Quittin’ time

But you pretend and I pretend
That everything is fine
And though we should be at an end
It’s so hard admitting
When it’s quittin’ time.

Mary Chapin Carpenter:

The unassisted poor

And yet, they talk about austerity. There’s something very wrong with this country:

The U.S. federal government spends hundreds of billions of dollars a year on aid to the poor. There isn’t enough to go around for Shaun Case.

The 34-year-old Indiana native has learning disabilities and endured a childhood of abuse. Relatives say he was thrown through a plate-glass window by his grandmother when he was a teen, leaving him with a permanently numb left hand. Social workers consider him well enough to work, though, and he never qualified for disability benefits.

So, in the past decade Case has scraped by in temporary jobs, never making more than $10 an hour. Now, he’s out of work again. He gets no unemployment benefits; he wasn’t in his last gig long enough. He can’t get Medicaid because he has no dependent children at home. Until October, his only help was $200 a month in food stamps. Because of a paperwork error, the government cut him off. With or without food stamps, he has to scrounge for cash, selling plasma at a blood center twice a week for $30 a pop.

“What’s out there for people like me?” said Case. “There’s nothing.”

The reasons are complex, but it boils down to this: American society has decided that people like Shaun Case, the able-bodied poor, don’t deserve much help. As a result, and despite record spending, a growing number are falling through the gaps in America’s patchwork of welfare programs.

Case is one of 12.2 million adults of working age, with no children at home, who were living below the poverty level in 2011. That’s up nearly double from two decades ago. And of those, 5.6 million received no assistance from any of the major five federal programs, a Reuters analysis of Current Population Survey data found. That’s the highest number since 1992, the first year for which comparable records are available. Then, there were 4.3 million unaided poor adults.

Another 1.4 million able-bodied adults received only food stamps, up from 732,000 in 1992. That program keeps people from going hungry, but doesn’t help pay for other necessities such as rent, heat or dental care.

The population of unassisted poor adults is growing at a time when the United States is grinding through a prolonged stretch of rising poverty and income inequality.

The number of Americans below the federal poverty level – $22,350 a year for a family of four – hit 48 million in 2011, 17 million more than in 1989. Indiana has seen the second-largest increase in poverty of any state in that time, according to a Reuters analysis of Census data. Sixteen percent of the Hoosier State was poor in 2011, up from 11 percent.

‘Bargaining chip’

“I’ve said I’m open to making modest adjustments to programs like Medicare to protect them for future generations”
– Obama

I am still of the opinion that Obama plans to use this fight over the debt ceiling to get his Grand Bargain. Nothing I heard today indicates otherwise.

Fools on the hill

And of course, we’re headed for a triple-dip if they make any more cuts. Wheee!

Great Britain received some more bad news about its economy today, with the National Institute for Economic and Social Research saying that a triple-dip recessioncould be on its way:

Pressure mounted on chancellor George Osborne to moderate his austerity programme after analysis by a leading thinktank showed the UK economy heading for a triple-dip recessionand as 800 jobs were axed at the Honda plant in Swindon.

The National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR) said in its monthly healthcheck that the economy shrank by 0.3% in the three months to December. Against a backdrop of weak consumer spending and a drop in manufacturing output, the estimates from NIESR may add fuel to campaigns for Osborne to adopt a more radical approach to generating growth. […]

The first official estimate for fourth quarter GDP by the Office for National Statistics will be released on 25 January. Britain emerged from recession in the third quarter of last year but a series of gloomy releases – including weak trade data and downbeat purchasing managers’ surveys – have fuelled fears of a contraction in the final quarter. If output continues to fall in the first quarter of this year, the UK will fall into its third recession in four years.

The UK service sector also shrank for the first time since 2010 last month, making it seem like Britain’s emergence from recession had more to do with a brief bump from the Olympics than anything else. Yet the Conservative government led by Prime Minister David Cameron has said that it will double down on austerity, rather than provide the economy more support.

The International Monetary Fund recently admitted that it significantly underestimated the damage austerity would do to European economies. And if American lawmakers aren’t careful, the U.S. will be in for a serious dose of austerity this year.


Restaurant menus and condiments. Phones. Computers. Bathroom doors.

Get some Purell and carry it with you.

‘For God’s sake, get a flu shot’

Michael Specter in the New Yorker had some useful advice about getting the flu vaccine.

I have a lot of friends who don’t get the shot; myself, I’ve gotten it faithfully for the past ten years, ever since I was unemployed, uninsured, got the flu and it turned into pneumonia. There’s nothing like lying in bed, shaking with fever and listening to your lungs wheeze like an old accordion to make you want to avoid going through that again. (Yes, I get the pneumonia vaccine, too.)

Experts insist it’s only a matter of time until we’re hit with another flu pandemic like the one that decimated our country in 1918. That flu infected 500 million, and killed somewhere between 20 to 50 million around the world. (That’s one to three percent of the world’s population.) The vaccine provides a degree of herd immunity.

When I went to the ER last week, for for four hours, I was surrounded by coughing, hacking, moaning flu victims — and don’t kid yourself, the flu is coming to an ER near you.

If you live out west, you may not have seen this flu yet. But it’s a very bad one, and if you can do anything to avoid getting it, you should. It’s not too late to get the vaccine — if not for yourself, for the people around you:

Nobody yet knows how severe this year’s epidemic of influenza will be. Nobody can ever know in advance. Yet, the evidence that this one will be bad is mounting: in New York, where twenty children have already died, Governor Cuomo has declared a public-health emergency. The virus has already spread widely throughout the country and it’s not peaked yet. (California is the biggest exception, the only state largely spared so far, and unless they shut the airports, the cargo ports, and the roadways, that it is likely to change any day.) Unfortunately, high flu season is also the time when some of the smartest people I know act in the most irrational ways. On Friday, a highly educated, very smart colleague at The New Yorker explained her decision to remain unvaccinated with these words: “I never get a flu shot, and I never get the flu.”

O.K. Let’s play her game. Turn to whomever you are with and say these sentences out loud: “I never wear seat belts, and I never get killed in car crashes”; “I never use condoms, and I never become infected with sexually transmitted diseases”; “I eat red meat seven times a week, only exercise once a year, and I’ve never had a heart attack or a stroke.”

When it comes to influenza, most people are denialists. So far, fewer than forty per cent of Americans (adults and children) have been vaccinated against this flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The vaccine is far from perfect: preliminary data suggests that it will work at most two-thirds of the time. Still, influenza kills as many as forty-five thousand Americans a year and the vaccine reduces deaths, illnesses, the use of antibiotics, and the number of hospital visits. It can greatly lessen the burdens on a health-care system that can hardly cope as it is.

The C.D.C. reported this week that hospitalization rates were already higher than expected—particularly for people sixty-five and older, the most vulnerable cohort.

The vaccine has a very strong safety profile. (Each year public-health officials select three strains of the influenza virus that, based on surveillance data, are most likely to cause the most illness that season. It’s educated guess-work but it explains why you need a new one each year. Scientists are working on a more universal solution.)

People often say, “I got the vaccine, and three days later I was sick.“ That can happen, but it probably won’t be influenza and it certainly won’t be from the vaccine. This is the season for all sorts of viruses, and people often use the word “flu” to signify any ailment that strikes them between Thanksgiving and the day of the Yankees’ home opener.
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