Peace, Fiber Work & Health

For the last 10 years I have lived with a serious disease that is exacerbated by stress. Thus the calm and centered feeling I get from engaging in any fiber work – from knitting to weaving – has been crucial for me.  Part of coping – in addition to the medical establishment, exercise and nutrition, of course – has been (sadly) no longer reading literature from my academic field.  (I get both excited at staying current in my field and frustrated because I have no “outlet” for it: no graduate students to work with, no undergrads to spell bind, no clients to consult with, no books and articles to publish.)

That said, I read with semi-regularity (including Harvard Business Review, New York Times, The Guardian, Mother Jones and Slate) but nothing close like I did before I retired.  Thor subscribes to several journals that I read: Bloomberg’s, Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, The Economist, and Time (though the latter is, in my opinion, closer to People than serious journalism).

The most recent edition of Barron’s, however, got my ire up.  I have been annoyed since reading the cover store by Barron’s columnist Gene Epstein, “Job? No Thanks.”  Epstein suggests that the vast majority of people receiving unemployment benefits (UI) would rather collect UI than work.  That is an unfounded implication; UI benefits are limited in duration, small in amount, and not accompanied by health benefits.  (Not surprisingly, also left unsaid by Epstein is that UI amounts are subject to taxation, thus lowering an already small amount.)

eraseBarron'sEpstein also implies that the people who receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) payments are cheats and frauds.  All one has to do is look at the cover of Barron’s 9/1/14 issue:  It pictures a smiling man wearing a bathrobe and slippers, carrying a mug walking down a large curved driveway from his large house toward his U.S. mail box.

The assumption of the viewer, of course, is that the man is about to open his mailbox and pull out his UI or SSDI check.

Epstein states that, “In 2013, the average payout per [SSDI] recipient was $1,146 per month.”  If you extend that out to a year, it would be $13,752.  It is highly doubtful that $13,752 would cover the tax bill, upkeep and landscaping on the house presented on Barron’s cover – never mind the food, insurance, tuition payments, childcare costs, clothes and utility expenses.

eraseBarron's2dYet on page 21 the same man is lounging in a nice hammock on a lush, green lawn.

Might there be fraud on the part of SSDI or UI recipients?  Of course; there is fraud everywhere – personal tax returns, corporate tax returns, government contracts, bank bailouts (etc., ad infinitum, ad nauseum).  But Epstein’s unfounded implication is that the vast majority is committing some kind of fraud – an assumption I’d expect from first year undergraduates, not someone with a master’s in economics.

Further, the statistics Epstein used in the growth of the number of people receiving UI and SSDI are not given in context.  The changes wrought by the Great Recession were far beyond the responsibility of the average worker, many of whom were forced onto UI and SSDI rolls as a last alternative.   If you want to reduce the number of UI recipients and reduce the number of frauds in the SSDI rolls, basic economics instructs employers to offer higher salaries, benefits and provide adequate training, all of which are sorely lacking in this economy.

Six years after the Great Recession, pointing the finger at those least able to defend themselves is obscene and far beyond a respectable periodical.  It is reminiscent of “yellow journalism.”

Epstein’s article is yet another article that is red herring – a misdirection – designed to take public attention away from those in our society receiving the vast bulk of economic benefits over the last 30 years.  Instead, it puts the spotlight on the most vulnerable, ignoring two salient facts (thanks to Dave Gilson in “Survival of the Richest” for summarizing this info in Mother Jones; see also Emmanuel Saez, Ph.D., “Striking It Richer: The Evolution of Top Incomes in the United States ):

  1. for every $1 earned by families in the bottom 90%, the families in
    the top 0.01% earn nearly $1,000;
  2. the grossly disparate change in income since 1980:
    (a)    – 24%  for the bottom 90%
    (b)  + 46%   for the top 1-10%
    (c) + 124%   for the top 1%
    (d) + 232%  for the top 0.1%
    (e) + 327%  for the top 0.01%

According to research by Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman (assistant professor at London School of Economics, currently a visiting professor at UC Berkeley), the current disparity in wealth in the U.S. is greater than what the U.S. saw in the 1920s:

erasewealthdistribution1920

If you are interested, I recommend viewing Saez and Zucman’s March 2014 presentation “The Distribution of US Wealth, Capital Income and Returns Since 1913.

eraseNYr1932Referring back to the picture of the cover of Barron’s, I think Barron’s had it backwards: The picture better portrays the 1% of wage earners in the US – not those receiving UI and SSDI. Before I go back to my knitting, here’s my last words on this topic.  Maybe Barron’s next cover could contain a picture similar to the November 19, 1932 cover of The New Yorker. 

Is what I am describing “class warfare?”  Hmmm … take a peek at what billionaire capitalist extraordinaire Warren E. Buffett said in a 2006 interview about taxation:

“There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”

I suggest they’ve already won.  But here’s a question to consider:  How long will an ever growing number of laborers across the world continue to work for an ever shrinking group of wealthy families?

Enough of this.  Before I start quoting Jean-Jacques Rousseau and other, I have to close down my laptop, make a cup of herb tea, curl up on the couch and finish knitting the fingerless mittens (designed by KiwiYarnsKnits).

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About sweatyknitter

Fiber art devotee, author, and amateur artisan bread baker.
This entry was posted in Fibers, Knitting, Miscellany and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to Peace, Fiber Work & Health

  1. lizseville says:

    What I love is how there are people in the blogging community using their creativity to overcome. I’m in that situation too and I think this is an interesting post. The attitudes towards those with sickness or disability are definitely akin to class war. Liz Seville Principally Felt

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  2. You’re welcome, and thanks for reading! 🙂 >

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  3. Reblogged this on All Kinds Of Knitting and commented:
    This blog says it much better than I ever could.

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  4. Well said, Sweaty Knitter, well said. Thank you.

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  5. salpal1 says:

    There is so much to it. many more than two sides, for sure. I would like taking a test like that, so much batter than spitting out names, dates and theories. 🙂 My favorite teacher in high school used to give us a vocabulary quiz every Monday morning, she mixed up the formats so they were never the same, but my favorites were when she had us write a story using all the words. It could be as long or short as we wanted, as long as we used the words properly and demonstrated their meaning. I bet she loved correcting those as well. 🙂

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  6. Thank you for reading. I am pleased that you will find some of this information useful!

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  7. I never received a reply. Odd, considering a friend of mine who sent him an invitation to her wedding, received a signed, 8×12 inch color glossy photo of President and Mrs. Reagan!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Yes indeed. As you note, such links have been well-established. Today’s Wall Street Journal had an article on the second page of its first section (p. A-2), titled “Rich-Poor Gap Widened Amid Recover, Fed Finds.” In it, the author (Ben Leubsdorf), says: “Overall, average income rose 4% from the 2010 survey while median … income fell 5% … Median income fell for every income bracket except the top 10%. The top 3% of families saw their share of total income rise to 30.5% in 2013 from 27.7% in 2010, while the bottom 90% saw their share fall.” I hope to hear more journalists and the average person talking about this!

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  9. Good point. I tend to think of economic and tax policies with the recent influx of unaccompanied children attempting to immigrate to the U.S. Open borders have a cost, and are we, as a nation, willing to put our money where our hearts/mouths are and, if so, how? What new taxes need to be raised to cover the cost, or what sort of funds can be appropriated from one sector to another? These are the sort of questions my students would find on their tests (for an essay response). There was no right or wrong answer; I just needed to see how they’d thought the problem through philosophically and then buttressed with empirical evidence re costs. (Always interesting reading for me, and I hoped the exercise was interesting for them too!)

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  10. Great post! Will use some of these arguments on Facebook when the tea partiers get going.

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  11. Rebecca says:

    When I worked as a research fellow in social health, I noticed that one of the most significant determinants of health is social and economic equality. The greater the disparity of income in society, the greater the level of ill health in the community, which of course becomes a social and economic cost to the community. The more you read about the social ill caused by gross economic inequity, the more that it seems that revolution and wealth distribution can be the only solution. You make solid observations and with our VERY conservative government in Australia at the moment and its deliberate fiscal punishment of the young, the elderly, the poor and the unemployed, I feel your frustration and ire. Great post.

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  12. kiwiyarns says:

    I did read once that ketchup was recognised as a vegetable in American schools. I did not realise the source of this comment was the President himself. Goodness me. Good on you for sending in that letter!

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  13. salpal1 says:

    recently a friend of mine was ranting about all of the children coming into the country illegally, and saying what awful parents they have. I asked her to think about how awful the situation must be where they are in order for a parent to think that sending them here illegally was BETTER than what they lived with everyday. She said she never thought of it that way. I wish more people would just stop and think about what life might be like on the other side of the equation.

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  14. A great read. There can be internal protests that can be productive. In 1946 in Tennessee, a citizen-led rebellion (including WWII vets) called The Battle of Athens against political corruption resulted in changes. In 1932, the National Guard (roughly 600 troops!) was used to actually fire on (!!!) WWI veterans who were protesting their non-receipt of promised pay. While the US was involved in WWII, Congress was looking forward and worried about the potential for unrest led by WWII vets and so in 1944 (before the end of the war) passed the G.I.Bill (aka the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act). Elected officials will respond to the vox populi, I think, IF they think their chances for re-election will be damaged if they don’t.

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  15. You’re both one of the lucky ones and a wonderful “success” example. Apparently I’ve “ruined” (non-academic) dinner parties where I haven’t been able to keep my mouth shut when hearing one more rich person rant on about how the poor are bringing the country down, how they live on generous government benefits, etc. When I decide to stop biting my tongue and enter the conversation, the angry response to my outpouring of statistics that show otherwise is generally “Where do you get your numbers” to which I would calmly reply, “The U.S. Census Bureau and the empirical research of research scholars in academia; where do you get yours?” 🙂

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  16. Agreed! When Ronald Reagan was president in the ’80s, he suggested that, for the purpose of school lunches, ketchup be reclassified as a “vegetable” and around the same time stated that the poor could easily feed their families on $3 a day. I wrote the president asking for some White House recipes featuring ketchup as a vegetable and that cost less than $3 but never received a response.

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  17. I agree the U.S. political system has turned into an monied oligarchy not serving the needs of the vast majority of citizens in this country. But it’s nothing new – the late 1800s (with Rockefeller, Carnegie, JP Morgan, the “Big 4” etc.) saw the same thing. The looming question is why don’t we have the same public outcry that we had then (e.g., Populists, responsive legislation in the form of antitrust laws that limited big business). Why no outcry today? Perhaps because big business realized how important it was to stay politically connected and they pretty much “own” Washington now. The public has only a marginal impact on policy making. Where’s the Ida Tarbell’s of today? Why doesn’t the press speak out instead of leaving that sort of response to people by like Jon Stewart? The voice of the “Fourth Estate” is increasingly in the hands of a few very wealthy with their own agendas. Rupert Murdoch, for instance, owns Fox News, Wall Street Journal and Barron’s. And the oligarchy class isn’t exactly quiet about: Charles Koch wrote an op ed for the Wall Street Journal outlining his “agenda.” Is Jon Stewart from Comedy Central, Rachel Maddox, Paul Krugman and Bill Moyers the only person this country has to speak out publicly? But monied interests have been successful in controlling, silencing and/or misdirecting the response from the 99% – unlike the late 1800s where government action, the People’s Party (aka Populists), Teddy Roosevelt and others pushed for legislation to control out-of-control business leaders. How much concentration of power will the 99% tolerate? (The state-by-state approach in the 19th century – both causes ultimately really only moved forward in the 20th century by a federal response – 19th Amendment, 1964 Civil Rights Act, Voting rights Act of 1965, Fair Housing Act of 1968, etc.) (Oh dear … I’ve gone on.)

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  18. Emily says:

    The idea of federal voting is completely hog wash. The newly founded ruling class in conjunction with the upper class are continuing the illusion of the lower classes’ voice via voting. We are no longer a republic. We are slowly morphing into something else. The only way to fix the system is to start at the local and state level where voting still matters. When the right things are done locally can we ever spring up and tell Washington to get lost.

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  19. kiwiyarns says:

    Ah yes. Thoughts after my own! I agree. Perhaps this Epstein person should have a go at living on “benefits” for six months to see what it does to one’s self-esteem, quality of life and health. It might do him good. It would certainly correct his revolting assumptions.

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  20. Pia says:

    I recently read Howard Zinn A People’s History of the United States and sadly it’s just repetition after repetition. If the workers begin to grumble too much, they just start a war against somebody else to take our minds off the economy. It’s rather amazing that nobody learns anything.

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  21. jengolightly says:

    For a time, I lived on benefits, but I retrained, got a job, then my new skills have kept me in well paid work and my family see me working hard. My income since that time had repaid anything I received, and I’d been in work for over a decade before benefits too. I am grateful for the safety net that protected me and my. Baby daughter. One of my friends husbands was rude to my face about me getting benefits at the time. I haven’t forgotten.

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  22. Yes, too many people read without critical, reflective thought and swallow arguments whole if it appears to bolster their world view. I particularly am appalled by the “kick them while they’re down” attitude so many people evidence.

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  23. Thank you for your kind thoughts and chin placement encouragement. 🙂 I agree; pain seems much more manageable when one is in the best possible frame of mind. Take care of yourself too!

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  24. Keep your chin up. I know when one is struggling with life time disease, for most getting out of bed is an accomplishment in itself. I suffer from major depression, and osteoarthritis, I too use my needle arts to help curb my bad thoughts or pain. Funny thing pain.. I hurt more when I am depressed….terrible circle. Anyways.. keep your chin up and those needles clapping!!

    Liked by 1 person

  25. salpal1 says:

    sadly, the arguments presented in that article will only strengthen the belief in voters who buy right into this without understanding the situation or thinking about it. They will demand that we “fix” the system. That same system that takes soooo loong for people who need the support to get qualified to receive it, And then, once they do, they are held at poverty level forever more.

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  26. Epstein uses empirical research but not only laces his article with unfounded inferences but, simply makes things up to suit his argument. “In general, it is difficult to shine a light on people who leave the labor force … because there are no systematic studies of their habits and practices. Are many of them working in the off-the-books underground economy that doesn’t report to the tax collector? Probably, but as the [Bureau of Labor Statistics] makes clear, many of these workers might already be counted as part of the labor force. Some respondents who, for instance, paint houses off the books MAY prefer to tell the household survey interviewer that they don’t work at all while others MAY say they do have a job” (emphasis mine) and actually suggests they may be supplementing their meager benefits with crime. (He says “evidence exists” but never presents or sources it.)

    A very weak article. >

    Liked by 2 people

  27. Ugh. I’ve met a distressing number of people like Epstein – all blame, no research. Makes me crazy.

    Liked by 2 people

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