Saturday, May 19, 2018

Failing to see childcare and transportation deficits in rural America

I blogged last week about the high-profile media attention being showered on a proposed Michigan law that would exempt counties with high unemployment (8.5% and above) from work requirements being imposed on Medicaid.  Then a related piece was published in the New York Times Upshot.  In "Which Poor People Shouldn't Have to Work for Aid?" Emily Badger and Margot-Sanger Katz quote Heather Hahn, a senior fellow in the Center on Labor, Human Services and Population at the Urban Institute.
The problem, Ms. Hahn and others say, is that geography captures just one kind of barrier to employment. “If you’re taking only the geography as the structure,” Ms. Hahn said, “it’s really overlooking the much more obvious racial structure.” African-Americans who face racial discrimination in the job market are more likely to have a hard time finding work. 
And people who can’t afford cars and live where public transit is inadequate have a harder time. So do the poor with criminal records, or those without a high school diploma, or people with problems securing child care.
Policies that exempt high-unemployment places, but not people who face other obstacles to work, selectively acknowledge barriers for only some of the poor. In effect, they suggest that unemployment is a systemic problem in struggling rural communities — but that in poor urban neighborhoods, it’s a matter of individual decisions.
They then quote David Super of Georgetown Law, who studies public benefits programs.    
The hardships of areas that have seen industry leave are very real; the hardships of rural areas that have had jobs automated away are real.
* * * 
But so are hardships that come from a lack of child care or transportation, he said. “It is troubling that one set of conditions are being taken seriously and another are being scoffed at.”
One thing both Hahn and Super seem not to realize is that public transportation and child care deficits are much more acute in rural communities than urban ones (a point made, with lots of data back up, in my 2007 piece on welfare reform as a mismtach for rural communities."  And the problem of criminal records looms large for the chronically unemployed in rural places, too.  Employers don't want to hire these folks, even when they're white.  (And I do acknowledge that the criminalization of poverty and the war on drugs have had a disproportionate impact on communities of color).

I agree that we should attend to all of these barriers to employment, but the "rural v. urban" and "black v. white" framing is divisive.  It echoes the "who's worse off" or "ranking of oppressions" frame that has become too common amidst the proliferation of identity politics.  It fails to seek common ground.  Which reminds me that today is the second Monday in the 40 days of action invoked by the revival of Martin Luther King, Jr., Poor People's Campaign.

Cross-posted to Working Class Whites and the Law.

1 comment:

Dr Purva Pius said...
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