There’s work, and then there’s work

We’ll be comparing perspectives on work and the ‘need’ for welfare: from Lawrence Mead and Barbara Ehrenreich.

First, Mead claims:

  • that most minimum wage workers are not poor
  • that full-time work is generally sufficient to pull people out of poverty
  • that trends in work are benign–younger workers and women simply want more flexibility
  • that the gap between whites and blacks doesn’t close because of a divergence in work effort (he cites Robert Rector–who is not taken seriously by politicians not seeking to cut welfare or economists outside of conservative think tanks like the influential Heritage Foundation–here praising the dignity of low-wage work)
  • that with ‘strenuous work effort,’ blacks can earn on a par with whites

Ehrenreich offers some counter arguments:

  • No job, no matter how lowly, is unskilled work. She was just an ‘average’ employee.
  • Work effort–Ehrenreich discusses ‘rate-busting’ and ‘pacing’ as survival skills . . .
  • Moral economy‘ of workers. Budgeting energy is the only way to survive the work week
  • dow wage workers have very little leverage in the workplace, or the labor market
  • low-wage work is often unhealthy–physical ailments, repetitive motion injuries, etc.
  • work vs economic survival: ability to work with ability to survive
  • Survival skills: Here’s the important stuff, in terms of what people need to know, and how they should understand some of the structural circumstances in which they find themselves:

    • knowing where and how to shop for food (how to cook), how to find housing, etc.
    • budgeting is critical–unforseens can break the budget, lead to debt, etc.
    • How to look for a job.
    • Economic, information literacy
    • Housing: the rich outcompete the poor for housing
      • Supply and demand issues
      • Government housing programs–fail low income households
      • Budgeting–big changes for households since the 1960s (Ehrenreich notes the changes in proportions of food and housing in the household budget)
      • Wages and salaries–Are at their lowest levels, when adjusted for inflation, in 30 years. Executive wages, however, have risen dramatically in last 20 years–several hundred percent

    Ehrenreich says poverty is a state of emergency. Mead says that if people work full-time, it would be limited to the most difficult and chronic cases (the ‘deserving’ vs ‘able-bodied’).

Questions, critical thinkers??