Uncommon Sense

January 20, 2014

Republicans Spin Tales (Again) and Show Their True Colors

In their latest round of fantasy writing Republicans are claiming that providing unemployment insurance payments and food stamps is rewarding bad behavior and creating dependency. This is part of an overall morality play in which the poor are blamed for their own station in life as being lazy, not getting good educations, making poor decisions, doing drugs (We need to drug test food stamp recipients!) while the well-off, nay the Rich!, are so because they are industrious, made good decisions, got good educations, and I am sure, were trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. (For those not getting the reference, the last bit is the Boy Scout Law).

Of course, Republicans do not feel any responsibility for supporting their ridiculous claims with any evidence, like when Florida decided to drug test those getting unemployment insurance and found that their drug use was at a lower rate than in the general population as well as at a lower rate than Florida’s Republican politicians.

So, is there any evidence in support of the Republican’s claim that giving support to poor or temporarily disadvantaged people is a bad thing? Interestingly enough there was a recent large scale study on just such a thing. As reported by Moises Velasquez-Manoff in the N.Y. Times: “In 1996, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina’s Great Smoky Mountains opened a casino, and Jane Costello, an epidemiologist at Duke University Medical School, saw an opportunity. The tribe elected to distribute a proportion of the profits equally among its 8,000 members. Professor Costello wondered whether the extra money would change psychiatric outcomes among poor Cherokee families.

“When the casino opened, Professor Costello had already been following 1,420 rural children in the area, a quarter of whom were Cherokee, for four years. That gave her a solid baseline measure. Roughly one-fifth of the rural non-Indians in her study lived in poverty, compared with more than half of the Cherokee. By 2001, when casino profits amounted to $6,000 per person yearly, the number of Cherokee living below the poverty line had declined by half.

“The poorest children tended to have the greatest risk of psychiatric disorders, including emotional and behavioral problems. But just four years after the supplements began, Professor Costello observed marked improvements among those who moved out of poverty. The frequency of behavioral problems declined by 40 percent, nearly reaching the risk of children who had never been poor. Already well-off Cherokee children, on the other hand, showed no improvement. The supplements seemed to benefit the poorest children most dramatically.

“When Professor Costello published her first study, in 2003, the field of mental health remained on the fence over whether poverty caused psychiatric problems, or psychiatric problems led to poverty. So she was surprised by the results. Even she hadn’t expected the cash to make much difference. “The expectation is that social interventions have relatively small effects,” she told me. “This one had quite large effects.”

“She and her colleagues kept following the children. Minor crimes committed by Cherokee youth declined. On-time high school graduation rates improved. And by 2006, when the supplements had grown to about $9,000 yearly per member, Professor Costello could make another observation: The earlier the supplements arrived in a child’s life, the better that child’s mental health in early adulthood.

“She’d started her study with three cohorts, ages 9, 11 and 13. When she caught up with them as 19- and 21-year-olds living on their own, she found that those who were youngest when the supplements began had benefited most. They were roughly one-third less likely to develop substance abuse and psychiatric problems in adulthood, compared with the oldest group of Cherokee children and with neighboring rural whites of the same age.

“Cherokee children in the older cohorts, who were already 14 or 16 when the supplements began, on the other hand, didn’t show any improvements relative to rural whites. The extra cash evidently came too late to alter these older teenagers’ already-established trajectories.

“What precisely did the income change? Ongoing interviews with both parents and children suggested one variable in particular. The money, which amounted to between one-third and one-quarter of poor families’ income at one point, seemed to improve parenting quality.”

Mr. Velasquez-Manoff also noted “A parallel study at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill also highlights the insidious effect of poverty on parenting. The Family Life Project, now in its 11th year, has followed nearly 1,300 mostly poor rural children in North Carolina and Pennsylvania from birth. Scientists quantify maternal education, income and neighborhood safety, among other factors. The stressors work cumulatively, they’ve found. The more they bear down as a whole, the more parental nurturing and support, as measured by observers, declines.

So, “family values” Republicans are not only making up totally incorrect fairy tales to justify their specious policies regarding the poor, they are doing so by undermining the very family values they say they support. Words like despicable, scum-sucking, and two-faced come to mind, but I will be generous and simple call them corrupt politicians selling their souls for money and power.

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