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Cresent Hardy Retrospective

Hardy 2 Stumbling candidate for Nevada’s 4th District in Congress, Cresent Hardy (R-Mesquite) is the subject of a very interesting retrospective compliments of Steve Sebelius.  Mr. Hardy’s adopted as his very own the 47% argument first inartfully set forth by Mitt Romney.  Then things got worse as Hardy attempted to conflate the Constitution, the Federalist Papers, and whatever right wing rants to which he’s been listening, when speaking of the Cliven Bundy Ranch standoff between Bundy’s Brigade of radicals and cop killers and Federal officials attempting to get Bundy to pay up like every other rancher.   Undaunted, Hardy tumbled down the rabbit hole of “segregation laws” during an attempt to explain his position on discrimination in hiring.

As if his position weren’t crystal clear he added a reference to a “welfare district” which doesn’t leave much room for re-interpretation.    There’s a lesson in all this somewhere.  That lesson is probably not to plead illiteracy and a paucity of vocabulary: “I’ve never been slick or polished. I grew up on a ranch and learned to stand up for what I believe and to speak my mind respectfully even when others may disagree.”  [Hardy]  

Growing up on a ranch doesn’t explain away being inarticulate, nor does it offer any justification for being a practitioner of slip-shod logic and rhetoric. The reference is simply an appeal to the Common Folk brand of political propaganda.  The Plain Folks technique is as old as propaganda itself, and it demands that the listener ask: What are the speaker’s ideas worth when they are divorced from the personality of the speaker himself?

In Hardy’s case, not much.

The 47% Myth is a pure Republican creation, and about as self serving a concept as can be imagined.  If a person is not paying Federal Income taxes that’s because the person isn’t earning enough to have a tax liability – as contrasted with, say, Mr. Romney who managed to pay about 13.9% in taxes because most of his income is derived from interest and capital gains.  However, that doesn’t mean the individual isn’t paying any taxes.  Of the current 43.3% who are not liable for Federal Income taxes about 28.9% pay Social Security/payroll taxes.  That leaves 14.4% who don’t pay either Federal Income or Payroll taxes.  Who are these people? 

About 9.7% of these people are ELDERLY with incomes less than $20,000 annually.  3.4% of them are people who are not elderly, but whose income is less than $20,000, and there are 1.3% in the “others” category.  [Tax Policy Center] That “others” category often includes the disabled. Surely, Mr. Hardy is NOT trying to bemoan the lack of federal tax liability for the elderly poor? Or, the disabled? Or, both?

History Lesson – the Federalist Papers were written as newspaper opinion pieces on behalf of the ratification of the U.S. Constitution.  They are NOT part of it, any more so than the anti-Federalist papers written by “Brutus” between October 1787 and April 1788 in New York. [mmisi pdf]  The Federalist Papers have become a cause for the conservatives, some of whom read them (or don’t) as a guideline for original intent; and, as with any documents the interpretation of them is often found in the eye of the beholder.  However, the ideological underpinnings for modern conservative thought are quite often more in line with the arguments offered by “Brutus” in the Anti-Federalist collection than in the contentions and ideas set forth by Hamilton, Madison, and Jay.   Consider this example from “Brutus” (Robert Yates)

“This government is to possess absolute and uncontroulable power, legislative, executive and judicial, with respect to every object to which it extends, for by the last clause of section 8th, article 1st, it is declared “that the Congress shall have power to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this constitution, in the government of the United States; or in any department or office thereof.” And by the 6th article, it is declared “that this constitution, and the laws of the United States, which shall be made in pursuance thereof, and the treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, any thing in the constitution, or law of any state to the contrary notwithstanding.” It appears from these articles that there is no need of any intervention of the state governments, between the Congress and the people, to execute any one power vested in the general government, and that the constitution and laws of every state are nullified and declared void, so far as they are or shall be inconsistent with this constitution, or the laws made in pursuance of it, or with treaties made under the authority of the United States.” [Const.org]

And, after this and several more paragraphs, Yates declares his opposition to the adoption of the new Constitution.  This excerpt from Yate’s publication is far closer to the modern States’ Rights/Limited Government than anything one might find in the Federalist Papers.   It must be very trying to purport to be a Constitutionalist while sounding ever so much like the Anti-Federalists who argued against the original ratification.

About those “segregation laws?”  No, it’s not inarticulacy which ties a politician up in knots when trying to explain that opposition to employment discrimination is tantamount to creating “segregation.”  It’s the sheer unalloyed nonsensical illogical construct itself.  What Hardy, and altogether too many others, are trying to say is that they opposed adding members of the LBGT community to those having standing to file a lawsuit for employment discrimination as a protected class. To “segregate” these individuals would be to continue along the current course – to separate them from those who have the opportunity to resort to litigation in the face of employment discrimination.   The essence of Hardy’s argument, such as it is, is that employers should have the right to separate themselves from those people they don’t wish to hire predicated on gender discrimination.  It’s discrimination which begets segregation, not the other way around, and that explains Hardy’s inability to express an acceptable position – not his “ranch bred inarticulateness.”  [See also NVProg]

About that “Welfare District?”  This isn’t so much a dog whistle as a fog horn.   He might as well have quoted one of the more infamous residents of southern Nevada:

“I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,” he said. Mr. Bundy recalled driving past a public-housing project in North Las Vegas, “and in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids — and there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch — they didn’t have nothing to do. They didn’t have nothing for their kids to do. They didn’t have nothing for their young girls to do. “And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?” he asked. “They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.” [Cliven Bundy, WaPo]

Would the North Las Vegas public housing project be that “Welfare District?”  Mr. Bundy and Mr. Hardy apparently have bought into the Welfare Queen Myth lock, stock, barrel, and ramrod.   There is probably no convincing them that the 2011 consumer expenditure survey (BLS) thoroughly debunks the myth.   Equally unproductive would be any attempt to convince them that only about 20% of welfare recipients are categorized as “long term,” some 80% get out of the system and stay out for at least five years.   No, for Mr. Bundy and Mr. Hardy, the face of welfare is Black, the cars are always Cadillacs, and they’d not listen even if CNBC told them the whole system has changed.

No, they’ve clutched the Heritage Foundation’s deeply flawed analysis which says that if you have a air-conditioner in your apartment you aren’t really poor.  Let’s think about this for a minute. 9.1% of Americans over the age of 65 are classified as living in poverty. [Pew]  Further, let’s exclude the fact that many apartments in hot climates come with air-conditioning included in the rental agreement.  Let’s simply focus on those 9.1% of Americans over 65 whose incomes are below the poverty line – do we want them living without air conditioning in hot locations?  Here’s a cautionary tale from the CDC:

“During June 30–July 13, 2012, a total of 32 deaths (0.11 deaths per 100,000 population) from excessive heat exposure were reported, including 12 in Maryland, 12 in Virginia, seven in Ohio, and one in West Virginia. In comparison, a median of four and average of eight (range: 1–29) heat-related deaths occurred in the four states during the same 2-week summer period each year of 1999–2009. The median age of the 32 decedents was 65 years (range: 28–89 years); 72% were male. Most decedents (75%) were unmarried or living alone.”  (emphasis added)

Is the death of a person from “excessive heat exposure” acceptable?  These people weren’t driving an Escalade, most were men living alone, without adequate ventilation or cooling in their quarters, and with a median age of 65.  Are those the Undeserving Poor who are “Takers” and thus are the  disposable parts of our social contract?   Mr. Hardy might want to hone his arguments against government assistance in light of these considerations?

It might be that for most people the tragic death of one elderly man in an un-air-conditioned apartment is one too many—but for Mr. Hardy is it better that the man succumbed to excessive heat exposure than for a single other person to game the system?

What we can gather from Mr. Hardy’s comments is a picture of a man, who isn’t really inarticulate, but whose arguments are so far from the reality of our social and political lives that they can’t be expressed without resorting to an unacceptable glossary of ideological and racial/ethnic ideas.  This has nothing to do with being “slick and polished.”  It has more to do with being humane and realistic.

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Filed under conservatism, Constitution, House of Representatives, Nevada, Nevada politics

Welfare Royalty and Nevada Taxpayers

There’s good economic news for northern Nevada – Tesla’s coming to town.  What might not be so delightful is the $1.25 billion tax deal Nevada gave to the corporation to get the factory. There’s a 20 year sales tax abatement ($725 million), a 10 year property tax abatement ($332 million),  another $120 million in transferable tax credits, $75 million in transferrable job tax credits, $27 million in modified business tax abatement for 10 years, and $8 million in discounted electricity for 8 years.   [RGJ]  A bit of quick calculation shows that if the plant generates 6,500 jobs and the tax abatements and credits cost, say, $1.2 billion, then the price tag for each job was about $184,615.  Granting that these costs are spread over a 10-20 year period, it’s up to the view of the beholder as to whether this is a bargain. What’s not a bargain are the other corporate subsidies Nevada is handing out every day to the New Welfare Queens.

For example, there are 4,281 Wal-Mart stores in the United States,  and the retail giant operates 30 stores, 2 discount stores, 11 neighborhood markets, and 7 Sam’s Club stores in Nevada. Its associates are paid an average of $13.59/hr.  for full time workers.  [WM]  That wage figure yields annual wages of approximately $27,180 per year.  The federal poverty line for a family of four is $23,850.  133% of that number is $31,720, the percentage is important because that’s the eligibility line for adults qualifying for Medicaid. [NVM]  Thus, the average worker with an average sized family is qualified for Medicaid coverage, and Nevada Check Up coverage, in this state.  Our average worker ($13.59) would receive about $2,174 per month, the SNAP gross income eligibility line is $2,498 per month. [NDW]

This doesn’t make Wal-Mart in Nevada unique, in fact as of last November it was reported that Wal-Mart employees made up the single largest block of Medicaid recipients.  [Bloomberg]

This state of affairs doesn’t make Wal-Mart unique among low wage paying employers.  The fast food joints, currently in the news for being the target of employee picketing, aren’t any better.  The median annual wage for a counter attendant at your local burger establishment is $18,930. [DETR] If the Wal-Mart employees are eligible for Medicaid, Check Up, and SNAP benefits, those counter attendants are truly in the eligibility category.  Additionally, let’s get rid of some silly myths about minimum wage jobs in the fast food industry.

The most common myth is that there’s no reason to worry about wages for fast food employees because most of them are teens earning their first paychecks, and working for pocket money.  No.  Half of all fast food workers are over the age of 23, and about 30% of all fast food establishment personnel are between the ages of 16-19. 36.4% are between the ages of 25 and 54.   [CEPR pdf]

The second bit of malarkey coming from the corporate lobbyists is that the picketing for higher wages is just a screen for union organizing.  Indeed, there are some labor union organization efforts going on – and why not? If workers are being paid minimal wages and aren’t seeing any prospects of advancement (only about 2.2% of fast food workers hold managerial positions) then organizing is an obvious option.   It’s an especially appealing option when the corporate financial statements are taken into account.

Your local McDonald’s franchise is part of a corporation with a $91.31 billion market cap, with an enterprise value of $103.09 billion.   It has a 19.48% profit margin, and a 30.12% operating margin.  To date it has reported revenue of $28.30 billion.  The corporation boasts a 35.19% return on equity. [YahFin]  Its top institutional shareholders are Vanguard, State Street, BlackRock ITC, Bank of America, Massachusetts Financial Services, Bank of NY Mellon, FMR LLC, Northern Trust, BlackRock Fund Advisors, and Wellington Management LLP. [YahFin

The point of serving all those burgers – composed of whatever they might be – is to enhance shareholder value.  What would better enhance ‘shareholder value’ than keeping costs as low as possible, including the cost of preparing and serving the Happy Meal?  If the taxpayers are willing to pick up the tab for the  employees’ health care and basic needs for food and shelter, then so much the better for those institutional shareholders who retain some 64.6% of the corporation.

It’s important to differentiate between welfare recipients – people who are trying to clothe, feed, and shelter their families – from the Welfare Queens who are trying to enhance the incomes of their institutional investors and keep those shareholders satisfied, while the taxpayers of the state have to subsidize their employees, provide their streets, roads, communication infrastructure, and their police and fire protection.  Nice deal, if you can get it?

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Filed under Economy, Nevada economy

TANF in Nevada: Myths and Real Numbers

When the Department of Health and Human Services ran the numbers for TANF recipients in a comprehensive FY 2010 study it reported 10,269 “active case” families in Nevada. [DHHS pdf]  20% of those were single individuals, 35.4% were two member households, 23.7% were in three member households, 12.6% were in four member households, another 5.2% were in five member households, and 3.2% were in six member households.  Thus, 59.1% of Nevada’s active TANF cases involved homes with two or three members.   Thus much for the right wing delusion that people on “welfare” lie about just “making babies” for the lack of anything better to do.  The “average” household size for TANF recipients in Nevada is about 2.6 persons.

Who is receiving TANF benefits?  In Nevada about 41.5% of the active cases did not involve an adult. 48.4% involved one adult, and 10% included benefits for two or more adults in the household.

Looking at the numbers for TANF recipients and the percentage distribution of TANF families by the number of recipient children we find that 45.5% included one child, 28.5% two children, 14.4% three children, 6.4% four children, 3.5% five children.  (Table 4)

The same trend is visible if we look at TANF recipient families in Nevada in which there was no adult eligible for assistance, 43.9% of the cases included one child, 29.2% two children, 15.4% three children, 7.3% four children in the household, and 4.1% with five or more children in the family.  (Table 5)

The picture emerging from the Nevada numbers is further illustrated in subsequent tables for TANF recipients in households with one adult (Table 6) and with more than one adult (Table 7) — most cases involve individuals with one child, and the households receiving TANF support declines thereafter.

Those attempting to imply that TANF beneficiaries are “those people in the inner city…” (a well known Dog Whistle) won’t find much support in the Nevada numbers either.

Of the active cases in FY 2010 35.6% were of Hispanic heritage (of any race), 31.8% were White, and 27.1% were African American. 2.1% were Native American, 1.8% were Asian, and 1.6% were Other.  (Table 8)  To put it another way, 67.4% of Nevada’s active TANF cases were NOT African American households.  If we look at the adult TANF recipients the numbers are essentially the same — 23.7% are of Hispanic descent, 42.1% are White, 26.8% are African American, 2.6% are Native American, and 2.8% are Asian. In short, 65.8% of the adult recipients are NOT African American.  [Table 21]

There are 19,518 children eligible for TANF benefits in Nevada, and 42% are of Hispanic descent, 26.3% are White, 26% are African American, and 1.7% are Native American. [Table 35] Again, the face of welfare in Nevada certainly isn’t predominantly black.  Sadly, these are the figures which cause some to complain that the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution should be repealed or replaced with a more stringent test for U.S. citizenship.  However, this argument can’t be buttressed from these numbers alone because the underlying assumption that the parents of the child are necessarily “illegal” can’t be determined from the overall statistics.  Further, the ramifications of repeal or replacement of the 14th Amendment is a societal and legal discussion which deserves its own forum. And, for emphasis on this point — of the 19,518 children included in active TANF cases in Nevada 98.3% are U.S. citizens, and 1.7% are “qualified aliens.” [Table 40]

And then there’s the Teenaged Mother nonsense — also not in evidence if we look at the numbers from Nevada.  There were 3,875 adolescent recipients of TANF benefits of whom 82.9% were NOT parents, meaning the Teen parents comprised 17.1% of Nevada’s TANF recipients.  [Table 10]

What do we know so far?  We know that large families aren’t “on” TANF, and we know that for the most part these families aren’t African American, they aren’t “illegals,” and we know that most of them aren’t the stereotypical adolescent parents.

Why might older adults in the households receiving TANF benefits not be recipients themselves?  64.8% of the “assistance units” (think of a household) had no adults included in the Nevada TANF program. 24% of these were ineligible because they were receiving SSI benefits, and another 75.4% because they could not prove citizenship.  [Table 12]  There goes that whopper again — non-citizens signing up for “welfare.”   Nevada’s rules are simplicity itself: “All persons applying for or receiving TANF must provide satisfactory evidence of citizenship or qualified non-citizenship status.”  Taking a look at the issue from another direction, of the 7,034 adult recipients of TANF benefits 91.7% are U.S. citizens and 8.3% are “qualified aliens.” [Table 26]  “They” are obviously NOT “coming here to get on welfare.”

One of the more depressing numbers shows up in Table 30, in which we find that of the active case adults (7,034) approximately 41.1% are working.  This says perhaps too much about the level of wages and the kinds of jobs available for TANF households that a person could be holding down a job and still be below the poverty line in terms of TANF eligibility.    We’d expect the 52.4% of the unemployed and the 6.5% of the discouraged workers to be earning less than sub-poverty wages, but not necessarily that 41.1%.

49.8% of the male TANF recipients and 38.9% of the women are employed, and still not earning enough to break over the poverty line.  [Table 30]

And, down goes another bit of right wing mythology about families receiving public assistance in Nevada.

Imagine our right wing friend sputtering, “but but but…they don’t work!”  Not. So. Fast.  In bureaucrat-ese the important element is the PRP, or in English — a personal responsibility plan.  Here is the Federal summary of what’s required in a Personal Responsibility Plan:

“The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) established a framework for creating a time-limited, work-based assistance system that emphasizes a “work first” approach. It requires states to meet federally mandated work participation rates by engaging recipients in federally defined activities. All recipients with a work requirement must participate in one or more of nine “core” activities, of which vocational education is one, for 20 hours per week. Recipients with a child age six or older are required to participate for 30 hours per week and two-parent families are required to participate for 35 hours if they don’t receive federally-funded child care assistance and for 55 hours if they do. For any hours required over 20, recipients can participate in core activities for more hours or in three additional non-core activities, two of which may encompass vocational education — job skills training directly related to employment, and education directly related to employment (for recipients who have not completed high school or the equivalent).”  [DHHS] (emphasis added)

In other words, in order to qualify for TANF assistance the individual must be working, seeking work, in a job training program, or in school.

Now, what do we know?  No, there aren’t any Big Families involved in our major public assistance program, and they aren’t predominantly African American, and they aren’t that stereotypical teen mother, and they aren’t non-citizens or undocumented workers, AND they aren’t allowed to “sit on the stoop drinking beer and listening to boom boxes.”

But wait, how about all those “other benefits” which are commonly tacked on in an attempt to demonstrate that Welfare Queens (not the corporate or ranching variety) are leaching us dry?

Of the 10,269 active TANF cases in Nevada as of FY 2010, some 99.3% were eligible for medical/health care services.  Assistance slides rapidly down hill thereafter.  73.7% were eligible for SNAP (food stamp) benefits, receiving an average of $425.04.  Zero (0%) were receiving public housing, and only 14% were receiving any form of rent subsidy.  7.9% were receiving some form of federally subsidized child care, and another o.6% received state or locally subsidized child care assistance. [Table 13]

The adults are not, as a rule receiving any disability benefits, because of the 7,034 recipients in the report 99.6% received no disability benefits.  [Table 23]  Those ‘reports’ which lump all the possible benefits together and purport to demonstrate that Welfare is a Great Drain, aren’t drilling down to the actualities of TANF benefits and their distribution.

About 4.8% of TANF households in Nevada have some ‘outside’ resources, but as Table 14 demonstrates, not much.  The average child support contribution is $211.04 per month, and for the 22.3% who have cash resources the average is about $202.76.  We can’t add these together because not all households receiving child support payments are those in which there are other cash resources, and vice versa.

The report does tell us that adults receiving TANF benefits are young, but not necessarily very young.  9.4% are under 20, 50.5% are between 20-29, another 25.3% range from 30 to 40, and 12.5% are between 40 and 49.  Only 2.3% are over 50 years of age.  [Table 18]

The pattern holds by gender as well. 1,369 men were TANF beneficiaries, and most were between the ages of 20-49. Only 27.9% were older than 40 years of age.  [Table 19]  5,639 recipients were women, of whom only 10.8% were under 20.  53.7% were between the age of 20 and 29, 23.9% were between 30 and 39, and 11.6% were over 39. [Table 20]

One part of the common perspective is established in the Nevada figures, adult recipients are predominantly single. 63.9% are single, 23.6% are married, and 6.8% are separated.  Another 5.4% were divorced, and 0.3% widowed. [Table 22]

We should also refrain from making generalizations about the levels of education achieved by TANF recipients.  Of the 7,034 adult beneficiaries 1.7% have no formal education, 37.6% have some education between grades 1 and 11; 54.1% have completed grade 12, and 6.6% have some education beyond high school. [Table 25]

There another myth that need challenging — that those who accept public assistance are dooming their souls to a life time of subservience to the government and destroying their work ethic. Again, the real numbers don’t square with the mythology. The TANF families in active cases including children receive assistance for an average of 17.9 months in Nevada. The state of South Dakota has the highest average in the report, some 50 months.  [Table 41]

Even if we consider the stereotypical (and highly inaccurate) face of welfare as the African American teen mother then her 75.3 years of life expectancy would mean that in Nevada she would spend only 17.9 months of her expected 900 months of life on this planet receiving TANF benefits, or about 1.9% of her life span.

If we look at the tables for children receiving TANF assistance in Nevada the picture remains similar. There are 4,266 children receiving benefits (in homes where the adults are not). The number of months for which benefits are paid averages out to 28.1. [Table 42] Hardly a life time of dependency.  Can we argue that the child who received benefits might at some point in his or her life also require assistance as an adult?  One could, but that would require assuming that children once beneficiaries of assistance will necessarily require assistance as an adult.  Even if we accept this questionable proposition, the numbers dictate that the assistance will not be a life time dependency but a short term benefit of 17 to 18 months on average.

As we examine the active TANF cases for Nevada in FY 2010 there are several issues that should be resolved by the figures.  Welfare in Nevada is NOT  Black, it is not necessarily a teen mother, it is not undocumented workers, it is not a life time subservience, it is not lucrative, and it is not draining the Yankee Work Ethic (whatever that might be) from the souls of the recipients.

Only in the highly generalized, ideological, world of right wing propaganda does the mythology drive the perception of welfare as a trap net.  The real numbers tell a very different story, in which we do provide a safety net for our citizens, and by extension our economy.

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Filed under Economy, Politics

How The Grinch Inserts Itself into Christmas

Grinch SmallAh, just in time for the Christmas season — wherein we celebrate the nativity of an individual who advocated feeding people , housing people, and restoring the incarcerated — the right wing hauls out all the ammo from the box about extending unemployment benefits, and other Grinchy items.

Grinch One: “Welfare pays more than minimum wage in 35 states, and more people are on welfare than have full-time jobs.” [RGJ] This, as the Gazette Journal helpfully explains, is the logical equivalent of bits of bituminous debris at the bottom of a Grinch stocking.   In a demonstrably evident exercise  in finding and massaging numbers to make them fit an ideological template — the conservatives have happily assumed that if a person receives any form of public assistance he or she must be receiving them all…each and every one.  Not. So. Fast.  That is hypothetically possible, but far from the usual case. Then, to compound the errors, the conservatives assume that if one person in a household receives any form of benefit — such as Granny on Medicaid — then everyone in the household is “receiving” welfare, thus inflating the figures beyond rational calculation.  Somewhere between comparing apples and oranges, lemons and pomegranates, and eggplant and celery, the conservatives manage to  “make their case.”  Not really.

Grinch TwoUnemployment insurance benefits are “welfare.”  Nupe.  Employers and employees pay into the unemployment insurance benefit programs.  The “insurance” plan into which they have paid is designed to run for 26 weeks, or 1/2 a year, to give people a cushion while looking for work.  If the economy and related employment is “sluggish,” then the benefits can be extended for longer periods.  One source of confusion is the omission of the word “insurance” from popular commentary — as when a broadcaster speaks of “unemployment benefits,” leaving the operative term out of the sentence.  INSURANCE.

Grinch ThreePeople who subsist on unemployment benefits are less likely to seek work.   Sorry, but this doesn’t take place in the real world.   That a person is unemployed after a long period of time doesn’t mean the person wants to be unemployed for a long period of time.  The assumption that an individual is “satisfied” to be unemployed ignores other factors, the most important of which that employers aren’t enthusiastic about hiring people who have changed jobs too often, or have been out of work because they lack updated job skills. [Atlantic] The longer a person is out of work the more likely employers are to hire “someone else.”   Thus, blaming the out of work laborer for the actions of potential employers is misguided at best and cruel at worst.

Grinch Four: Offering people extended unemployment insurance benefits will create a nation of dependent people.   Accepting this premise requires a leap of ideological faith festooned with all manner of purely academic propositions.  At worst, this form of Grinchiness would assert that donating to your local food bank will only serve to make more people dependent upon charity — and at the core this thinking is little more than a rationale for unrestrained selfishness.

If any form of collective action to secure the very lives of those in need, public or private, is eschewed as contributory to dependency, then the obvious extrapolation is a denial of any form of altruism, any concern for our fellow human beings, and the creation of a dis-utopian nightmare of pure self aggrandizement and self absorption.  Central to the self absorption is the creation of a framework in which the individual is justified in refusing assistance to anyone at any time who doesn’t meet the prospective donor’s outrageously high standards of “need.”

Consider the proposal that public benefits be denied to anyone who owns a motor vehicle, or a basic cable subscription, or an air conditioner [Heritage] — and then think of the trap in which a person without a motor vehicle would be placed if there were no way to get to work other than by commuting for 20 minutes or more?  Consider the trap created when a person is declared ignorant of current affairs, but also thought ineligible for benefits if he or she secures access to cable news services?  Finally, is the recipient of benefits considered at fault if the landlord is the source of the air-conditioning? When these questions are inserted into the conversation the discussion should move from the academic and hypothetical to the practical and human.

Grinch Five:   We cannot support increasing numbers of people receiving public assistance.   Who’s “we?”   95% of the income increase since 2009 has gone to the top 1%.  [BusInsider] A more accurate rendition of Grinch Five would be to say:  The United States cannot support a growing number of people eligible for public assistance without increasing the revenue available for social services.

A better question would be to ask:  What can we do to reduce the number of people eligible for public assistance?

  •  Job training programs?
  • Day care services for parents of young children?
  • Increasing the minimum wage to a living wage?
  • Public works investments and infrastructure renovation, rehabilitation, and improvements?
  • Facilitation of the creation of manufacturing for new products?  The energy sector seems alive with possibilities in this regard.

Perhaps this is the season to put aside the Grinch and to give more attention to the economic viability of Whoville.   We can hope for a nation which provides a safety net for those facing economic hard times without fear that we are changing our fundamental values.

We can hope for an enlightened labor policy, emphasizing the factors which will help people find and keep employment without fear that the assistance will jeopardize our own security.

We can hope for a government which represents the hope of a nation rather than the “sum of all fears.”  We could hope for a holiday season in which the Grinches are minimized and the spirit of the season is maximized.

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Filed under Economy, Politics

What the Heck? SNAP go his arguments

Joe HeckWe can update statistics on the SNAP (food stamp) program in Nevada by referring to the Caseload Summary of the DWSS, (pdf).  For FY 2012 there were 187,896 adults and 163,969 children receiving SNAP benefits. Of these, 143,115 adults and 124,890 children lived in Clark County, and 24,834 adults and 21,672 children lived in Washoe County. (p.45)  In sum there were  351,865 receiving food assistance.

The average value of the benefits statewide per case in FY 2012 was $258.56, per month, and per person averaged to $122.70. [DWSSpdf]

And, yes there are more people participating in the SNAP program in Nevada, as indicated by the following chart:

NV SNAP participation per 1000

This trend is in line with the employment (unemployment) trends in Nevada since FY 2003.   Nevada’s highest unemployment rate was 14.0% in October 2010, and was lowest (3.8%) in April, 2000.  [BLS] Nevada’s current unemployment rate of 9.5% earns the Silver State the dubious honor of being 50th in the ranking of state unemployment rates as of August 2013. [BLS]

NV Unemployment 3There’s good and bad news herein.  As DETR explains:

“Service-providing industries are expected to create 100,500 jobs in the ten-year forecast horizon. A lot of the growth in the service-providing industries is a reflection of increasing population and consumption over a decade. Leisure and hospitality industry is projected to have 36,100 more jobs by 2020, the largest employment gain in jobs among all industries. Most of the gain is anticipated to be generated in the accommodation and food services sector.” (pdf)

The number of jobs is increasing — but, as we discover from the BLS tables of average hourly wages and weekly earnings — the average hourly wage in the leisure and hospitality sector is $13.54 per hour, with an average weekly wage of $352.04.  This is the lowest rate of all the sectors in the tables, the next lowest rate being $16.67 in “retail trade.”

Thus, we have a situation in which the unemployment rate which drives a significant portion of the SNAP applications is decreasing, but the kinds of jobs increasingly available are in the lowest wage categories.   With the highest unemployment rate in the nation, and jobs increasing predominantly in the lowest wage sector, Nevada will be hard pressed to find ways to reduce family poverty.

Representative Joe Heck (R-NV) explained his vote on the continuing resolution, with dramatic cuts to the SNAP program, in a statement which doesn’t square with the reality of employment projections in Nevada:

“Every able-bodied American that does not have dependents should be required to meet the work requirements … the reforms put in place by this bill ensure that only those that meet the income guidelines receive the assistance they need,” Heck said in a statement. “The best thing we can do to help those on SNAP and other forms of federal assistance is create an economic environment where the private sector can grow and create more good-paying jobs.”

Instead of pragmatic assistance to those employed in low wage jobs, Heck offers verbiage: “create an economic environment….”  Pure GOP speak for Business Subsidy Good; People Assistance Bad.  The advice is singularly unattached to the reality that the jobs actually being created tend NOT to be “good paying.”

What Representative Heck asserts, but does not substantiate, is that any of the 351,865 receiving food assistance in Nevada do NOT meet the income guidelines.   The issue to which Representative Heck may be applying his penchant for generalities is the BBCE guidelines.

In fiscal year 2010, GAO estimates that 2.6 percent (473,000) of households that received Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits would not have been eligible for the program without broad-based categorical eligibility (BBCE) because their incomes were over the federal SNAP eligibility limits.  [GAO]

However, what Representative Heck isn’t including is another segment of the GAO Report on SNAP:

GAO estimates that BBCE increased SNAP benefit costs, which are borne by the federal government, by less than 1 percent in fiscal year 2010. In that year, total SNAP benefits provided to households that, without BBCE, would not have been eligible for the program because their incomes were over the federal SNAP eligibility limits were an estimated $38 million monthly or about $460 million for the year. These households received an estimated average monthly SNAP benefit of $81 compared to $293 for other households. BBCE’s effect on SNAP administrative costs, which are shared by the federal and state governments, is unclear, in part because of other recent changes that affect this spending, such as state budget and staffing reductions in the recent recession.  (emphasis added)

In short, one can argue that the broad based categorical eligibility did increase the cost of SNAP — but it cannot be seriously asserted that these were the “budget busting” increases cited by those who object to funding the program.

However, there’s always that fall back position: Generalizing about “waste, fraud, and abuse.”  The USDA defines welfare fraud as (1) exchanging SNAP benefits for cash; (2) an application who is dishonest on his or her application; and (3) a retailer who has been disqualified for past abuse lies on an application to be restored to the program.

Further, the USDA has taken serious (and effective) steps to reduce SNAP abuse:  “Due to increased oversight and improvements to program management by USDA, the trafficking rate has fallen significantly over the last two decades, from about 4 cents on the dollar in 1993 to about 1 cent in 2006-08 (most recent data available).”

Those who oppose the SNAP program are more likely to cite stories of “dead people getting SNAP debit cards.”   For example, an audit in Nevada found cards issued to 27 deceased persons. [LVRJ]  This from a total of 351,865 recipients — see what your calculator returns when you divide 27 by 351,865.

Calculator

This news was followed by the following opinion statement:

About 2,400 people were in both databases, and 749 of the deceased were not shown as deceased in the Welfare Division database. Auditors then reviewed 50 of these cases and found that 27 cards had been used after the cardholder had died. Because the sampling number was so low, it is likely that far more than the 27 cards of dead people still are being used. [LVRJ]

It could be.  At the same time it could also be true that the small sample size tended to make the problem look as though we were viewing the heavens with binoculars.  Larger issues may be suggested but the details are extremely hard to determine.   Phrased more elegantly: “A study with low statistical power has a reduced chance of detecting a true effect, but it is less well appreciated that low power also reduces the likelihood that a statistically significant result reflects a true effect.” [NCBI]  The comparison of Vital Statistics databases with SNAP rolls is obviously a desirable thing; however the extrapolation that this “proves”  serious fraud is a step too far.

There is no substantiation for the allegation that the broad based categorical eligibility (BBCE) guidelines for SNAP added an unbearable burden to the federal coffers.  There is no evidence that SNAP is beset by waste, fraud, and abuse — indeed the level of abuse has been reduced in recent years from 4% to 1% (and note not all the fraud is on the part of the recipient).

“Over 99 percent of those receiving SNAP benefits are eligible and payment accuracy was 96.20 percent in 2011 –a historic high. Payment errors are less than half what they were 10 years ago, which has reduced improper payments by $3.67 billion in 2011.” [USDA]

And here comes the kicker — the reason that SNAP benefits were audited for comparison to Vital Statistics?  The federal government directed this:

USDA publishing a final rule in August 2012 that requires States to cross check against the Social Security Master Death File, Social Security’s Prisoner Verification System, and FNS’s Electronic Disqualified Recipient System, prior to certifying individuals for the program, to ensure that no ineligible people receive benefits.”

It really doesn’t quite do to cite an example of an audit to “demonstrate” fraud and abuse, when the intention of the agency conducting the audit was part of an on-going effort to reduce that self-same  fraud and abuse.

If Representative Heck can’t cite any rationale for his desire to “reform” SNAP other than to berate the BBCE — not a significant part of the poverty reduction problem — and to bemoan “abuse and fraud” also not a significant problem, then his objections are hollow ideology at the expense of those recipients who find themselves seeking employment in a land of low wage jobs.

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Who Shouldn’t Be Eating?

The right wing is fond of this verse: “For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.”  2 Thessalonians 3:10

So, …..

Congress UnproductivePew Research full article.

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Bon Fire of the Inanities: Nevada Welfare and the Cato Study

Welfare spending NevadaThings we should probably fix — the fact that Nevada is one of 20 states in the union which allow private interest lobbyists to participate in the state pension system. [RGJ]  The fact that Nevada ranks last in per capita spending on welfare and human services.

On one hand we’re subsidizing the retirement of some individuals who have spent long hours in the Legislative Building arguing against spending “precious taxpayer dollars” on services to taxpayers — as in every Nevada resident who pays sales taxes, and on the other we have members of our communities who are struggling financially, and who are definitely not feeling “entitled” as described by the most recent faulty pseudo-study of welfare spending in America from the folks at the Cato HQ. [Moyers]

Talking about what constitutes welfare all too often provides an object lesson in how apples, oranges, nectarines, grapefruit, and bananas can be combined and compared.   Taken to the ultra-right extreme, “welfare” incorporates educational benefits to veterans, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, public schools, public libraries, public parks and recreation, medical services, in short anything not spent on the military, the promotion of private business, and the judiciary and police.   The consequences of this distorted political philosophy are visible in our under-investment in infrastructure and the disconnect between the elitist entitlement of the 1% and the reality of the 99%. [Burnett]

So, Nevada spends $855.13 per capita on social welfare services, compared to $1021.89 in Georgia, and $1190.11 in Texas.  No doubt there are those who find this a cheerful note.   We spend $55,228,000 on income assistance, $1,654,577,000 on payments to vendors, and “other assistance” amounts to $636,316,000 from state and local sources. [Census, xl download]  One particularly parsimonious perspective delights in these statistics, pointing out that if Nevada payments are low then potential welfare recipients won’t come to the Silver State.  The fact that this keeps those receiving income assistance who are already living here in dire straits is, evidently, of little consequence.

The other distortion of income and living assistance expenditures comes when right wing think tanks like the Heritage Foundation or the Cato Institute remind us that “welfare is better than working.”  There’s nothing really new here, the same type of report came out in 1995 — with essentially the same errors.  CBPP summarizes:

“The claim behind these critiques is clear: federal spending on entitlements and other mandatory programs through which individuals receive benefits is promoting laziness, creating a dependent class of Americans who are losing the desire to work and would rather collect government benefits than find a job.”

The basis for the right wing analysis assumes that every welfare recipient receives every form of assistance available — even those to which they are not eligible.

“Federal budget and Census data show that, in 2010, 91 percent of the benefit dollars from entitlement and other mandatory programs went to the elderly (people 65 and over), the seriously disabled, and members of working households.  People who are neither elderly nor disabled — and do not live in a working household — received only 9 percent of the benefits.”

In short, most support programs are provided to individuals who are either not in the workforce (elderly/disabled) or to people who are in the workforce but are not earning a living wage.  Thus much for the “too smart to work” argument advanced by the right.   That “typical welfare family” cited in the recent Cato publication is anything but typical.  One of the best breakdowns of Cato’s flawed analysis of TANF and Medicaid assistance comes from Scientopia.Org:

“Nationwide, in Fiscal Year 2010, there were a total of 1,847,155 households with active TANF cases. In the same fiscal year, 18,618,436 households received SNAP (food stamp) benefits, and another 65,989,147 individuals (~25,577,188 households based on the census 2.58 individuals/household) received medicaid benefits. According to the Cato report’s own definitions, households on both of those programs should be “welfare families.” With less than 10% of SNAP households also receiving TANF, and less than 3% of Medicaid households receiving SNAP, it’s easy to see that Cato’s “typical welfare family” is actually based on an extreme case, not on anything that any of us would consider to be an “average.” [Scientopia.Org]*

If the same scrutiny is applied to housing assistance, the results are the same — a really “typical” family is worse off financially on public assistance than when at least one member is earning the minimum wage.  Not in Nevada, not in California, not in Washington, D.C. Not anywhere in this country.   Unfortunately, no recitation of statistics from the Reality Sphere will offset the conservative narrative which clings to their imaginary welfare queens and stoop sitting guzzlers who exist solely to reinforce the notion that the rich should be able to retain all their riches –and accumulate ever more, that markets are self correcting — 2008 anyone (?), and “government is the problem.”

So, if not the poor, who does feel entitled?  Not surprisingly, it’s the top 1% of American income earners.   There’s a study on this too:

“According to a new study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin this month, wealth tends to increase a person’s sense of entitlement, which in turn can lead to narcissistic behaviors.

Paul Piff of the University of California at Berkeley told PsyPost “there is something about wealth that gives rise to a sense of entitlement, a sense that one deserves more good things in life than others, which in turn gives rise to an increased or inflated sense of self-importance, vanity, grandiosity, and omnipotence (narcissism).”

Not to put too fine a point to it, but the more one has the more one feels he or she is entitled to have.  Tom Wolfe summed up the type in The Bon Fire of the Vanities:

“He lived on Park Avenue, the street of dreams! He worked on Wall Street, fifty floors up, for the legendary Pierce & Pierce, overlooking the world! He was at the wheel of a $48,000 roadster with one of the most beautiful women in New York—no Comp. Lit. scholar, perhaps, but gorgeous—beside him! A frisky young animal! He was of that breed whose natural destiny it was…to have what they wanted!”

It is all well and good to aspire to having what one wants, it becomes problematic when those with a well developed sense of entitlement pursue politics which yield fewer and fewer prospects and opportunities for the remainder of the population. Yet more dispiriting for our society and its political institutions when they issue “reports” purporting to substantiate the fantasies they harbor about the entitlement of others to secure basic needs — food, shelter, and medical care.

*There are several informative rejoinders to the Heritage/Cato narrative on the relative merits of public assistance and working wages.  See Dunford at Scientopia,  Moyers and Company on the Think Tank Report,  Brad DeLong on Josh Barro’s analysis.  Slate analysis of the MacDougal WSJ misleading OP-Ed.  CBPP “Cato’s fundamentally flawed analysis.”

 

 

 

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