Punishing the unemployed

I don’t suppose cutting people off from unemployment is going to make jobs magically appear, but you never know! See no evil, hear no evil…

The share of jobless Americans receiving unemployment insurance is declining as Congress winds down long-term benefits.

While the unemployed population has fallen by less than 10 percent in the past year, the insurance rolls are down by nearly 25 percent. The latest numbers show 12.7 million unemployed and 5.6 million getting benefits, compared with 13.9 million jobless and 7.3 million receiving aid at the same time last year.

Lauren Heslin of Marietta, Ga., said she received her final check of unemployment insurance last week. She lost her job as a financial analyst in November 2010, and she said the $277 she received each week in benefits amounted to less than a quarter of her former income.

“It barely even put food on the table,” she said.

Heslin did not receive the 99 weeks of benefits that have been famous since 2009. Georgia, along with a dozen other states, lost eligibility for the federal Extended Benefits program in April. Earlier this year, Congress and the White House saw to it that Extended Benefits, which provided 20 weeks of aid in states with high unemployment, would gradually phase out in state after state over the course of the year.

Congress replaced the missing weeks with drug testing, stricter work-search requirements and leeway for states to run innovative training programs, which no states have tried to do so far.

The Labor Department said Thursday that 5,223 people received Extended Benefits last week — down from 525,799 the prior year and more than a million at some points in 2010. After August, no state will be eligible for the program.

Deluded individualism

Interesting essay in the Times:

These people, like many across the nation, rely on government assistance, but pretend they don’t. They even resent the government for their reliance. If they looked closely though, they’d see that we are all thoroughly saturated with government assistance in this country: farm subsidies that lower food prices for us all, mortgage interest deductions that disproportionately favor the rich, federal mortgage guarantees that keep interest rates low, a bloated Department of Defense that sustains entire sectors of the economy and puts hundreds of thousands of people to work. We can hardly fathom the depth of our dependence on government, and pretend we are bold individualists instead.

As we are in an election year, the persistence of this delusion has manifested itself politically, particularly as a foundation in the Republican Party ideology — from Ron Paul’s insistence during the primaries that the government shouldn’t intervene to help the uninsured even when they are deathly ill, to Rick Santorum’s maligning of public schools, to Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as a running mate. There is no doubt that radical individualism will remain a central selling point of their campaign. Ryan’s signature work, his proposal for the federal budget, calls for drastic cuts to Medicaid, Medicare, Pell grants and job training programs, among others. To no surprise, as The New Yorker revealed in a recent profile of Ryan, the home district that supports him is boosted by considerable government largesse.

Of course the professed individualists have an easy time cutting services for the poor. But this is misguided. There are many counties across the nation that, like Chisago County, might feel insulated from the trials of the destitute. Perhaps this is because they are able to ignore the poverty in their midst, or because they are rather homogeneous and geographically removed from concentrations of poverty, like urban ghettos. But the fate of the middle class counties and urban ghettos is entwined. When the poor are left to rot in their misery, the misery does not stay contained. It harms us all. The crime radiates, the misery offends, it debases the whole. Individuals, much less communities, cannot be insulated from it.

Thanks to a decades-long safety net, we have forgotten the trials of living without it. This is why, the historian Tony Judt argued, it’s easy for some to speak fondly of a world without government: we can’t fully imagine or recall what it’s like. We can’t really appreciate the horrors Upton Sinclair witnessed in the Chicago slaughterhouses before regulation, or the burden of living without Social Security and Medicare to look forward to. Thus, we can entertain nostalgia for a time when everyone pulled his own weight, bore his own risk, and was the master of his destiny. That time was a myth. But the notion of self-reliance is also a fallacy.

Building a shed

Building the Shed from RH on Vimeo.

This was really cool! And this is how I learned to use tools – by helping my dad.

Ryan Haskell says:

I’m trying to install the maker ethos in my kids. When the need came up for a garden shed, rather than buy a pre-built big-box store job or have a contractor come in, I enlisted the help of my 3 and 5 year-olds (and some backyard chickens) to build one from scratch. 32 lbs of screws and 4 weekends later, we had a nice 160 square foot shed. I documented the effort using a homemade arduino-controlled dolly platform to capture 15,500+ digital photos with my DSLR, assembled here into a 9 minute timelapse video.

Waiting for the trickle down. Oh wait, that’s….

Oh dear. I guess this means Mike Fitzpatrick won’t get to relax and enjoy himself:

LEVITTOWN/TAMPA—Republican delegates and politicians won’t be the only Pennsylvanians descending on Tampa for the Republican National Convention. A group of unemployed and outsourced Bucks County residents will travel to the RNC, along with a delegation from western PA, to march in the streets, rally outside high-dollar fundraisers and call on elected leaders to make the economy work for everyone, not just the richest 1%.

A send-off event is scheduled for Friday, August 24 at 5pm at the Levittown SEPTA station. Community members will wish the “delegates” well and contribute items to a “gift basket from the 99%” meant to connect with Mitt Romney, a candidate who is often seen as out-of-touch with regular people. The gift basket will be filled with items that represent the struggles of local working families like empty pill bottles, tax returns and keys to foreclosed homes.

WHAT: RNC 99% Delegation Send-Off Event

WHEN: Friday, August 24, 5:00pm

WHERE: Levittown SEPTA Station, 801 Oxford Avenue (Bristol Pike & Levittown Parkway) Bristol

Raised on Ritalin

As I’ve said many, many, many times, ADD is really a “disease” of capitalism, where those gifted in certain areas have trouble fitting into the designated slot of good little student and corporate cog. We can’t sit still that long, we’re distractable, and we’re highly opinionated. We’re hyperfocused on some tasks, but only when they interest us.

So what does society do when you don’t fit in? They medicate you.

You may have been reading me long enough to know that the only reason I stopped taking Ritalin was the side effects – namely, that I started to develop Tourette’s symptoms. The symptoms lasted for quite some time after I stopped taking the drug. Now, years later, if I take any drugs with stimulant qualities, the tics come back. So I avoid them.

But here’s the thing: Ritalin was a miracle drug for me. It kept me focused, calm and even relaxed. I could finish mundane tasks, and the drug even lit up parts of my brain that I’d never used (I was able to write songs, which I’d never done before). I think it would have helped a lot with my self-esteem if I’d been able to take it as a child, although of course we’ll never know. And it has a short life, so you only have to take it when you need help – which I found ideal.

So what do we do with the ADDers, especially when they can’t take drugs?

Back in 1999, Rob Waters documented ‘the Ritalin Revolution’ in Salon. “Last year, more than 2.5 million prescriptions for antidepressants were written for children and adolescents, according to IMS Health, a research firm that tracks prescription drug sales. That’s despite the fact that most of these drugs have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use with children, and that no one knows what the long-term effects might be on developing brains.” Though the drugs undoubtedly helped some children, Waters argued, “it also seems clear that powerful medications are being given far too easily to some children, fueled by a variety of forces, from managed care to overworked parents. In a culture addicted to drugs, but reluctant to address children’s pain unless they start shooting up schools, it’s become easier and cheaper to deal with troubled kids by medicating them than by providing the personal attention of a sympathetic professional.”

That same year in the New Yorker Malcolm Gladwell pushed back against the common belief that the rise of A.D.D. and A.D.H.D. were resultant of our fast-paced society. “As a result of numerous studies of twins conducted around the world over the past decade, scientists now estimate that A.D.H.D. is about seventy per cent heritable. This puts it up there with the most genetically influenced of traits—traits such as blood pressure, height, and weight,” he wrote. “Meanwhile, the remaining thirty per cent—the environmental contribution to the disorder—seems to fall under what behavioral geneticists call ‘non-shared environment,’ meaning that it is likely to be attributable to such factors as fetal environment or illness and injury rather than factors that siblings share, such as parenting styles or socioeconomic class. That’s why the way researchers describe A.D.H.D. has changed over the past decade. There is now less discussion of the role of bad parents, television, and diet and a lot more discussion of neurology and the role of specific genes.”

In a 2005 The Wall Street Journal article Jeffrey Zaslow pointed out that abnormal thinkers are often our society’s most influential. “Ritalin and other drugs for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder have helped many children improve their focus and behavior—to the great relief of parents and teachers. ADHD support groups offer long lists of out-of-the-box thinkers who had classic ADHD traits such as impulsivity, a penchant for day-dreaming, and disorganized lives. Among those who are believed to have had the disorder: Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Salvador Dali, Winston Churchill.” Zaslow continued, “The question is whether the Ritalin Revolution will sap tomorrow’s work force of some of its potential genius. What will be the repercussions in corporations, comedy clubs, and research labs?”




Around the world, the catch-all measure used to proxy for parental commitment to education is the number of books in a child‘s household. This measure predicts student educational outcomes better than class sizes, or expenditures per student, the length of the school day or better class monitoring. Hanushek and Woessman have found that among 27 rich countries, the United States sees one of the strongest relationships between parental book ownership and child learning outcomes. In the U.S., kids from homes where there are more than two full bookcases score two and a half grade levels higher than kids from homes with very few books.

Don’t worry, I’m sure we’re cutting all the programs that allow students to pick out and take home their own books!

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