Making work

Making work June 6, 2011

The previous post was a bit of a bitter joke. I’m not seriously advocating any of those ideas as the best ways of addressing America’s jobs crisis (although we should be teaching music and art and it is probably long past time to try something other than the isolation strategy that has failed to work with  Cuba for five decades now).

But I am dead serious when I say that it’s time — right now — to be doing everything possible to address that jobs crisis. No tool should go unused. No attempt should be left untried. No method should be off the table. There are hundreds of things we could and should try before also resorting to rebuilding the Great Pyramid in Vegas (or Indiana), but with 9-percent unemployment for the foreseeable future, I’m not going to rule out even something as absurd and intentionally ludicrous as the Pyramid Project.

“But that would just be make-work,” critics protest.

They say that as though that would be a bad thing. When the No. 1 problem is that there’s not enough work to go around, what’s wrong with making some? Right now there’s not enough of the stuff. High time to make more, I’d say.

The classic example of make-work is paying people to dig holes and then fill them back in. Even that would be preferable to the current situation, which involves not paying 13.9 million people and forcing them to sit idle on the sidelines. Digging holes and refilling them would be pointless and Sisyphean, but it would be better to be Sisyphus drawing a regular paycheck than to be one of our millions of long-term jobless whose unemployment insurance benefits have run out.

Still, I’m not advocating hole-digging and hole-filling because that would only address half of the problem of our current jobs crisis. It would meet the desperate need for work of those 13.9 million Americans with no source of earned income, but it would not address the damage being done to our economy and our society of losing the productive contributions of nearly 14 million people.

The current crisis — to again borrow one of my favorite phrases from Wendell Berry — is a solution neatly divided into two problems. We have people who desperately need work to do. And we have work that desperately needs doing.

It takes years of specialized training to reach the point at which one doesn’t see the obvious “therefore” — or, even worse, the point at which one doesn’t view that obvious next step as desirable or possible. It takes the sort of training in which one learns to argue for the sanctity of efficient markets by insisting that the massively inefficient failure of those same markets is the best of all possible worlds. The sort of training that allows one to pretend to think that idling 14 million productive people while simultaneously neglecting urgently necessary tasks is the definition of “efficiency.” The sort of training that suggests we humans are powerless cogs with no agency who must accept the destiny decreed by the mystical and unalterable Market God, obscenely rechristening enslavement to that cruel God as “freedom.”

No, thank you. I much prefer the sort of freedom that means we are free to act, free to do that which is necessary before calamity forces the Market God to recognize it as such. Free to reject the idea that 13.9 million of us are just losers for whom no work, no income, no purpose can be found. Free to fix crumbling bridges, to repair obsolete pipelines, to upgrade an aging 20th-century power grid and plan ahead for the clean energy needs of our children and grandchildren.

There is work to be done — a lot of it. Anyone who says otherwise is blind. Those wholly lacking vision cannot be relied upon to lead. Without vision, the people perish. We are not facing a crisis, as some have suggested, of “structural” unemployment — the sort of thing J.K. Galbraith imagined in The Affluent Society, wherein the jobless are left idle because, unlike in agrarian times, we do not need their productivity. Their work is needed just as much as they need work to do.

So we don’t need to worry about make-work. We don’t have to worry about hiring people to dig hole and refill them — we have way too many holes already that urgently need filling.

And those holes are not static. They’re getting bigger every day. Entropy never misses a day of work. The interest that is piling up on our neglected and deferred maintenance is compounding faster and more expensively than any merely financial debt.

Ah, but what about the debt and the deficit? What about the argument that we can’t afford to put people back to work because our government is already spending more than it’s taking in?

This should not be confusing. It is not complicated. Employed people earn incomes and pay taxes. Unemployed people do not earn incomes and therefore do not pay taxes, but they do constitute government expenses in the forms of unemployment assistance and other emergency benefits.

Turning an unemployed person into an employed person is the most efficient way to reduce a budget deficit — it replaces an expense with a source of revenue. Allowing employed people to become unemployed people is the most efficient way to create a budget deficit — it replaces a source of revenue with an expense.

Saying we “can’t afford” to put people back to work because of budget deficits is like trying to save money by quitting your job to cut down on the cost of commuting. It’s exactly that counterproductive and exactly that destructive. It hurts people. It hurts some more directly than others, but it winds up hurting everyone.

We have people who desperately need work to do. And we have work that desperately needs doing. I wrote about some of that work in a series of posts last year — 1. Water; 2. Sewers and storm drains; 3. Offshore wind farms; 4. The Grid; 5. Bridges — but those posts barely scratched the surface of the necessary and urgent work that remains undone. So I think we’ll pick up where we left off and add to that list.

We have work that needs doing. We have people who need work to do. Do the math.

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  • Anonymous

    Is there some issue with the comment system?  I replied to WiseBass above, but my reply hasn’t appeared yet.  I’ll give it some time before reposting to avoid a double-post.

  • Lori

     Ignorant foreigner question:

    Unemployment insurance benefits: how do you get them, and how long do you get them? Since they can apparently run out, the answer is not “as long as you need”, so is it a set number of weeks, or does it depend on how long you’d been employed and doing what beforehand? 

    And when they run out, what then? Is there some fallback social security that you can claim or do you actually have $0 per week to live on unless you find something through personal channels? 

    In general, one gets UI by applying for it via the local unemployment insurance office. There are qualifications. Basically you have to have worked enough to qualify and not have quit your job or been fired for cause. 

    Once you qualify they give you what amounts to a prepaid credit card and your benefits are deposited on the card each pay period. I believe UI is still paid weekly. The money is then yours to use as you see fit.

    How long benefits last is complicated. Normally the maximum benefit is 6 months. Because of the recession there have been numerous extensions. Some people got 99 weeks of UI. I think the current extensions mean that most people qualify for 46 weeks. It depends on when you lost your job. 

    When UI runs out there are few other programs to turn to. Most of the long-term unemployed would qualify for food stamps, but no cash assistance. If you’re not on UI it’s virtually impossible to get cash (to use for things like rent and transportation) unless your household includes children under the age of 18 or someone who is disabled. Even then the cash is not enough to pay rent. 

    If your UI runs out and you still don’t have a full time job (not an uncommon situation these days), or you didn’t qualify for UI, you better hope you have family or friends who are able to carry you. If you don’t you’re going to end up on the street. That’s why we’re seeing growing numbers of tent cities again. 

  • Lori

     Ignorant foreigner question:

    Unemployment insurance benefits: how do you get them, and how long do you get them? Since they can apparently run out, the answer is not “as long as you need”, so is it a set number of weeks, or does it depend on how long you’d been employed and doing what beforehand? 

    And when they run out, what then? Is there some fallback social security that you can claim or do you actually have $0 per week to live on unless you find something through personal channels? 

    In general, one gets UI by applying for it via the local unemployment insurance office. There are qualifications. Basically you have to have worked enough to qualify and not have quit your job or been fired for cause. 

    Once you qualify they give you what amounts to a prepaid credit card and your benefits are deposited on the card each pay period. I believe UI is still paid weekly. The money is then yours to use as you see fit.

    How long benefits last is complicated. Normally the maximum benefit is 6 months. Because of the recession there have been numerous extensions. Some people got 99 weeks of UI. I think the current extensions mean that most people qualify for 46 weeks. It depends on when you lost your job. 

    When UI runs out there are few other programs to turn to. Most of the long-term unemployed would qualify for food stamps, but no cash assistance. If you’re not on UI it’s virtually impossible to get cash (to use for things like rent and transportation) unless your household includes children under the age of 18 or someone who is disabled. Even then the cash is not enough to pay rent. 

    If your UI runs out and you still don’t have a full time job (not an uncommon situation these days), or you didn’t qualify for UI, you better hope you have family or friends who are able to carry you. If you don’t you’re going to end up on the street. That’s why we’re seeing growing numbers of tent cities again. 

  • Jenny Islander

    And then you can look forward to seeing people who give you food arrested because they gave you food, as in a recent case reported in the Orlando Sentinel.  I don’t have the link, but googling “Orlando Sentinel Food Not Bombs” should turn up the article.

    The article repeatedly refers to the free meal as a “feeding,” BTW.  Because a person who does not have a renter’s agreement or title to a house is exactly like a stray dog wandering in the park and should be treated as such.

  • Lori

    I saw that Sentinel article. In Orlando groups have to have a permit to feed more than 24 people in public parks and any given group can only get 2 permits per park, per year. As you say, they’re treating homeless humans like stray dogs or pigeons—don’t feed them because they’ll breed and over-populate the area. 

  • Brad

    Boy, where to begin…

    Maybe I’m too close to this… I’m unemployed right now, and have had nothing but temp jobs since 2005… 

    Anyway. There’s a group called the Job Party (www.jobparty.us) that’s trying to duplicate the success of the Tea Party, only for jobs. One of their ideas is “paycheck-ready” jobs. Unlike the famous “shovel-ready” jobs that would fix our infrastructure, these would be quick to implement and hire as many as possible. The jobs they list are:

    • Artists• Home Energy Contractor Helpers• Home Health Aides• Teacher’s Aides• Nursing Home Helpers• Nurse’s Aides• Free Clinic Workers• Food Pantry Workers• Street Cleaners

    (More details on each job at http://www.jobparty.us/job_ideas)

    You might claim that some of these jobs are not as vital as fixing bridges or roads, but again the idea is to employ as many as possible as quickly as possible. The biggest stumbling block is the same as for infrastructure – the government would have to pay for it, and that means getting something through the House.

  • Brad

    On another note: I am a regular listener of Paladinette’s podcast “Jobless Talk” (http://www.blogtalkradio.com/paladinette/). Right now she’s on hiatus, but has left notes on her latest campaign, “Ex-Lax Attack.”:

    Last month it was announced that Paladinette’s Blog Talk Radio show “Jobless Talk” will take a June hiatus after this Friday’s broadcast, meanwhile the 99er EXLAX Attack is building momentum on the social networks.“Unfortunately, it is unlikely any real MOVEMENT will take place in Congress (re: Unemployment issues, benefits or jobs) during June anyway. Hopefully, the unemployed masses will hop on the band wagon and flood Washington DC with tons of laxatives, coupons, emails and post cards in the 99ers “EX-LAX ATTACK”, sending Congress and Obama a clear message.” We have a Facebook Event created PLEASE RSVP:EX-LAX ATTACK on Washington DC You can find printable post cards at: http://twitpic.com/549is6  and http://t.co/8Ra7oy8  

    Full disclosure – I created one of those postcards.

  • You do realize that the Credit Rating Agencies are not a wholly private-sector creation? Government regulation constricted them to three companies, while giving their ratings credibility. Since these were also for-profit companies, this created the worst of all possible worlds: companies with a serious conflict of interest between accurate ratings (and companies believed and relied upon those ratings in purchasing financial products), and pleasing clients who asked for those ratings. 

    In other words, if they hadn’t had the special status carved out for them by government regulation,companies would have been more skeptical in judging their ratings.

    That’s an argument for not privatizing regulatory functions like credit rating, not an argument for not having them.*  Ratings agencies that companies couldn’t trust because they were unregulated wouldn’t be able to serve the necessary function of such agencies in allowing the market to function.  It isn’t free markets that create and maintain prosperity at all; it’s well-regulated markets — i.e. markets governed by whatever regulations are necessary and sufficient to deter large-scale fraud and prevent harmful externalities.

    *Incidentally, this argument also applies to the malignant criminal gangs Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion, who capriciously ruin people’s lives through their opaque, trade-secret credit rating formulas.  As Fred discussed in a series of posts last year, the consumer credit bureaus often punish responsible decisions like closing an unneeded credit card or paying all your bills on time and in full to avoid fees and interest — they’re rating you, after all, not on your good financial behavior, but on your profitability to your creditors.  In addition, they fought tooth and nail against any regulations to increase their transparency — their preference was not to allow you to see your own credit score at all, under any circumstances, and they still refuse to explain exactly what factors go into it.

  • In general, one gets UI by applying for it via the local unemployment insurance office. There are qualifications. Basically you have to have worked enough to qualify and not have quit your job or been fired for cause. 
    I’ll add that the level of benefits you quality for is usually based on your earnings for the last 18 months. (technically, it’s based on your four highest-earning quarters of the last six quarters…) So if you’ve worked less than a year, your benefits will be lower than somone who worked at least a year.

    Once you qualify they give you what amounts to a prepaid credit card and your benefits are deposited on the card each pay period. I believe UI is still paid weekly. The money is then yours to use as you see fit.
    You can get either a pre-paid card, or you can have the money directly deposited to your bank account. You may even still have the option in some states of getting mailed a paper check. Pre-paid debit cards are insideous evil, and having the UI office use them is, to me, a greater sin than state-run lotteries. You can file a claim weekly, but the benefits projections from the UI office assume claiming every other week.
    How long benefits last is complicated. Normally the maximum benefit is 6 months. Because of the recession there have been numerous extensions. Some people got 99 weeks of UI. I think the current extensions mean that most people qualify for 46 weeks. It depends on when you lost your job. 
    Adding that it’s also driven by how often you claim. Claiming less often means there’s more money remaining in the claim. Essentially, the set-up is that you have X dollars that can be claimed in Y weeks; claiming every other week exhausts your beneifts in exactly Y weeks. The extensions add +X dollars and +Y weeks. I went from claiming every week to every other week after six months because I realized it might be a while before I worked again. (and I was right: 18 more months!)

    When UI runs out there are few other programs to turn to.
    Government programs? There’s food stamps, but that’s not cash for utilities or rent or even money for hygene and clothing to help in the job search.
    It really depends on individual situations, but for the majority of people, once UI runs out, there aren’t many government programs to help them. My local natural gas company has a charity-organization associated with it to provide heat in the winter, there are food banks through churches, and banks have some (extremely limited, often long-term-detrimental) hardship options. In the short term, these programs can help a lot, but they’re simply not structured for long-term enrollment.

  • Here is the thing though, a publicly-traded corproation is legally the property of its shareholders, and those who run the corporation are legally obligated to act in the best interests of those shareholders.  The theory is that in doing so successfully they in turn get big paychecks.  Blatent incompotent handling of those public assets constitutes abuse of other’s property, and can go into criminal fraud. 

    So why are these people not seeing extensive legal censure?  The difference between stupidity and intent to fraud should be irrevelant at this scale.  Hell, we do not need to even see these people in jail.  We just need to slap them with enormous fines that sieze most of their assets and drops them back into the upper-middle class net worth bracket.  Then use that fine money to have the government buy up majority shares in those companies.  The extra infusion will help bail them out, and the government then gets a deciding vote in anything the company does. 

    It seems like it would solve a lot of the issues.  Incompotent executives get publicly punished, the bailouts get paid for, and we get lots of future government oversight without having to add specific regulations. 

  • Lori

     So why are these people not seeing extensive legal censure?  

    That is indeed an excellent question, to which there is no obvious answer. There are definitely some folks who should  be “vacationing” at Club Fed even as we speak and yet there haven’t even been any indictments of note. 

    My theory is that the base issue is fear. Fear that if you start prosecutions, even if you confine them to only the most blatant fraud, you’ll basically pull down the whole house of cards. Wall Street functions to a large extent on trust. That’s how it’s supposed to work. There are parts of the system that are still perfectly fine, but the problem is that there’s also a lot of rot. So much rot that if you exposed it trust would collapse, the endless money machine would grind to a halt and the global economy would fall off a cliff. The banks and financial services firms are too big to fail and the fraud is too big to be punished. 

  • I’m kind of expanding on their suggestions, but…
    Rather than increase the need for handouts (that do indeed stimulate the economy, but not as efficiently as employment), why not help people get that money through more productive means by directly subsidizing employment. It would only be applicable to new hires above current employment numbers (no firing people and hiring new ones or hiring them back to take advantage of the subsidy). If we did this for the first, say 10 million jobs added and subsidized $10K of their salaries for three years, we would spend a total of 300 billion dollars over three years (plus some overhead for distribution, fraud management, etc.). That’s less than the total cost of running the current wars for ONE year. At a ten thousand dollar subsidy, an employer would essentially be getting (federal) minimum wage employees for 2/3 off, and even mid-level employment could get 10-20% off that way.
    This would be an absolutely huge incentive for employment and it benefits nearly every level of business. Startup companies? Having far lower startup costs means it is that much easier for entrepreneurs to get off the ground. Established small businesses? It’s that much easier to expand. Major chains? They hire lots of minimum-wagers, generally, so I suspect that a 2/3 discount will be rather welcome. With the number of new hires that would be cost effective for business to hire, the economy would have a huge productivity boost and quickly become strong enough on its own to support those hires. Oh, and similar programs have been extremely effective before, so the opposition can’t even argue “We don’t know if it’ll be worth it,” because it has been in the past.

  • Lori

     Pre-paid debit cards are insideous evil, and having the UI office use them is, to me, a greater sin than state-run lotteries. 

     

    ITA. I didn’t mention it because it was tangential to the original question and I’m nearly incapable of talking about it without going off an a long, profanity-laced rant. 

    It really depends on individual situations, but for the majority of people, once UI runs out, there aren’t many government programs to help them. My local natural gas company has a charity-organization associated with it to provide heat in the winter, there are food banks through churches, and banks have some (extremely limited, often long-term-detrimental) hardship options. In the short term, these programs can help a lot, but they’re simply not structured for long-term enrollment. 

    This is true. I took the original question to be focused on government assistance since it mention social security. Also, few if any private programs will provide cash or assistance with housing or transportation costs for any length of time. UI is really the only program that gives people actual money in any quantity worth discussing. For most people even UI isn’t enough to live on. 

  • Anonymous

    Then I went to college, learned about Public Choice Theory and the History of Regulations, and actually bothered to read more about the whole financial crisis than you find in single-page columns from journalists. 

    This is why people shouldn’t take Economics 101 unless you’re willing to major in the subject.

    I believe Paul Krugman has gone into more details several times.

  • So why are these people not seeing extensive legal censure?  The difference between stupidity and intent to fraud should be irrevelant at this scale. 
    The difference between “stupid” and “evil” should never be irrelevant when considering legal actions.

    Shareholders demand that they recieve above-average rates of return.* Everyone wants to beat the market, every shareholder feels entitled to a higher-than-risk-free rate of return, and that pressure is exerted on the executives. You know what shareholders hate only slightly less than when a CEO drives the company over a cliff? When he pulls up three feet short of the edge, while the guy next to him comes up one foot short.

    Stupid vs. Evil? The evil folks are much lower in these organizations, closer to the transactions, and they’re really malicious. The folks that put together these CDOs and bundled debt packages are so evil that they not only built these economic bombs, but they built them so well that now they’re getting hired to disarm them because no one else can figure them out. Yes, it’s blackmail, and it’s evil. But the people above them, the managers and the executive managers and the vice-presidents and the CEOs, they’re mostly ignorant. They probably knew something was wrong, that something was amiss, but quitting the game early meant leaving money on the table, and leaving money on the table meant their bosses (or shareholders) would be a lot more likely to fire them. They knew they were creating unsustainable issues, and while most of them didn’t understand the legal or technical elements that were wrong, they could see the big picture. The problem for them was “eventually damned if you, defininitely damned (right now!) if you don’t”.

    *go ahead, re-read that sentence and ask yourself if it doesn’t sound totally insane. For extra credit, try and find examples to disprove that claim.

  •  My theory is that the base issue is fear. Fear that if you start prosecutions, even if you confine them to only the most blatant fraud, you’ll basically pull down the whole house of cards.

    On a more personal level for the regulators and prosecutors, there’s also the fear that if you prosecute Wall Street fraudsters, they won’t hire you at twenty to one hundred times your SEC or U.S. Attorney’s office salary when you retire from that job in a couple of years and apply for your sinecure at one of the Wall Street banks or the law firms that service them.  See Matt Taibbi’s incisive Why Isn’t Wall Street In Jail from the February issue of Rolling Stone for more on this appalling process.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    I’m pretty much convinced at this point that Wall Street’s relation to actual productive industries is pretty close to the face-hugger from [i]Alien[/i]’s relationship to Kane – it’s parasitic and eventually fatal, and there’s no way to remove it without killing the victim even faster.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Thanks for the explanations about UI.

    Even in a strong economy there are going to people unemployed for more than 6 months, some for years. A great many of them will be people with disabilities, mental illness and all sorts of other things you can’t just “attitude”* your way out of. This is the case where I live, and I know that our social security for people with disabilities who are unable to work is better than in the US, so it’s definitely the case for you guys too.

    So, addressing here my fellow commenters who are not social democrats, and with apologies to the social democrats for saying something that they know and that drives them to tears of frustration, compassion and rage: if I am reading things correctly, you can be in a situation in the world’s richest country where you ask your society “How will I live?” and your society’s response is “I don’t care”.

    That’s f^*$ed up.

    *Verbing weirds language

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    In Orlando groups have to have a permit to feed more than 24 people in public parks and any given group can only get 2 permits per park, per year. As you say, they’re treating homeless humans like stray dogs or pigeons—don’t feed them because they’ll breed and over-populate the area.

    *Incandescent with rage*

    Can you tell me who made that law?

  • Lori

     Even in a strong economy there are going to people unemployed for more than 6 months, some for years. A great many of them will be people with disabilities, mental illness and all sorts of other things you can’t just “attitude”* your way out of. 

     

    People with long-term disabilities are a separate issue here in the US. It’s a nightmare and a half to get classified as the right kind of disabled and there are always issues about what does and doesn’t constitute disability. (I’m not at all qualified to talk about that in depth.) However if you are classified as disabled you’re covered by Social Security disability insurance (and Medicaid?). That’s completely separate from UI and isn’t time limited. 

     Can you tell me who made that law? 

    Presumably the Orlando city council or whatever the city’s governing group is called. And yes, they would be elected officials. 

  • We Must Dissent

    if I am reading things correctly, you can be in a situation in the
    world’s richest country where you ask your society “How will I live?”
    and your society’s response is “I don’t care”.

    Yes.

    conservative/
    Those poor people shouldn’t have decided to be poor in the first place. There’s no reason for them to leech off my hard-earned dollars. I shouldn’t have to any taxes, and those that do should go to important things like buying $300,000,000 fighter planes and building prisons to put brown people who smoke pot.
    /conservative

  • We Must Dissent

    if I am reading things correctly, you can be in a situation in the
    world’s richest country where you ask your society “How will I live?”
    and your society’s response is “I don’t care”.

    Yes.

    conservative/
    Those poor people shouldn’t have decided to be poor in the first place. There’s no reason for them to leech off my hard-earned dollars. I shouldn’t have to any taxes, and those that do should go to important things like buying $300,000,000 fighter planes and building prisons to put brown people who smoke pot.
    /conservative

  • My theory is that the base issue is fear. Fear that if you start prosecutions, even if you confine them to only the most blatant fraud, you’ll basically pull down the whole house of cards. Wall Street functions to a large extent on trust. That’s how it’s supposed to work. There are parts of the system that are still perfectly fine, but the problem is that there’s also a lot of rot. So much rot that if you exposed it trust would collapse, the endless money machine would grind to a halt and the global economy would fall off a cliff. The banks and financial services firms are too big to fail and the fraud is too big to be punished.

    Hell, this is one of the few circumstances in which I would feel less fear at the prospect of a governmental inqusition.  As an investor, I would feel a lot safer knowing that the rot in the heart of these companies was throughly gutted.  Like dealing with a cancerous tumor, it might be tougher on the body to remove excess tissue surrounding it, but ultimately one can be more certain that the surgeon managed to cut the malignancy all out. 

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    People with long-term disabilities are a separate issue here in the US. It’s a nightmare and a half to get classified as the right kind of disabled and there are always issues about what does and doesn’t constitute disability. (I’m not at all qualified to talk about that in depth.) However if you are classified as disabled you’re covered by Social Security disability insurance (and Medicaid?). That’s completely separate from UI and isn’t time limited.

    Disability and unemployment are not separate issues. There is a spectrum of disability, and for any individual the disabling impact of a given health condition is affected by personal, environmental and societal factors. As you say, there are questions about what constitutes a disability, or a severe enough disability for social security to kick in. So there are always people on the wrong side of the line that must be drawn, who have a very hard time finding or keeping work and end up in the ranks of the long-term unemployed.

    I believe it’s important to be frank about this. When anyone kicks the long-term unemployed*, odds are good that they’re kicking someone with disability. (Personally I don’t think it’s OK to kick *anyone*, but that’s another issue).

    *in a good economy. In a bad economy you’re kicking people almost at random.

  • ako

    As you say, there are questions about what constitutes a disability, or a
    severe enough disability for social security to kick in. So there are
    always people on the wrong side of the line that must be drawn, who have
    a very hard time finding or keeping work and end up in the ranks of the
    long-term unemployed.

    The whole disability and employment situation is a mess.  There are a
    lot of people who can work with no actual accomodations, aren’t disabled
    enough to need benefits, and suffer massively from employment
    discrimination.  There are a lot of people who can work
    with moderate accommodations, have trouble finding an
    employer who’s willing to make the necessary adjustments, and may or
    may not qualify for benefits (which aren’t a great way to live, but are
    better than out-and-out starvation).  Then there are people who can work
    with extensive accommodations where the simple economics may favor
    paying benefits, but helping the work is better for their health and
    well-being.  And people who legitimately don’t have the ability work. 
    And who’s in what category doesn’t align well with stereotypical ideas
    about disability (a lot of people with mental health disabilities aren’t
    considered ‘really’ disabled, but may be significantly more impaired
    than most people with physical disabilities).  It’s a mess, and so many
    things need to change.

  • Anonymous

    And then there’s the case of the mother of a former friend of mine. She uses a wheelchair, so she’s disabled by anybody’s lights, due to an  injury she suffered while deployed, so she can’t even be ranked as ‘undeserving’. She could do office work no trouble. But unless something’s changed since I heard from my former friend last, if she gets a job to supplement her SSDI, she loses her SSDI.

  • Lori

     Disability and unemployment are not separate issues.  

    No, they’re not. I phrased that poorly. What I meant was that here in the US there are separate programs for assisting people who are unemployed because they simply can’t find a job right now for whatever reason vs people who aren’t working or can’t work because of some type of disability. 

    And yes, there are a great many problems with the system. As ako said, there are a number of issues and the whole thing is just a mess. They aren’t such a huge mess though that all of the long-term disabled are totally at the mercy of time-limited UI. 

  • However if you are classified as disabled you’re covered by Social Security disability insurance (and Medicaid?).

    Medicaid kicks in and covers you permanently after you’ve been on SSDI for two years. Before that you’re likely to be eligible for the the state Medicaid program (called AHCCCS in Arizona, where I live) based on income; the difference is that those programs, in at least some states, have time-limited eligibility.

  • However if you are classified as disabled you’re covered by Social Security disability insurance (and Medicaid?)

    My wife works in medical billing – yes, at least some people classified as disabled get Medicaid.

  • Anonymous

    You might think this is a joke.  You would be wrong.

  • ako

    My wife works in medical billing – yes, at least some people classified as disabled get Medicaid.

    Also, “disabled” as in “qualifies for disability benefits” is different from “disabled” as in “has a disability.  For people disabled from birth or since childhood, the criteria for qualifying is extremely restrictive.  (It’s a bit broader for people who have a history of employment and paying into the system, but still not exactly generous.)

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Also, “disabled” as in “qualifies for disability benefits” is different from “disabled” as in “has a disability.

    Yes, my point exactly. Thanks ako.

    It’s particularly difficult for people whose disability is episodic, or results from a health condition that is not very disabling in a lot of other people. Many people, including many bureaucracies, still think of disability in the medical model–that certain health conditions are disabilities while others aren’t.

  • Anonymous

    The medical model of disability does not, to the best of my knowledge, state that some health conditions are disabilities while others aren’t. It states that disabling conditions are objectively medically disabling, rather than only disabling because society is not sufficiently accommodating, and that medical treatment to reduce disabling symptoms is an appropriate way to address disability. 

    I am a disabled person whose disabilities include a health condition (ADHD) that is much less disabling for some of the people who have it than it is for me. I can work with minor accommodations–mainly flexibility in my arrival time, because I’m not neurologically capable of perfect punctuality. While I realize that social expectations are a large part of why it is difficult for me to get employers to accommodate me (our society is pervaded by the idea that punctuality is an indicator of conscientiousness and responsibility), I also accept that there are some jobs for which perfect punctuality is necessary, and I would LOVE to have medical treatment that would make me capable of doing those jobs. The medical model of disability is the only model that accounts for the genuinely disabling nature of many disabilities–that is, the fact that no amount of accommodation is going to make most disabilities go away. 

  • Anonymous

    The medical model of disability does not, to the best of my knowledge, state that some health conditions are disabilities while others aren’t. It states that disabling conditions are objectively medically disabling, rather than only disabling because society is not sufficiently accommodating, and that medical treatment to reduce disabling symptoms is an appropriate way to address disability. 

    I have severe ADHD, which means that I cannot work jobs that require a large amount of organization and that, since I am neurologically incapable of perfect punctuality, I need some flexibility (about 10 minutes’ worth) in my arrival time as an accommodation. I fully recognize that social issues–the pervasive belief that lack of punctuality indicates lack of conscientiousness and lack of irresponsibility, and the resulting expectation of perfect punctuality even in jobs for which it is not actually necessary–impair my ability to work. Nonetheless, it is the medical model of disability, not the social model, that acknowledges the reality of my experience–namely, that my ADHD would still be disabling no matter how accommodating society was. The social model of disability denies my lived experience as a disabled person by insisting that if only society were accommodating enough, my disabilities wouldn’t matter anymore–which is clearly untrue. Disability activists who insist on the social model of disability do not speak for all disabled people, and frankly, if the effects of someone’s disability would be completely negated by appropriate accommodations, I have to question how disabled that person really is in the first place.  

  • ako

     Disability activists who insist on the social model of disability do not
    speak for all disabled people, and frankly, if the effects of someone’s
    disability would be completely negated by appropriate accommodations, I
    have to question how disabled that person really is in the first place.

    It’s complicated.  I think a lot of the medical model/social model stuff is suffering from the human tendency to categorize things as extreme binaries.  A lot of disability rights stuff was formulated in response to an extreme medical model view taken by health care professionals, and some people in the disability rights movement (and a lot of people out of it) take it as some complete reversal of the extreme medical model view.  There are more
    nuanced
    ideas about the medical model and the social model, but a lot of people are stuck pitting “Every disability-related problem you have is because you are broken and need to be corrected, and repairing you is the only appropriate way to address disability” (extremist medical model) against “Every disability-related problem you have is because society doesn’t do things correctly, and changing social circumstances is the only appropriate response!” (extremist social model).

    I have what I’d consider a very minor physical disability, and in terms of stuff I’m interested in doing, there’s very little I can’t do.  But it’s also a highly visible disability (I use crutches to walk longer distances, and even when walking unassisted over short distances, I don’t look normal), so I tend to get very little impairment stemming from my physical condition and quite a lot stemming from other people’s attitude towards me and assumptions about my incapacity.   There is definitely stuff I can’t do because of my physical state, but to me it mostly seems minor, the way my inability to roll my tongue seems like a minor physical quirk.  I have experience with physical limitations and impairments, but by far the biggest factor in my disability experience is being categorized as disabled, so the social model offers far more that’s helpful for me, while the “Your body is broken and in need of repair” approach has done me very little good.  I think that, to the extent it can be used without denying other people’s experiences, the social model is important.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Perhaps I used the term “medical model” incorrectly; or maybe it’s used with different nuance in my part of the world.

    The disability model I’m familiar with is referred to as the functional model. It acknowledges that disability is a combination of a whole lot of factors including biological factors that for different individuals are more or less modifiable, and environmental factors that range in their impact on functioning between individuals and the circumstances of any one person’s life. Sounds like what I’m thinking about is the mid-point of the medical and social models that ako refers to.

    What I was getting at when I said “medical model” was a common idea in the general population, including people who decide what is and isn’t a disability for social security purposes, that particular health conditions are called disabilities while others aren’t. For example, I’ve heard people charged with assessing eligibility for disability support say that depression is not (i.e. never) a disability; nor is diabetes; but cerebral palsy always is

    Our ratshit Opposition Leader recently proposed tightening eligibility for the disability support pension to exclude people with “readily treatable” conditions, meaning that these people would be put on the lower unemployment benefit, which comes with a range of obligations to fulfil. Scared the hell out of a lot of people because who will decide what condition is “readily treatable”? And if you have a condition that responds well to treatment for most people but not you–what then?

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Perhaps I used the term “medical model” incorrectly; or maybe it’s used with different nuance in my part of the world.

    The disability model I’m familiar with is referred to as the functional model. It acknowledges that disability is a combination of a whole lot of factors including biological factors that for different individuals are more or less modifiable, and environmental factors that range in their impact on functioning between individuals and the circumstances of any one person’s life. Sounds like what I’m thinking about is the mid-point of the medical and social models that ako refers to.

    What I was getting at when I said “medical model” was a common idea in the general population, including people who decide what is and isn’t a disability for social security purposes, that particular health conditions are called disabilities while others aren’t. For example, I’ve heard people charged with assessing eligibility for disability support say that depression is not (i.e. never) a disability; nor is diabetes; but cerebral palsy always is

    Our ratshit Opposition Leader recently proposed tightening eligibility for the disability support pension to exclude people with “readily treatable” conditions, meaning that these people would be put on the lower unemployment benefit, which comes with a range of obligations to fulfil. Scared the hell out of a lot of people because who will decide what condition is “readily treatable”? And if you have a condition that responds well to treatment for most people but not you–what then?

  • ako

    The way I’ve heard “medical model” used varies a bit, but it’s generally been used to describe “Disability is a defect of the body, problems primarily stem from the disabled person having a defect, and the best response is medical treatment” models of disability.  I haven’t heard it used to talk specifically about classifying disability like that.  Most of what I’ve heard has been from disability rights advocates who tend to be against the medical model, and have somewhat of a tendency to focus on what’s wrong with it and describe the worst features and ugliest extremes of an approach centered around the medical model can do, and the most moderate, balanced, and desirable features of the social model of disability.  I think both models can be effective tools for evaluating certain types of problems, and both have their flaws when applied sloppily or indiscriminately, although I tend to be more intuitively sympathetic towards the social model, as that’s done me a lot more good than the medical model has done or is likely to.

    The functional model sounds interesting.

  • V A Kent

    Ok so organize it. Start being the median. Be the glue. Connect the $ and jobs with the people. Be the contractor.