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.)
Epstein 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.
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 ):
- for every $1 earned by families in the bottom 90%, the families in
the top 0.01% earn nearly $1,000;
- 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:
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.
Referring 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).