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Ch. 7 through 9 of Hillbilly Elegy 
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 Ch. 7 through 9 of Hillbilly Elegy
Ch. 7 through 9 of Hillbilly Elegy

Please use this thread to discuss Ch. 7 through 9 of Hillbilly Elegy.



Mon Jan 01, 2018 7:47 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 7 through 9 of Hillbilly Elegy
In this section, Vance relates the continuing disruption of family life due to his mother's trying out of several husbands or boyfriends. J.D. does poorly in school and begins to look like a future drop-out. Papaw dies, who had been the anchor of his life. His mother's addiction to opioids is revealed. She goes into treatment, is clean for a while, and relapses. It is only because of escaping his mother's chaos that Vance pulls through. He spends his last three years living with only Mamaw. She is crusty, chain-smoking, profanity-spouting, and fiercely devoted to boosting her grandson out of the culture of low expectations. She insures that he does his homework and makes him get a job.

I was surprised that as a 16-year-old, Vance was reading books about social policy. What kid does that? One that influenced him was Charles Murray's Losing Ground (1984), a book "about black folks that could have been written about hillbillies--which addressed the way our government encouraged social decay through the welfare state." I've never read the book, but it's said to be one of the century's most important analyses of the effect of government programs. In Chapter 9, Vance takes a sharply critical POV of welfare. He shares his observations of people who abuse food stamps and those content to be on the dole. He might be influenced by Mamaw, too, although he describes her politics as all over the map, alternately chastising her neighbors as lazy sponges and declaring the government doesn't do enough to help poor people.

If you look at some of the reaction to the book, you'll probably see no one who says Vance lets the hillbillies off too easy, but you'll note liberal viewpoints that criticize his up-by-the-bootstraps philosophy and his exploitation of 'welfare queen' stereotypes. In other words, he's too insistent on personal responsibility and downplays the societal barriers that prevent people from aspiring to better lives. He has also been targeted for unwarranted generalizing. I think we could discuss those charges at more length.

By the way, I read that Vance has moved back to Ohio from California. Apparently he still works for Peter Thiel's company, but he's starting a foundation to combat opioid abuse. He travels a lot to speaking engagements. He is non-committal about running for office, but he could well do that. There is a similarity between his and Barack Obama's backgrounds and even in the credible perspective on social class (or race, in Obama's case) that each can articulate.



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Harry Marks
Fri Jan 26, 2018 9:49 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 7 through 9 of Hillbilly Elegy
I would agree that Vance was critical of welfare, but I don't think he went as far as to blame a substantial part of social ills on it. He seemed convinced that it undercut the work ethic of others who see those who get Section 8 housing, or live on welfare or disability payments. But most of his comment seemed to me to be just observation, without going so far as to place blame.

I thought his perspective on social mobility was remarkably well-rounded - he acknowledges that he did not have the perspective or the work habits or simply the self-confidence to get through university until he had been in the Marines. He seems to get that culture has left many people unfit for advancement, and thus prey to drugs or whatever else gets hold of those who see no future.

In my extended family there is a wide mix. I can count three with schizophrenia out of about 40 cousins, and lots more (12 to 15?) who are just generally clueless and will never amount to much. On the other hand there are a number, I would say 7 or 8, who are genuinely gifted and have gone into business for themselves or gotten advanced degrees.

Some of those with problems genuinely have disabilities. Would I say they should barely be able to eke out a living, without "luxuries" like a car, because they can't hold down a job? Seems harsh. There are others who would love to get welfare if they could, since they will never have anything but a menial job and have trouble holding one of those. They have been a burden on others in the family and have generally done such a bad job of raising kids that the kids become burdens on others also. I don't find myself able to reach a conclusion about whether it would be bad for them, and for people around them, for them to get a government check.

Maybe the family should be looking out for one another? Maybe, but it has never seemed to be working that way, except in a stopgap way when someone's car breaks down or they have a medical emergency.



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DWill
Wed Jan 31, 2018 12:51 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 7 through 9 of Hillbilly Elegy
Chapter 9 was by far the best chapter, in my opinion. He summarized every stage of his life and commented on each. He ended up with how experiencing the most stability by living at his mamaw's house in high school resulted in happiness, and how that happiness positively affected his grades and his overall life. Parents with school age children should read chapter 9!

I was really hoping that he would have stuck to his guns and not pee'd in a cup for his mother's drug test in chapter 8. His mamaw certainly had a way of making him do things that were illegal, but 'covering-up' for the family was part of the code.

He especially grew up fast when he worked at the store and saw how people abused government aid. Several years ago I had neighbors on government aid and no matter how poor they claimed to be, they always had $ for the 'traveling pharmacy' that would show up on our street - a beat-up truck or van would park in the shadows.

I only know a few people on disability, and every one of them are victims of abusive and negligent families.



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DWill, Harry Marks
Fri Feb 02, 2018 9:55 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 7 through 9 of Hillbilly Elegy
We could be seeing soon an attempt to reduce social safety net programs, partly to compensate for spending on the tax cut. Proponents will always tell you that reducing these programs is to the benefit of recipients: promoting independence is always a better outcome. My point is not that all of these advocates are really just meanies who want to give to the rich and take from the poor. I agree that if people can work, that is better for them as well as for the country. But I think the problem of people "on the dole" who really don't need to be isn't as great as often claimed, on the financial side; it receives outsized attention because we're always attuned to what our neighbors are out there doing or not doing. Other types of giveaways occur without our knowing about them, or we just ignore that they are indeed giveaways. Take home mortgage interest deduction, for example. Or am I not thinking about this in the proper way?

The public is often misinformed about welfare, anyway. I'm no expert on the ins and outs, but for one thing, almost all states place a maximum of five years on the benefit most people think of as "welfare," aid to families with dependent children. Many states cut off this TANF at two years. If you don't have kids to care for, you don't get anything. Food stamps are time-limited for most, too. Able bodied single adults without children can get them for 3 months.

I struggle to understand the new push in some states to require that Medicaid recipients work or be in job training or volunteer jobs in order to continue to get medical treatment. This is not a cash program in the sense that someone can convert benefits to money; all it gets one is healthcare. The vast majority of Medicaid recipients who can work do work, so creating more bureaucracy to track whether everyone is working enough hours or otherwise engaged purposefully seems fiscally unwise. On the positive side, I suppose, is that now some of the states who refused to expand Medicaid under the ACA say they will, since requiring work from everyone makes them feel better about extending healthcare coverage.



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Harry Marks, Jan_wow
Sat Feb 03, 2018 12:10 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 7 through 9 of Hillbilly Elegy
DWill wrote:
I struggle to understand the new push in some states to require that Medicaid recipients work or be in job training or volunteer jobs in order to continue to get medical treatment. This is not a cash program in the sense that someone can convert benefits to money; all it gets one is healthcare. The vast majority of Medicaid recipients who can work do work, so creating more bureaucracy to track whether everyone is working enough hours or otherwise engaged purposefully seems fiscally unwise. On the positive side, I suppose, is that now some of the states who refused to expand Medicaid under the ACA say they will, since requiring work from everyone makes them feel better about extending healthcare coverage.


I hope the government does push the volunteer requirement, not only for Medicaid recipients, but for the more able-bodied Disability recipients as well. These people receive so many subsidies (housing, food, clothing) that many have a sense of entitlement. If they were required to perform a specified amount of hours of volunteer work, even if it's just answering the phone, it may decrease their sense of entitlement and increase their self esteem and appreciation, and may facilitate an easier transition to being gainfully employed.



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Harry Marks
Sat Feb 03, 2018 2:16 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 7 through 9 of Hillbilly Elegy
Well but, isn't 'able bodied disability recipient' a little contradictory? I get the sentiment behind what you're saying and will concede that many of the people on disability I've known could do something, if not hold down a job, but when I started to work on trying to help some of them, I found it to be surprisingly hard for them to connect with meaningful volunteering. It makes sense if you think about it: most work that needs to be done will use hired labor; in fact in the private sector and much of the public sector volunteering violates labor laws. So that leaves non-profits to provide volunteer opportunities, and there just isn't that much capacity there for workers. Then think about the commitment that employers make to employees, vs the lack of commitment that can be made to volunteers, and it begins to look as though volunteering isn't a very good option for the disabled. My experience is with the psychiatrically disabled, by the way. It's a difficult subject.



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Harry Marks, Jan_wow
Sat Feb 03, 2018 3:27 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 7 through 9 of Hillbilly Elegy
DWill wrote:
Proponents will always tell you that reducing these programs is to the benefit of recipients: promoting independence is always a better outcome. My point is not that all of these advocates are really just meanies who want to give to the rich and take from the poor. I agree that if people can work, that is better for them as well as for the country.
Not meanies, maybe, but definitely more interested in the symbolism than the actual nature and extent of the problems. Like fraudulent voting, the issue is used without reference to facts and without any genuine interest in the facts, and that's a big tipoff as to what is behind it.

I also agree that it is better for people to work. Most workers, including the folks I know on disability, would prefer to have a decent job, which doesn't need to be much above minimum wage for them to consider it worthwhile. The problem is that demand for workers at the low-skill, low-wage end is languishing. The jobs just aren't there. If we are not willing to have the government make work, then we have created a situation in which we guarantee that many workers will not find jobs. And they need to eat and pay rent.

Of course another big problem is that the low-wage jobs tend to be very uncertain. Why give up your qualification for disability payments by taking a job if the job is likely to disappear in a year or two and leave you with neither source of income?

DWill wrote:
Other types of giveaways occur without our knowing about them, or we just ignore that they are indeed giveaways. Take home mortgage interest deduction, for example. Or am I not thinking about this in the proper way?
Sounds right to me, except that you are ignoring that home mortgage deductions are for "us" while welfare is for "them." The fact that it is larger for people who take out larger mortgages, and thus have higher incomes, makes it particularly questionable.
DWill wrote:
I'm no expert on the ins and outs, but for one thing, almost all states place a maximum of five years on the benefit most people think of as "welfare," aid to families with dependent children. Many states cut off this TANF at two years.
I didn't realize welfare reform had made things so severe. In my view this is unconscionable unless the states are investing considerable resources in actually finding work the people can qualify for, and investing in their employability.

DWill wrote:
I struggle to understand the new push in some states to require that Medicaid recipients work or be in job training or volunteer jobs in order to continue to get medical treatment. This is not a cash program in the sense that someone can convert benefits to money; all it gets one is healthcare. The vast majority of Medicaid recipients who can work do work, so creating more bureaucracy to track whether everyone is working enough hours or otherwise engaged purposefully seems fiscally unwise. On the positive side, I suppose, is that now some of the states who refused to expand Medicaid under the ACA say they will, since requiring work from everyone makes them feel better about extending healthcare coverage.
There's a good discussion here:
https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/ar ... ee/550301/

It makes some of the same points you do. My concern is that the same states who might be more willing to expand Medicaid because of the symbolism are also the ones which would abuse the discretion involved to discriminate racially. In theory one can check on that, but asking the Trump administration to police racist policies is a clear case of putting the fox in charge of the henhouse.



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DWill
Sun Feb 04, 2018 4:46 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 7 through 9 of Hillbilly Elegy
Harry Marks wrote:
I also agree that it is better for people to work. Most workers, including the folks I know on disability, would prefer to have a decent job, which doesn't need to be much above minimum wage for them to consider it worthwhile. The problem is that demand for workers at the low-skill, low-wage end is languishing. The jobs just aren't there. If we are not willing to have the government make work, then we have created a situation in which we guarantee that many workers will not find jobs. And they need to eat and pay rent.

Boy is that true, that the jobs just aren't there. In the Virginia county I worked in, low-skill jobs were confined to retail, fast food, and landscaping. Manufacturing--none. This was the wealthiest county in the country, which nonetheless had its share of homeless and poor. Immigrants fill many of these these jobs, which gets people saying that stifling immigration, legal and not, would open up jobs for low-skill citizens. But others will say that American citizens don't want those jobs, anyway. The real problem in my view is that those jobs actually do require either skills or physical stamina that our citizens on the margins often don't have. Observe the workers at McDonalds; their work is fairly demanding and might give the average office jockey fits!
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Of course another big problem is that the low-wage jobs tend to be very uncertain. Why give up your qualification for disability payments by taking a job if the job is likely to disappear in a year or two and leave you with neither source of income?

True--if you're a "team member" at Target, you won't get more than 30 hours, probably much less, will have a different schedule each week, and your hours will go up and down seasonally. Those are working conditions only kids living at home could get along with. If you ever had any arrests, you can probably forget about getting even these part-time jobs.
Harry Marks wrote:
DWill wrote:
I'm no expert on the ins and outs, but for one thing, almost all states place a maximum of five years on the benefit most people think of as "welfare," aid to families with dependent children. Many states cut off this TANF at two years.
I didn't realize welfare reform had made things so severe. In my view this is unconscionable unless the states are investing considerable resources in actually finding work the people can qualify for, and investing in their employability.

The only program I know of is "Ticket to Work," through the SSA. It makes employment support available to people on disability and will also help those not officially determined to be disabled. However, the non-disabled are low on the priority list for services. The point of employment support for the disabled is to get people off disability eventually. They rarely do drop their disability benefits, however, preferring to keep them and work just the number of hours that enable them to continue receiving a gov. check. In that way a single person can actually earn well above the federal poverty level. Without a Section 8 housing subsidy, though, they'll have little left to save.
Quote:

Thanks. One thing mentioned in the article that I actually don't have a big problem with is requiring a monthly premium if the recipient has some income. This could be a nominal amount, but it would help with the costs of the program and could make folks value it more. In the U.S. affordable, rather than free, is the goal to shoot for in all of healthcare.
Quote:
It makes some of the same points you do. My concern is that the same states who might be more willing to expand Medicaid because of the symbolism are also the ones which would abuse the discretion involved to discriminate racially. In theory one can check on that, but asking the Trump administration to police racist policies is a clear case of putting the fox in charge of the henhouse.

You are right about the symbolic function of the work/engagement requirement. I can't see such proposals being manageable, anyway, in terms of supervising people. Now, if the states wanted to add to this surveillance real support for workers and others, that could change things. But I don't think that is the intention.

I think of the old CCC program and other New Deal programs in relation to government providing work opportunity. But 25% unemployment is way different from the "full" employment we have now. It could be hugely difficult to put to work the segment that is currently closed out. I mean to create needed, meaningful work for the low-skilled and disabled is hard. Currently there are available to private companies limited financial incentives to employ the disabled and poor. Perhaps expanding these subsidies would make companies want to hire more workers who would be, by competitive standards, likely not to be hired. Incentives to hire those with a criminal background would also be helpful. I was surprised to see how little criminality it takes for a company like Home Depot to say, "No way."



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Harry Marks
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