Tiffany Lauren Bennicke
James Ryan

White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America by Joan C. Williams

White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America by Joan C. Williams

Author:Joan C. Williams
Language: eng
Format: mobi, epub
ISBN: 9781633693791
Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press
Published: 2017-05-16T04:00:00+00:00


Why Don’t the People Who Benefit Most from Government Help Seem to Appreciate It?

BY 2008, my father-in-law was in bad shape. His dementia was so advanced that my mother-in-law sorely needed some respite. We found a day care program and suggested she inquire whether government subsidies were available to help cover the cost. A lifelong Democrat, she initially dismissed the suggestion out of hand. “It’s not worth it. The government doesn’t care about people like us, who have worked all their lives. They only care about the poor.”

She asked, though, and—quickly and efficiently—Medicare covered the costs.

Since then I’ve been on a quiet rampage. When she received a new energy-efficient refrigerator that, to her delight, cost her only $100, I pointed out that it was compliments of the Obama stimulus program.223 When fire fighters came to her house to check her smoke alarms and make sure the house was safe, I gently pointed out that that, too, was a government benefit. When she marveled one day that she had a full meal at the senior center for only $3, again I mentioned that the bounty she’s enjoying comes from her government.

This should not be a one-woman campaign.

In Suzanne Mettler’s must-read book The Submerged State, she points out that most Americans don’t know about the subsidies and benefits they receive from their government. In 2008, a survey asked Americans whether they had “ever used a government social program, or not.” Of those surveyed, 56.5% said they never had. In fact, 91.6% had.224

For the working class, the most valuable and least discussed social program is the system of disability payments to those deemed unable to work (formally known as Social Security Disability Insurance). Chana Joffe-Walt’s reporting, which has received shockingly little attention, documented that the federal government spends more on cash payments for disability than on food stamps and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (aka “welfare”) combined.225 Nearly 40% of men aged 21–64 were on disability in the rural California community Sherman studied.226

Joffe-Walt documents the steep increase in the costs of the disability program and its link to the disappearance of blue-collar jobs. She spoke with a doctor who, when deciding whether to certify disability, always asks patients what grade they finished in school, which “is not really a medical question. But Dr. Timberlake believes he needs this information in disability cases because people who have only a high school education aren’t going to be able to get a sit-down job.”227 Dr. Timberlake was hesitant to deny disability to someone who was unlikely to be able to find work.

She also spoke with a man in Washington, whose “dad had a heart attack and went back to work in the mill. If there’d been a mill for [the son] to go back to work in, he says, he’d have done that too.” But the mill had closed, so the son went on disability. In his 50s, he went to lots of meetings about retraining programs, but finally a staff member pulled him aside and advised: “There’s nobody gonna hire you.


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