food Stamps. I receive all of $10 in Food Stamps since I make somewhat more money at my various part-time jobs. [yes I said "jobs". Pretty self-reliant isn't it?]

This varies from state to state, but I encourage you to find out how much it is in your state and experiment to find out how long your personal comfort lasts on a total income of $699.00 monthly or its equivalent where you live.

She now has two months to get to a dentist before Medicaid here ceases to pay any dental benefits. It will probably be the last visit to the dentist in her life (she is 54). When you think about poverty and self-reliance, think about that sort of thing.

Think about the 18 Rx drugs she takes daily which she will now be forced to pay co-pays for (all coming out of that $699, remember) when Medicare Part D is forced on all SSA clients after December 31, since Medicaid will no longer pay for the drugs.

And think about the fact that the total cost of those 18 drugs will push her into the "doughnut hole", where Medicare Rx coverage will simply stop, sometime next August, and she will have to cease to medicate herself for the next four months.

Disabled, in chronic pain, and no medication for four months.

Moreover, all of her doctors have simply stopped accepting new Medicare/Medicaid patients and have cut her number of yearly visits in half. Fifty percent of her medical care has simply vanished over the last year. Gone. Probably 50% of what's left will vanish next year.

That is what being poor is all about.

Adam was a very gracious fellow in putting up with an irascible old fart like Joe Claus:

You're right that I have little first-hand experience with poverty. However, one of my very best friends spent 10-years of his life working on this problem. One of his frustrations, and the thing that he noticed, was that some people that would come in, he could find a job for right away, but other people just seemed to lack any work ethic or desire to move forward.

So I expanded on my remarks:

Unquestionably some people are unmotivated. But as to motivation, I would suggest to your friend that there is more to the matter than just "finding a job". And, as I have suggested, many people who already have a job--at Wal-Mart, say--are "poor".

If you are poor, and for specific reasons, there are other considerations. Suppose you are between 50 and 70 with leg edema (water swelling). Are you going to be greatly enthusiastic about a full time job stacking groceries or selling retail?

If you have children (and many of the poor are single mothers) do you really want a job requiring an hour and half bus commute morning and evening? You could end up with exactly this in my town.

And do you want it, with that same bus commute, if part of the deal is pulling Saturday or evening overtime hours on demand? When real money is to be made by the company, we do that a lot here in America.

If you are mentally ill, will your job allow you to alternate days because you need weekly blood draws monitoring your liver functions due to the heavy duty psychotropic meds you're on, as well as meetings with your probate court-appointed guardian, your counselor, the Dr. that prescribes your meds, the State "job and family services" office for your Food Stamps, and your mental health agency Case Manager?

I'm very lucky. I don't need nearly this level of job "accommodation". But my co-workers do. I am actually on call as their "replacement" if they need to rearrange their hours on short notice, because my condition is much better controlled. I only lose most of my capacity to concentrate if I'm asked to pull more than 3 eight hour days in a row.

How many jobs can even deal with that?

Moreover, is somebody in your office, or a guest to your office, going to get bent out of shape if they see you zoning out and staring into space for three or four minutes at a time, as a side effect of your medication?

This is quite common, even for me.

These are the sort of considerations that "surround" the mere vocational core of "finding a job". And I can tell you straight from the shoulder that some "job coaches" are better at understanding this, and listening to their clients real needs, than others.

More broadly, we as a country have to acknowledge three things. First, there is a certain degree of unresolvable poverty due to circumstances, such as those of my companion, and the people in this position require a reliable maintenance "floor" of monetary and medical support.

The last 25 years have seen the deliberate and systematic erosion of this floor as a matter of Republican Party policy when they are the party in power, or when they can prevent repair of the floor as the minority party.

The results are as I have described them in my companion's case.

Second, it is unconscionable to demand people submit to "workfare" when real job numbers are largely at the whims of the economic marketplace. "Workfare" functioned quite well in the late nineties when there were actually more jobs than people. But not now. And maybe not ever again, given the ground we are steadily losing in the world marketplace.

If work adaptable to their circumstances (mental illness or childcare, say) is available, most people will work. But, as I say, the poor have no margin and are always the most "disposable" of the workforce. The mere fact that we have been persuaded by corporate ethics to think of people as "surplus" or "disposable" is part of the problem.

So if, as a country, you cannot provide people with reliable work, then you must accommodate them in other ways--mostly financial.

Finally, everybody in the United States needs reasonable medical insurance coverage. Now. There are any number of effective ways to do it, many of which would not alter the doctors, the hospitals, or even the insurance company profits one jot. I am an ex-medical insurance claims adjuster [among many other careers] and I have outlined some of the possibilities in earlier posts on my blog.

For if this last is not done, the handwriting is already on the wall--in less than a decade most companies are simply going to cease offering health coverage as a part of your job, except, perhaps to those above a certain managerial level.

When this happens, a great many people who now have "more than enough" are going to find out first hand what it means not to have enough.


Blogger ScribbleSquirrel said...

Fascinating insights on poverty and mental health....

4:55 PM  

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