Sunday, June 3, 2018

Another missive about how helping rural populations vis a vis work requirements is racist -- and a modest rebuttal

The New York Times op-ed headline proclaims:

Bryce Covert explains: 
Ignore the platitudes. Work requirements have never been about helping the poor or unemployed. They’ve always been about punishing black people. 
I do not agree.  As I have argued in detail elsewhere, "middle class" and "working class" whites don't like poor whites any more than they like poor Blacks.  In short, the "upper classes" have little tolerance for the poor--especially those they see as the undeserving poor--which includes plenty of poor whites. 

Covert continues, regarding the exemptions:
These carve-outs would, in effect, spare white, rural residents from work requirements but not black ones in urban areas. These proposals have turned the subtext that was there all along into legible text. 
Kentucky, Ohio and Virginia are seeking waivers from the Department of Health and Human Services that would allow them to impose work requirements on some Medicaid recipients, but not all of them. They all included exemptions for counties with the highest unemployment levels, which are rural, mostly white areas. Urban centers where lots of black people are unemployed, but whose county-level unemployment rates are lower, would be subject to the work requirement.
As I have noted in earlier blog posts, the county may not be the optimal scale for granting these sorts of exemptions from work requirements.  Of course, I must also note that work requirements seem unwise generally in the current era of low unemployment.  That is, folks everywhere will have trouble finding jobs--assuming that those receiving SNAP and Medicaid are able to work, and some budget analyses suggest they are not.

But another point bears making here:  I wonder what critics of the Michigan proposal would say if a similar proposal were made in a state with a more significant population of rural African Americans and/or rural Latinx residents.  I am looking at this document--now more than five years old, but it is not easy to find super current data on this topic--which suggests that more than 17% of Virginia's rural and small-town population is African-American. So the Virginia proposal to exempt rural residents would benefit a significant number of African-Americans.

Other states with significant percentages of African-Americans dwelling in rural areas and small-towns are:

Mississippi           39.2%
South Carolina     36.4%
Louisiana              31.0%
Georgia                 25.8%
Alabama               21.9%
North Carolina     20.4%
New Jersey           18.2%
Virginia                 17.1%
Maryland              14.7%
Arkansas              13.9%
Delaware             13.8%
Florida                 12.9%

States with significant rural and small-town Latinx populations include:

New Mexico          42.7%
California               36.4%
Texas                      31.8%
Arizona                  23.5%
Colorado                18.9%
New Jersey             18.0%
Washington             16.9%
Nevada                   16.1%
Florida                    14.7%
Idaho                      12.4%
Hawaii                    10.5%
Oregon                   10.1%
Utah                         8.5%
Wyoming                 8.2%

I bet some of those figures are surprising to readers.  Did you know that Idaho has a significant Latinx population who work on dairy farms?  That Latinx workers keep rural Wyoming's hospitality industry humming?  Who knew New Jersey's rural areas were so racially/ethnically diverse? Who knew New Jersey had rural areas? 

For a variety of reasons, I wish legislators in these states with more diverse rural populations would offer work exemptions.  Rural is not always synonymous with white, and it would be nice if critics--as well as policymakers--would acknowledge that fact.

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