Praxis - Metro Justice

The Myth of Welfare's Corrupting Influence on the Poor

6764060005_e57e8b3088_z.jpgThe most common stereotype about welfare is that people who go on it become lazy and stay on it. Somehow, "picking yourself up by your bootstraps" is the only way to live a life of integrity during times of personal poverty. The ideology is displayed everywhere from bumper stickers to signs held by members of the tea party. Even foreign economists who studied here in the US extol the virtues of bootstrapping.

Here's the thing though, it's a myth, an exclusively American myth. Most people who go on welfare work themselves out of it regardless of regulatory laws. Many see it as temporary assistance that provides the peace of mind needed to get a good job. Families who are on it until it's no longer needed report having healthier children who do well in school and have a better chance at moving on to good jobs. The cases where people want to stay on it are ones where the recipient's own income is too meager to support themselves, and they fear making "too much" (as there is little in cost of living adjustments) will cut them from the very benefits helping them stay afloat.

Eduardo Porter's article originally published by The New York Times explores the history of welfare, and the history of our disdain for it. He also points out that in countries where assistance programs are not as regulated as ours, recipients are not discouraged from working. Many recipients just use it as needed, and then go off of it after working to improve their situation.

While we could say that it would be ideal if nobody had to rely on public assistance, to simply cut it is out of the question. As noted, when Clinton's welfare reform came out, there were fewer people on welfare at first, but that could also be attributed to an improved economy in the 90s. As things started to go on the decline again, numbers were back to where they were before reform. If we really want people off welfare we need to consider creating better employment opportunities and a higher minimum wage. A healthier economy is key to improving the lives of all. 

(Photo credit: USDA and San Antonio Food Bank of a family who went on assistance programs to rebuild their lives after losing their home in a fire. Full story at the Flickr page.)

Does welfare corrupt the poor?

Few ideas are so deeply ingrained in the American popular imagination as the belief that government aid for poor people will just encourage bad behavior.

The proposition is particularly cherished on the conservative end of the spectrum, articulated with verve by Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute, who blamed welfare for everything from higher youth unemployment to increases in “illegitimacy.” His views are shared, to a greater or lesser degree, by Republican politicians like the unsuccessful presidential candidate Mitt Romney andPaul Ryan, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

But even Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the father of the New Deal, called welfare “a narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the human spirit.” And it was President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, who put an end to “welfare as we know it.”

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Why We Need to Take Care of the Workers Behind Home Healthcare

Home healthcare is an essential and growing service in our society. With people living longer lives we have rapidly-growing industry that specializes in helping out people who need extra assistance. Unfortunately, like fast food and retail, home health aides are paid poorly for their work. The rigors of the work combined with the low pay leaves for a high turnover as many home health aides just feel their work is thankless. 

Michelle Chen's article for The Nation illustrates how unions can not only fight for better pay and benefits for home health workers, they can revolutionize the field into a true career path. Chen discusses the training program provided by the SEIU home care division in Washington State.  This program includes special training and apprenticeship programs that build relationships with primary care providers, and create community for home health workers in a job where many workers work alone. These little things add up to nurturing workers into believing their work is with purpose, and that they have a voice in their field. In return these workers are better able to provide for their clientele. This approach is even being taken by non-union organizations that realize that living wages and career development opportunities make a huge difference in the lives of workers, and the people they care for. 

We ask ourselves how unions can modernize to improve their effectiveness, this is a way. While there are people who talk about the value and dignity of work, those same people take that dignity away when it comes to service sector work. They justify low pay and poor treatment of workers. Unions can help to combat this beyond pay and benefits, through development opportunities and support for service workers. They can fight to bring dignity back to these jobs, which not only improves the lives of service workers, but improves the services they provide for the rest of us. What else do you think unions can do to modernize and better serve the people they work to help?

In the debate over modernizing the healthcare system, the realm of home-based healthcare services seems mired in the last century. Long dismissed as unskilled “senior sitters,” home care aides have only recently been officially included under minimum wage and overtime protections. Yet even as they’re just catching up to last century’s labor laws, home care is quickly adapting to 21st-century medical standards—creating the double challenge of shaping dignified careers out of a traditionally thankless job.

Since home-based healthcare services is one of the fastest growing sectors, home care jobs are being redefined largely by market trends. But a program developed through the SEIU home care union in Washington sees the sector’s expansion as a platform to systematically transform one of the lowest-paid jobs into a career of the future.

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No PR Campaign Will Save Walmart From Being 'Exhibit A' of Bad Worker Policies

5684720360_78550e1bc9_z.jpgWalmart is the King of bad jobs. I first learned of how awful Walmart can be through reading Barbara Ehrenreich's book Nickel and Dimed: on (Not) Getting by in America, where Ehrenreich goes undercover working a number of poverty-wage jobs and shares her experience of being overworked and underpaid. I remember being appalled at how Walmart treated its workers, the very people who bring in the Walton family's fortune by keeping their stores running. Without workers, a business is nothing.

Richard L Trumka's article for The Guardian illustrates how despite Walmart's recent PR campaign touting it as a company that is "actively addressing" worker (and public) concerns, little has changed. In some cases things have gotten worse, and Walmart still retaliates when workers take action. Successful unionizing leads to store or department closures. Unsuccessful unionizing leads to people simply being fired. Let me reiterate, this is a company that would rather close stores than have a unionized workforce. For a smaller company that kind of action would be suicide.

Walmart has been under fire for years for everything from employment practices to its shortchanging of suppliers. Current changes they've made are not enough, and workers have no need to feel "grateful" for a raise when their wages still keep them in poverty. Walmart needs to know that their pithy appeasements mean nothing to still-oppressed workers. Their attitudes and worker treatment are outdated, and if they want to remain successful they need to get with the times and actually be the kinder, gentler company they're claiming to be. No PR campaign can protect horrible companies from scrutiny.

(Image: Ironically enough by Walmart, licensed under Creative Commons)

Americans are increasingly fed up with an economy that rewards wealth over work, a message that’s made it all the way to the top. That’s why when the White House hosts a Summit on Worker Voice on Wednesday to highlight the power of working people standing together to demand better jobs and better lives, one notable corporation has been excluded – Walmart.

Walmart is the embodiment of our broken economic system. The company pays poverty wages, has discriminated against women and minoritiesharms our environmentwreaks havoc on the global supply chain and continues to lead a race to the bottom where workers are treated like numbers on a balance sheet instead of human beings with families to sustain. Walmart’s motto: “Save Money. Live Better” seems only to apply to its heirs, who have amassed more wealth than 42% of the poorest American families combined.

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How to Make Bad Jobs Good 101

7716872636_c0859a2ff2_z.jpgWe talk of the "good old days" back when our economy was more manufacturing based. Steady jobs that could be held lifelong with full benefits and pay to assure your family was cared for, and a pension that will ensure comfort for the rest of your life. Those jobs were not always good, and it took decades of fighting to make work that was once dangerous and exploitative into work that provided that lifelong security we think of when we reminisce on the "good old days". 

Claire Goldstene's article for reminds us that history is cyclical. Elements may change, but factors remain the same, and we can use that to our advantage. The same movement that brought collective bargaining and all its benefits to factory workers can be utilized to do the same for the service-based economy we live in today. Workers can stand up and demand living wages, benefits, sick pay, and other things that at one time were hard-fought givens for workers. 

Even the arguments of opponents are the same, mainly that worker rights will damage business and the power of the "free market". Or that government stepping in and setting labor laws will violate the rights of the business, and how those rights are more important than the rights of the worker if we want society to keep going. 

We're making steps towards change for the better. Changes in State minimum wage laws are proof, cities passing $15 an hour wages are proof, and the continued commitment of today's labor movement is further proof that if we continue we can win rights for service workers. If we are to look to the past, we should look to see that we again can accomplish what others before us have worked towards. If factory workers in the early 20th century can do it, service workers in this century can do it too. 

Many of our older members may remember the days when we were a manufacturing economy, or even the days when those workers fought for hard-won labor rights. Please share your stories in the comments, would love to hear them!

(Image: child textile worker 1910, public domain)

Current campaigns across the United States to unionize service workers reflect a decades-long transformation, as service-sector employment outpaces that of manufacturing. But these efforts also occur amid a common mindset that too easily associates rates of pay, benefits, and job security with the nature of a particular job. Consequently, the prevalence of low wages, a lack of benefits, and sporadic and unpredictable schedules, so characteristic of the service economy, especially as compared to factory work, are regularly explained as inherent to this kind of labor. But such a view promotes a nostalgia about manufacturing jobs devoid of historical context. Poor working conditions are not intrinsic to service work itself, just as the decent pay of mid-twentieth century factory jobs was not intrinsic to that work. Rather, it resulted from coordinated pressure to make these jobs “good.”

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In America, the Poorer You Are, the Poorer Your Children Will Be

"Having it all" has been a hot topic in the world of work. How to balance work and life, career and family, you get the idea. Supposedly it is attainable, especially if you're middle class or above. If it doesn't feel attainable, the idea of switching employers to one who accommodates a balance is also reachable. Books have been written about it, CEOs have preached it, just another part of the "American Dream". 

It isn't so for the working class. Michelle Chen's article for The Nation describes the many ways work/life balance is unreachable for the working poor. If anything, the working poor are stuck choosing job(s) over family while knowing their children will grow to be just as poor, if not poorer. The stresses of long hours, juggling 2-3 jobs, then spending time to make sure the kids are fed and have done their homework takes its toll. There is no paid time off, sick pay, and rarely, if ever, quality time. Sometimes these stresses and frustrations wind up being taken out on children. In turn, these children grow up without a strong emotional support network, are more likely to be abused, and are less likely to have the opportunities their peers from better off families have. 

It's important to support today's labor movement, as the core of it is to give individuals and families control over their lives. Things like a living wage, sick pay, paid time off, and steady schedules can strengthen a family. Parents can take the time to be with their children in a supportive fashion, rather than working to the bone to keep them fed, clothed, and sheltered. Lower stress levels mean more peace at home, assuring a better sense of well-being. Children can have the attention and environment that factor into making social mobility more likely. 

We have been making strides in the Fight for $15. Food workers are already seeing victory, but there are many more field out there where people work under the same conditions. Please continue supporting our efforts to help everyone live a good life. 

When people talk about “balancing work and family,” they’re usually talking more about the workplace than what’s going on at home. Now we’re starting to get data on what the workaday life looks like from a kid’s eye view, and it doesn’t look good.

When debating the issue of work-life balance, arguments over unlimited vacation and employment discrimination center around women’s barriers to opportunity—the perennial glass ceiling that Anne Marie Slaughter and Sheryl Sandberg rage at when lamenting not “having it all.” For working-class folks crushed by on-call schedules or poverty wages, it’s often hard to find any life outside work, let alone to balance work and family lives. But centering the conversation not on career ambition but the life course of a family helps put the false dichotomy of work vs. life in perspective.


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Perceptions of Opportunity and Equality Differ Widely Along Racial Lines

20804927718_bf15f4c4ea_z.jpgWhat is your perception on race? Do you feel that we're closer to equality than society is telling us? Do you believe that there is no racial pay gap? Do you feel activism is only doing harm to race relations? Do you believe the opposite?

A recent survey by PBS Newshour/Marist asked questions related to race, discrimination, and race relations and activism. A recent Common Dreams article by Nadia Prupis breaks down the responses and what they reveal. Not surprisingly, perceptions do differ between black and white respondents.  The breakdown in responses shows that there is still a clear racial divide.

Many of the white respondents for instance believe there is no racial pay gap, that job opportunities are equal, and that movements like Black Lives Matter are a distraction from real racial justice issues. Meanwhile the majority of black respondents have reported the opposite. The division is a clear as fantasy vs. reality. Many of the younger white respondents grew up in an era of "color-blindness", a well-meaning but misguided philosophy that ignores the existence of racial identity. Combine that with racial privilege and it can be easy to see a world where discrimination feels like a non-issue. 

For many of the black respondents discrimination is a reality that is lived daily. Police profiling and violence are realities. Fewer job opportunities and the existence of pay gaps are realities. This isn't some rose-colored world where ignoring skin color makes the problem go away. For many, activism and movements like Black Lives Matter are a means to fight for their validity as human beings.

Where do we go from here? How can we work to see inequality as a harsh reality and proactively address it? The first step we can take is to listen when the voices of the disadvantaged speak. We need to listen to what their needs are, and how we can help. Take a  workshop on addressing racial inequality. Reach out to people in your community, and learn what their needs are. For some, a rally might be the step outside of one's comfort zone needed to see the other side. How do you plan on addressing inequality? Please share your ideas. If you are already actively working for fight inequality, what are you doing?

(Photo credit: Backbone Campaign, from their Racism the Elephant in the Room event. Licensed under Creative Commons)

Perceptions of equality in the U.S. are still sharply divided by race, even as a majority of Americans acknowledge that race relations have declined in the past year, a new survey released Monday has found.

The survey, conducted by PBS Newshour/Marist Poll, asked respondents if they believed that black and white Americans receive equal pay for equal work and have equal job opportunities. Answers revealed that 61 percent of whites believed there is no racial pay gap, while 72 percent of blacks believed there is.

Despite those divides, a majority of all those surveyed—56 percent of black respondents and 60 percent of whites—said that race relations have gotten worse over the past year.

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New Study: Racism Can Make Kids Sick - For the Rest of Their Lives

5545069561_1e2c200da8_z.jpgIt's fairly common knowledge that stress is bad for your health. It can lead to a weakened immune system, heart problems, sleep disruption, premature aging, and a number of other ailments. Long-term stress can be a risk factor in cancer, preventable accidents, poor grades, and declining mental health. Our market is decently saturated with products and services marketed as ways to reduce our stress, primarily tailored for the stress of living in a fast-paced corporate society.

What about stress and oppression? Gabrielle Canon's article for Mother Jones discusses how racism causes stress, and health problems, for racial minorities. The study conducted by Northwestern University studied the cortisol (stress hormone) levels of a varied group of participants over the past two decades. Participants who faced discrimination during adolescence had cortisol levels outside the average range, while peers who did not face discrimination had average cortisol levels. Many of the participants who reported discrimination were African American.

We need to remind ourselves that racism still exists, and that it is hurting people. If we want to care about the well-being of others we need to fight harder against discrimination on all levels from the obvious gestures to the micro aggressions oppressed people face on a daily basis. What are you doing to fight discrimination? 

(Photo credit: tamckile on Flicker. Licensed under Creative Commons)

Racism is still one of America's greatest social ills—and it might actually be making people sick. According to a new study out of Northwestern University, racial discrimination experienced in adolescence can have a profound impact on health later in life.

Controlling for other factors that might cause stress, including socioeconomic status, health behaviors, and depression, researchers found that adults who had reported higher levels of discrimination when they were young had disrupted stress hormone levels 20 years later—and that African Americans experienced the effects at greater levels than their white counterparts.

"There's sometimes a tendency to say, 'Oh, they are just kids—they will get over it,'" says developmental psychologist and head researcher Emma Adam. "But it turns out there can be lasting impact."

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How Common Core Hurts English Language Learners

14143338033_20c1ce9c44_z.jpgMany of us can agree that in theory having standards for schools is a good thing. Many of us can also agree that Common Core is a very flawed system of standards. The required annual tests pressure teachers to prioritize teaching tests over engagement, there's little wiggle room for children who are either exceptional or struggling, and it forces English as a Second Language (ESL) students to cram years of language education into a relatively small time frame if they want to succeed in school. 

Rochester has a significant refugee population, which leads to a number of ESL students in its public school system. Children's School of Rochester (School 15) specializes in, and reserves half its new student slots, for immigrant and refugee children. These children have to not only keep up with classes where English is the primary language, they also have to take extra time, and testing, to learn and improve their own English. That is a lot for a young child to take in.

Jose Luis Vilson's article for The Progressive discusses Common Core, his experience as a teacher, and how current standards are hurting students. Especially those who are learning English as a second language, and those students who have education needs that require more tailoring. His worry is how these standards are what drives classrooms, and how many students are being held back in one respect or another from what material constitutes as "developmentally appropriate" to the hurdle of learning and testing on English learning skills, added onto the other major subjects students are regularly tested for.

When we stand up for our students, we are standing up for our future. This includes the students of families who come here for a better life. What are some alternatives you can think of to help ESL students learn without overloading them?

(Image source: US. Dept. of Education. Licensed under Creative Commons.)

 When I was growing up, my family spoke mostly Spanish, but everyone at my school spoke English. Since my mother prioritized academic success over cultural acclimation for me, I found myself slowly abandoning Spanish. Taking Spanish as an elective in middle- and high school helped me make technical sense of the written language, but by then I had abandoned my mother’s native tongue in full, uprooting a small sense of my position in my extended family. 

Bilingualism is an exercise in constant transition and preparation. In school, how one flips from one language to another ultimately determines an English language learner’s success.

Before the Common Core came into play in New York State, bilingual education was already fraught problems and peril. But the Common Core tests have only made things even harder. English language learners take their first English standardized language exam a year and a day after they matriculate. Experts say it takes four to five years to fully learn a new language. But in New York, after a year and a day, all bets are off. English language learners are given a battery of tests for reading, writing, listening, and speaking over a two-week period, in a season already packed with exams for math, science, social studies, and regular English. The New York State English as a Second Language Achievement Test (NYSESLAT) is a strenuous exam on its own. Students listen to English narration and are asked to respond in written form. Students are also assessed individually for speaking the language and reading extended passages. It boggles the mind that with such an exam, this set of students also has to take the mainstream English test.

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This Labor Ruling Could Give a Big Boost to the Fight For 15

Another victory for labor. Last Thursday it was ruled that joint employer (a company that does some form of outsourcing or contracting, and the company working with the outsourcer) are jointly responsible for labor conditions. This is great news as a lot of work today is outsourced in one form or another, whether through a staffing or temp agency, contract house, franchise, "sharing economy" where each employee is treated as an independent contractor, or BPO (Business Process Outsource). 

While there's still a way to go, it's a step in the right direction to have both the outsourcer, and the company contracting the outsourcer accountable for labor conditions and pay. This Nation article by Michelle Chen focuses on physical labor through contracting companies and how it will strengthen the employees' power to unionize. It can ripple out to other outsourcing businesses as well. Here in Rochester we have a number of call centers who hire for numerous companies. Services include everything from sales to IT support. Conditions vary between call center policies, and policies put in place by contracting companies, as these companies have a direct say in the working conditions of their staff. One center can have as many work environments as they have companies they contract with. We also have a number of staffing agencies and contract houses who hire workers for other companies.

Time will tell how this can help laborers organize. Fortunately it looks like things are moving in the right direction. Joint employers should be held jointly responsible for their workers. Do you know anyone who will benefit from this ruling? Will any of you benefit from this ruling?

The government just showed corporate America that they’re the boss, when they’d actually prefer not to be. In a landmark 3-2 decision issued last Thursday, the National Labor Relations Board expanded the definition of “joint employer” to include not just the boss that directly employs the worker but also the company that controls that workers’ labor conditions indirectly by contracting with the boss. The new definition could boost the nationwide low-wage workers’ movement known as the Fight for 15, by expanding the power of “outsourced” workers, who work for one company while formally employed through a third-party contractor, to organize and hold corporations accountable.

The case focused on the question of whether a recycling company, California-based Browning-Ferris Industries (BFI), should be considered a joint employer of 240 workers hired by a subcontractor, Leadpoint. The Board determined that BFI held significant enough control over Leadpoint workers’ employment and labor conditions to be considered a joint employer under the National Labor Relations Act.

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Mass Shootings Dubbed the "Dark Side of American Exceptionalism"

Mass shootings are a problem, that is something we can all agree on. Usually these shootings are by some "lone wolf" gunman who takes a mini-arsenal to a school, movie theater, or other public place and opens fire. In the wake of these shootings the gun control debate has raged on. One side arguing for greater gun control (I'll note that most of these shooters obtained their firearms legally), to the NRA saying we need more guns to solve the problem. 

In the Common Dreams article by Nadia Prupis she breaks down a recent study by Adam Lankford on mass shootings in America. Not surprisingly we rank on top for both gun ownership and mass shootings. Lankford also argues that American Exceptionalism is the culprit. While he is correct that economic disparity is a factor in increased violence, it's not exceptionalism alone that plays a factor.

Exceptionalism and how it plays into social privilege should be more closely examined. Many of these shooters have some level of social privilege, and react based on either what they see a loss of their "rights", or in feeling they are being kept from the fruits of their privilege and therefore inferior. Dylan Roof, a white man, was motivated by racism. Wade Michael Page, another white man, shot up a Sikh temple. Elliot Rodger, a man, was motivated by frequent rejections by women. While biracial, he held a resentment to the Asian part of his heritage, and a greater resentment towards Asian men who were dating white women. Some of these killers have even drafted up elaborate manifestos related to violently preserving their racial privilege, sex privilege, religious privilege, etc.

While there is economic stress related to the rat race, we need to look beyond it to see why mass shooters are motivated to kill. For many it is all about the competition, and the dynamic of which groups should be dominant over others. An enforcement of old-fashioned status quo. 

While guns are of course a factor in mass shootings, what other contributing factors do you see? 

Mass shootings are a perennial crisis in the U.S., unmatched in numbers anywhere else in the world—and it's a problem that may grow worse over time without addressing underlying issues, according to a new study unveiled on Sunday.

In "Mass Shooters, Firearms, and Social Strains: A Global Analysis of an Exceptionally American Problem," presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in Chicago, criminal justice professor Adam Lankford analyzed mass shootings around the world from 1966 to 2012 and found that the phenomenon is "a bigger problem today than it was a decade ago and it may be a bigger problem in the future."

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