Category Archives: politics

Books: Faces of Poverty – Portraits of Women and Children on Welfare [1995]

Introduction
The first question that will no doubt occur is that of motivation. Why would I, a fairly middle-class type of gent, care to read a book about women in poverty? The answer is really just one of simple curiosity and a desire to see the other side of the socio-economic fence, to have some insight into this part of society that is fairly well insulated from the larger parts of society. I’ve never been anywhere near the financial straits that these women find themselves in and I’ve never known anyone who has been so it’s a completely foreign life situation. Further, this group is one of the more maligned in our country and I can’t help but wonder where that comes from and whether it is at all justified. If you listen to conservative talk radio you will quickly get the impression that the Welfare system is responsible for wasting billions of dollars and that Welfare recipients are lazy, shiftless do-nothings who have babies just for the purposes of collecting bigger and bigger checks. Given this rather dark baseline for the discussion, what exactly is the truth of the matter?
Textual Note: This text is a bit on the dated side so the numbers quoted are also a bit on the dated side. I’ll make very small effort to modernize this data since the spirit of the book remains the same regardless of how old the numbers are.

Chapter 1 – What is Welfare?
Established in 1935 after the Great Depression, the Welfare system, or AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children), was designed to help the “deserving poor,” mostly women who had been widowed, divorced or abandoned during the financial crisis. The intent was to provide a sort of minimum stopgap measure for women so they could stay at home and care for their children while they made plans for more long-term support. At the time, this long-term plan was usually in the form of finding a new husband. Since the program required that parents provide a “suitable home” for their children and working outside the home was typically frowned upon, it wasn’t particularly practical for a woman to work her way off of Welfare.

At its inception, the program was seen as a great public boon, helping those who really were in trouble through no fault of their own. The shift in public opinion seemed to begin most notably in the 1960s when laws about what constituted a “suitable home” were struck down by the courts. Before the civil rights movement, many southern state’s laws had exclusions that deemed unwed African American mothers as fundamentally unsuitable. In the twenty years after suitability laws were removed from the welfare system, the rolls increased from 2 million to 5 million while the demographics of the nation changed as well. In 1960 5% of children lived in female-led households among Caucasians and 15% among African Americans. By 1980 these numbers had tripled to 15% and 45% respectively. Today the percentage of African American children in a single parent household has reached a staggering 67%. In 1939 when the program was started, 80% of the recipients were white. By 1995 the numbers had shifted dramatically when 39% were black despite comprising only 12% of the total population

In addition to the shift in race, the target audience for Welfare also shifted dramatically in situation. The system originally set up to assist widows and abandoned women was now servicing mothers who had never been married or been divorced. By 1991 only 1.6% of the women on Welfare were actually in the original intended audience for the program. Of single mothers, 35% were never married at all while 37% were divorced. Given the numbers, it’s not hard to see that the difference in public opinion stems at least in part from the fact that as a society, we’re still working off a lot of bigotry against the people that the program helps. While we were all happy to help white widows, we seem to have a harder time coming to the aid of a woman of color who has children out of wedlock.

Over the years, the attempts to reform Welfare have been numerous. We’ve seen countless job-training programs but these have always been woefully underfunded. Even the best-funded programs in the 90s only saw 19% participation. Benefits have been progressively lowered and in 1995 a family of three in this country can expect to see a benefit of $400 per month, putting them well below the poverty line (~$15,000 a year). Public opinion also seems to have it that women on Welfare are sitting around having more children to raise their payments. In 1995 the average increase in benefit for having another child was $70 per month. This explains why 72% of women on welfare have only one or two children. Further, the benefits are so poor that half of recipients stay on the program for less than two years with only 17% receiving benefits for 8 years or more.

The grand summation of all these statistics seems to be that most of our common perceptions about Welfare and the people on it are all a bunch of bunk. Nobody’s getting rich off this system and the idea that they’re all just kicking back and relaxing rather than going to work is ludicrous. The average Welfare mom could make twice as much even working for minimum wage rather than sitting around collecting a check for doing nothing, assuming she could find affordable childcare during her working hours. Clearly, nobody wants to be on Welfare for various reasons from the psychological effect of feeling like a failure to the crushing poverty that it leaves in its wake. Anyway, that’s my impression so far. Chapter 2 later…

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More Random Thoughts for 1/13/11

Work has sucked lately and it’s my fault. Today I threw up my hands and came home at 3:30. Somewhat ironically I came home to relax and decided it would be a good time to do my taxes (just to unwind, you understand). Unfortunately, the result of that simple exercise was exactly the opposite of what I expected. For the third year in a row I’ve somehow managed to allow the IRS to screw me. I’m not asking for a huge refund; I’d just like to not have to write a check with four digits in front of the decimal point. That’s all. I’m happy to pay my share but when I have to plan for how to pay my taxes months in advance, that’s just too much. Perhaps it’s time to just start claiming zero exemptions and be the hell done with it. Christ on a stick! Oh, work. This part is supposed to be about work. You know the problem? So the other developers have a tradition. They go for a walk once during the day. Just go and walk around the office building and “shoot the shit” as the saying goes. This seems to be a tradition centered around Mike, who is clearly a genius. I came in to work at 7:30 today, worked through lunch and went mildly insane by 3:30. I was honestly about to explode. Mike and his loyal followers come in, then take a break, then work some more. They’re not crazy idiotic and insane about it. They treat themselves like they’re humans and doubtless their work is a hell of a lot better than mine. I need to dial back the intensity and expect more of myself but in smaller packages. My insanity is self-induced. Along those lines, I find myself in the need to choose one job function and not fifteen. I remember a time when I used to do one or two things and do them absolutely immaculately. At heart, I’m a perfectionist. Lately though I’ve spread myself way too thin to the point where I disappoint not only myself but my co-workers. It’s time to pick one direction and push in it. This may mean that a lot of people have to pick up a lot of loose ends, but ultimately it’s the best answer not just for me but for all the people I work with. OK, enough about work.

So of all the shows on television I make a point to watch exactly one. All the others I have far too little concentration to focus on or to remember a time for. I can remember exactly one thing at a time and currently that one thing is Thursday nights at 8am, turn on CBS. End of list. Oddly though, my reaction to “The Big Bang Theory” is that I’m not nearly nerdy enough. I’m in the technology industry which in my mind has always been hopelessly blue-collar. Those of us in this business know that our work and interests in it are far too practical. We’re not detecting rare sub-atomic particles or calculating the Planck Constant… we’re doing mundane and uninteresting things that have real practical applications. Part of me yearns to be in an industry with no right answer. Long, long ago during my college days, I was a mathematics major. I loved math because it was concrete. When you completed an item of work, i.e. proved Fermat’s Last Theorem, you were fairly certain you had something. It was done. Concrete. Final. Done. There was a right answer and there was a wrong answer, and when compared with the other sciences, math was all about right and wrong answers. Pretty soon though there loomed a reality of being a math major. Well, a couple. The first was that the majority of people in your major went off to become teachers. Since I was poorly equipped to speak in front of one person let alone a few dozen, that terrified me. Related to that was the reality that math majors had to take COM 114, the class on public speaking. There was no way in HELL that I was going to make it through that, so I went on a quest for another major without such a heinous requirement. Soon I settled on Computer Science. All the certainty but none of the “talking in front of people.” Oddly though, I find the certainty of my profession insipid. I yearn for the parts of my job that aren’t black and white. Something complicated like geology would be wonderful. The binary “it works” or “it doesn’t work” has begun to grate on my nerves. Can’t there be an area of grey? I babble and digress and wander too close to the topic of work.

As I had my leftover olive pizza for dinner, I realized that my palate had grown tired of the sweetness of my cookbook-inspired menu. For 5 recipes in a row, it has called for dark soy sauce and hoisin sauce, and my brain rebels at the thought of another meal bathed in this eastern saccharine. I yearn for the salty goodness of light soy sauce.

My soul needs the springtime. Today after I came home I went for a walk in the freezing cold. I tried to get out and about to clear my mind, to expunge my soul, but after a brief period I was too concerned about my own impending death by frostbite to continue. If there truly are seasonally-specific disorders, not designed merely to spur the sale of pharmaceuticals, then I suffer from one. The winter is a long, dark and lonely season for me and I await with no small anticipation its end.

It has occurred to me that I need to do a better job of connecting with people outside the bounds of necessity. I remember a loooooong time ago I wrote an entry about friendship and I defined a friend as…. Well, something along the lines of, “someone you interact with outside the bounds of necessity or convenience.” Basically, a friend is someone that you do stuff with because you want to, not just because fate happens to throw you together. With the exception of Laura, I do a really poor job of making the effort to be a friend to the people in my life. What’s utterly insane about this is that invariably when I think about the people I know fairly well, I can point out very specific things about them that just astound me. Anyone wanting to be supremely embarrassed and flattered should ask me what I think of them. Despite my cynical demeanor, I have a marvelously positive opinion of just about everyone I know. That begs the question though why I don’t make more of an effort to build stronger bonds with the people in my life. For the most part, I suspect that it’s personal insecurity. Something along the lines of, “Why would this incredibly interesting person want to waste their time with me?” sort of thing. That’s shitty upbringing for you, I suppose. At any rate, the world should be aware that I admire it. With the exception of Hillary Duff and Paris Hilton. What a waste of skin. (For the record, I don’t know anything about Hillary or Paris, but it seemed only apropos to make some exception to the rule.)

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Random Babbling for 10/11/07

It’s been quite a while since I’ve written down any original thoughts so now seems like a good time to do it.

Tomorrow is my bi-weekly ‘Lunch with Human’ with a co-worker. It’s funny really that the more I get to know people the more I enjoy them. Years ago I loved mathematics because I believed fervently that mathematics was the underpinning of all reality. That you could, if you tried hard enough, predict every event in the universe given a large enough sheet of paper. Then I loved computers because they could do math much more quickly and give you a much bigger ‘sheet of paper’. Over the years though, I’ve come to the sad conclusion that the real world is much more complicated than that and that most of that complexity comes about because of people. I love people with all their unutterable emotions and motivations. It makes me absolutely giddy to unravel a person from their outermost appearances down to the Gordian Knot of their immortal soul. My wife suggested recently that I should go back to school to become a psychologist and I’d jump at the chance if it arose somehow. I can’t guarantee that I’d be able to resist the temptation to put ‘Psychological Vivisectionist’ on my business cards.

After almost two months of geocaching I’ve come to a few random conclusions. Firstly, I’m not sure I’m amused by other people’s caches much any more. After you’ve pulled ten film canisters from trees hanging by christmas tree hooks it tends to get a bit redundant. I wish people would put some effort into these things rather than just randomly hiding things anywhere that comes to mind in the same cliche way. I am, however, much entertained by placing caches of my own though it is a bit nerve-wracking if you allow yourself to conjure up frantic calls to 911 from random unseen onlookers. I’ve yet to find a consistent geocaching partner of any kind. My eldest now lives in mortal fear of mosquitoes and everyone else I’ve gone out now claims disinterest. Time to call Jared again I suppose.

Someone whose blog I read semi-regularly did a mimi about what books she’s read this year which put me of a mind to take a look back at my own logs. I was astounded to realize that I’ve finished at least 3 books every month this year. Usually I get distracted for at least a few months a year and read nothing. Apparently I’m just more amused by my choice of literature as of late. I’m looking forward to the end of year literature wrap-up.

As I was driving for 23 hours last week I listened to some talk radio. Whenever I actually sit and really LISTEN to talk radio, I’m always astounded by just how screwed up we are in this country. But then I hear something that makes me nod my head and say, “yeah, you’re exactly right.” Some Ohio-local disembodied voice was reporting that the evangelicals were threatening to start a third party if Giuliani got the Republican nomination. His response simply, “Good, go build a third party. We’re better off without you.” Without the religious influence, he argued, the Republican party would drift back from the extreme right-wing theocracy it represents into something that much more people could agree on. I for one agree with him. The Republicans have some good points on their side. I don’t like the welfare system as it stands, I think Government is too big and too wasteful, I don’t think we should pull babies halfway out of their mothers and then crush their heads. And the Republicans agree with me on that. Unfortunately, I can’t vote for them because they represent a collection of theocratic drones. If a Republican party sans religion can appeal to someone as liberal as I am then they’d win in a landslide.

Alright,that’s all I have to say about all of that. Must go now as I have people banging on my window wondering what the ‘Word of the Day’ is going to be.

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The Real Problem with America

You know the real problem with this country? Oh! You do?! Do Tell!

Too many stupid Republicans getting us involved in wars that are none of our business, you say? No, not really. Leaders have been getting us involved in wars for as long as their have been leaders. War is a natural process in our species and if we can’t find someone to fight somewhere else then we’ll just end up fighting ourselves. Even if you think the current War in Iraq is a sham, you must admit that nobody reading this really KNOWS enough about the situation to say for sure that the war is a sham or not. We haven’t seen the real intelligence; god only knows what’s really going on or what the Bush administration is basing this whole war on. Republicans are definitely NOT the real problem.

Too many stupid Democrats going around hugging trees, causing problems for Republicans, sympathizing with terrorists and trying to erode national security in the name of civil liberties, you say? No, sorry, wrong again. The Democrats are an important part of the political ecosystem; the Republicans tend to try to govern from the top down. They tend to take care of the top of the societal food chain, the rich, corporations, etc, while democrats tend to try to govern from the bottom up by taking care of the little guy by supporting unions, minorities and the least represented of all, the environment. No matter how much we may enjoy pointing fingers at each other, an honest person must admit to themselves that we need both. The truly right way is somewhere in the middle. We need people to support corporations because they employ people and we need to make sure workers and the environment don’t get abused. The Democrats and the Republicans fill these roles nicely and balance each other out over time as the grand pendulum of democracy shifts power back and forth between the two parties. Democrats are definitely NOT the real problem.

The moral fabric of the country is being eroded, you say, by a vast conspiracy of godless deviants? No, I’m afraid you’re wrong on that count too. This is, in fact, all a trick. There were just as many deviants back in whatever golden bygone area you want to look at but today more than ever our media tells us about every single one of them in excruciating detail. We hear SO much about these people that we start to think that everyone’s this way and that the world is going to hell in a hand basket. Clearly though, this is just not the case. If anything, people are actually more benevolent than ever because as a society we HAVE more than ever. There is so much material wealth in this country that sometimes we have to load it in bags and take it to Goodwill because we just don’t have anywhere else to put it all. So no, this is definitely not the problem because it’s just not true. If anything, this country is more homogeneous than ever. We just hear a lot more about the oddballs because that’s what sells newspapers and gets people to watch the news.

Religious fanatics are trying to run our lives, steal our country and take away our liberties, you bemoan? No, that’s not it either because that’s an inherent contradiction. Those people who try to run your private life with a Bible in one hand and a cross in the other are not really religious. They do what they do in the name of religion but in reality they’re doing it for their own selfish ends. Their motivations actually have nothing to do with religion except that they try to use it as a crowbar to get what they want by threatening you with eternal suffering of one sort or another. These people are the modern equivalent of snake-oil salesman trying to sell an idea and in exchange get 10% of your income (gross, not net) each week. Truly religious people you typically don’t even know about. They don’t try to sell you anything or hit the pavement trying to earn their Heavenly Rewards merit badge for converting people. A truly religious person won’t actually try to convince you of anything in an active manner. You may find a Bible on your desk at work but the person giving it won’t make themselves known or take credit for it. So no, the religious people of the world aren’t the problem, they’re quietly going about their business in the best way they know how and you probably couldn’t point them out in a crowd if you tried.

You’re apparently not going to guess so I’ll tell you. The problem, my good readers, is us, every single one of us. It’s not the politicians, it’s not rich people, it’s not welfare moms, it’s not religious fanatics and it’s not even Satan worshipers. The problem is every single one of us and the society we’ve made for ourselves. As a society, our energies are so incredibly misdirected that people from a hundred years ago would just shake their heads. We have more free time, more material wealth, longer lives and better general health and security than any group of humans ever to gather on this planet. We have got it really good. We should be the most incredibly enlightened, intelligent, cooperative and technologically advanced nation ever by a factor of ten at least, but we’re not.

The reason is, frankly, a very simple one. As a nation, we’re lazy, and when we’re not working at the jobs we hate, our top priorities are partying, having fun or just wasting away the hours until it’s time to go back to work. We eat fast food because we’re too lazy to cook. We’d hate to take time to cook because that might cut into CSI. We’re too lazy to read a book or do something productive so we sit and watch television and encourage our children to do the same because we’re too lazy to raise them properly too.

Our society produces an infinite variety of video games, sports entertainment, TV shows and movies (primarily ones with violent themes), junk literature and pornography to fill our free time almost to the exclusion of all else. Sadly, these things are out there in such abundance because it’s what people care about. Don’t believe me? Go to work and eavesdrop on a few conversations. I think you’ll find that if people aren’t talking about their jobs, they’re talking about one of the five things above. American’s seem to love to exist in a zombified state, a constant hypnagogic trance induced by mindless images on a television screen. When we aren’t watching TV or playing some abhorrently violent video game, we’re blathering endlessly on the phone with our equally zombified friends about them.

Some of you may well say, “So what? So what if I watch TV? What does that hurt?” The answer is that it may not be hurting anything. If, in fact, all you were capable of ever doing was watching television then you’ve lost nothing. If, on the other hand, you were capable of something else, something more meaningful than merely occupying space for 60 minutes, then you’ve lost everything. Every hour you spend doing some mindless activity is an hour you failed to achieve something.

Rather than sleeping away an hour in front of the tube, you could have read a book that inspired you and changed you forever. Perhaps that hour would have been spent talking to an elderly neighbor that really needed someone to talk to or perhaps you talked with your child and discovered a really wonderful human being there that you never knew before because you never bothered to listen. Maybe you volunteered at the homeless shelter and met your future wife. Maybe you went for a walk every day and added 20 years to your life. The point is, that television, video games, getting sloppy drunk and other mindless entertainment is a big fat 0 in the grand scheme of things. No matter what you do, as long as it’s not wasting your time with passive and meaningless activities it’s better than watching Gilligan’s Island reruns and the world will be a little better place for your efforts. Einstein did not take a break from Relativity to watch Survivor. Don’t let your own magnum opus go down the drain because some voice in a box told you, “Don’t miss a second of next week’s exciting episode!”

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