Thursday, September 17, 2015

Face Poverty By Addressing Work Creation

Angela Rachidi of AEI noted that in the recent US Census Bureau income and poverty data, there was "no change in median income or poverty", even when government transfers are taken into account. There was little change in poverty (15.3%) in either 2013 or 2014. In the quote below, her concerns also echo my own:
But a deeper look at the data shows that a lack of work all together is the bigger culprit. We typically focus on the poverty rate (percentage of people in poverty), but looking at the makeup of those in poverty reveals a great deal about who is poor. Of all working age people (ages 18-64) in poverty in 2014, 61.7%  did not work at all and 26.7% worked less than full time. Shoring up low wages, whether through minimum wage increases or the EITC, will do little to help these working age adults in poverty. What is needed is more work.
Addressing work creation has become the hardest part of finding solutions in the present. Even so, this is hardly the first time that lingering unemployment has gone unaddressed. The reality of low labor force participation continues to weigh on economic statistics which otherwise would appear healthy in many respects. Even though governments have mostly moved beyond the non solution of "make do" work, there is no societal consensus regarding new work formation which could be beneficial for all concerned. Why has it become difficult to create something so basic to life, as work?

Governments and special interests alike, have captured organizational dynamics in ways which leave too many people unable to produce either needed services or other goods. Over time, further requirements have become more burdensome for business creation, work formation and living conditions. As a result, political debates mostly sidestep the vital issue of new work creation, which would be meaningful on supply side terms instead of government dictates. In the "missing words" of last night's Republican debate, as James Pethokoukis noted, economic "growth" was mentioned five times versus the seven mentions of building an anti-immigrant wall. "Opportunity" fared even worse.

Work not only needs new definitions; it needs a green light from those in power who mistakenly keep the most basic forms of economic assistance behind closed doors. However, this is precisely what has prevented those in poverty from finding means to assist themselves - especially as services marketplaces assume primary importance. One can only hope that the new left does not attempt to force free schooling in the U.S., because this would do absolutely nothing to solve the underlying problem of insufficient access.

Education is only a part of the issue, because it's the organizational capacity of services - built to rely on other forms of production for monetary compensation - which make it impossible for all to participate in their chosen endeavor once they receive their degrees. Of all the things I learned in my first semester of college, the palpable fear of my first voice teacher stood out the most. The fact that she would need to go back for her doctorate in order to continue teaching, was a harsh warning about my chosen subject. Even in the early seventies, I could see how dedicated (high school) music teachers were compromised in income and living conditions, as compared to the teachers who were teaching what students "needed".

Once unemployment becomes an issue for anyone for at least a year, work reentry becomes more difficult - especially as one ages. This means unavoidable stigma for anyone involved, even if and when they do their best to main a respectable life. As the prospect of normal life further recedes, these individuals often become incarcerated, homeless, and/or struggling with some form of addiction. Think for a moment, about the perspective of those who are assigned to help these individuals, however possible. What does a social worker hope for them? If some of their charge do not appear beyond hope, it would be that at least some among the marginalized can return to living a good life.

Presently, there are not sufficient means to provide work reentry for the marginalized. Because the barriers to reentry are high, time value often exists at a premium when it is deemed sufficient, yet worth little to nothing when personal time value doesn't "measure up". Today's "failures" somehow need to be able to reestablish trust among themselves, even as they create a more forgiving marketplace for time value, in a society which has grown too fearful of trusting them.

Knowledge use systems -  once set into motion - would eventually set up an invitation process for individuals who still have a reasonable chance of starting anew. Professionals and others who work with the public, would seek out the brighter prospects among the unemployed, to determine what remains possible. Not everyone would be able to regain the social skills necessary for the work of mutual self assistance. As someone who has been unemployed far too long, I have to wonder about my own capacity for doing so. Still, there would be much to gain, for those who are able to benefit from mutual self employment organizational capacity. Just the fact of being free to work - finally - would encourage new efforts and new hope.

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