Pissed Off At: Lawrence Mead
My original idea in starting this blog was to have a more constructive outlet than yelling at the newspaper or TV screen for the all-too-frequent times when the prejudice, corruption and/or plain heartlessness I find in the news makes me want to punch someone. Then the Occupy movement started, and I got involved with that, and even though our society’s still plenty fucked up, I became less angry. But today I found myself yelling at the TV screen again.
On this PBS Newshour segment, Lawrence Mead is one of three commentators discussing the problem of poverty in America. He says that poverty is
not primarily due to unemployment or inequality.
Those are concerns that affect the bulk of the population and they affect some poor people. Poverty has grown largely due to economic conditions, but it doesn’t follow that most of poverty is due to the economy. That’s really not true. Most poor adults are outside the economy.
They’re simply detached. And they don’t say that the fact that they’re not working is due to the fact that they can’t find a job. That’s seldom the case. It’s usually other factors in their private lives that make it difficult for them to work. […] Jobs are usually available. The main problem is to mobilize people to actually get up and work regularly.
Or, in short: the poor are poor because they’re too lazy to go out and get a job.
News flash, Mr. Mead: HAVING A JOB IS NOT A TICKET OUT OF POVERTY.
According to the U.S. Census, in 2009:
- *Two-thirds of families living below the federal poverty threshold had at least one working family member. (Source: http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/cpstables/032010/pov/new10_100_01.htm)
- *77% of families living below 200% of the federal poverty threshold had at least one working family member. (Source: http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/cpstables/032010/pov/new10_200_01.htm)
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of people in the workforce 27 weeks or more grew 30 percent from 1987-2009, but the number in the workforce 27 weeks or more living in poverty grew 65.3 percent:
(Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Annual Social and Economic Supplement, Current Population Survey. Graphics from What Went Wrong: A Betrayal of the American Dream, a project of the Investigative Reporting Workshop.)
I’m providing the statistics because they show just how horrifying the problem of working poverty has become in the United States. But I already knew from my personal experience that having a job wasn’t a guarantee of anything. I knew this from my experience with contract employment, commission sales jobs, part-time and seasonal work, and jobs where the number of hours available depends on the amount of work available, so you never know from week to week whether you’ll be working full-time, part-time or not at all.
I recognize that not everybody has had the experience of being a member of the working poor, but a guy brought in onto a major news show as an expert on poverty should at least know (and care about) the statistics.
How can PBS let this guy spew this poisonous crap with nobody on the show calling him on it? The other two commentators don’t, including Angela Glover Blackwell, who seemed like someone who’d be able and willing to, given her impressive command of poverty statistics. Maybe they have a setup where they only hear the questions directed towards them, and don’t get to hear what their fellow commentators are saying? But the anchor/moderator doesn’t have that excuse. He could’ve either called Lawrence Mead on his BS or asked Angela Glover Blackwell to comment on it, but instead just stayed on the “how much are we talking about poverty” angle rather than, I don’t know, talking about it.
When I looked up who the guy was–PBS had just introduced him as an NYU professor–it all made sense. Lawrence Mead is one of the main architects of “welfare reform” or “workfare” policy, whose entire premise is that the poor are lazy schmucks, and which seeks to solve this problem by forcing welfare recipients into jobs. Whether these jobs are viable paths into the middle class or dead-end, low-wage McJobs does not seem to concern most advocates of welfare reform.
The most thorough examination of the results of his policies that I’ve been able to find is “Welfare Reform and Intergenerational Mobility”, a review of more than 100 studies of welfare reform commissioned by the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Economic Mobility Project. Its conclusion was that the program’s results were mixed, helping some single mothers while pushing others even deeper into poverty. And the policies that increased household income were the ones that allowed mothers to remain eligible for welfare while working.
Which means that the kind of jobs people get through welfare reform are not enough to push them out of poverty on their own.
But the guy who literally wrote the book on welfare reform would have us believe poor people just need to “get up and work”.
Lawrence Mead’s contact info at NYU is here. I encourage everybody to email him at email@example.com with these or other statistics about the working poor, and accounts of personal experience with poverty if applicable. I know it’s hard to restrain this impulse, but don’t send him any curse words or death threats. If you go to NYU, I encourage you to protest this asshole any additional way you can think of.