Welfare and Work Ethic Reciprocity

  This is a follow-up to my Apollo Initiative diary.  This diary is also a cobbled together synopsis from The Realignment Project.  The primary source for this diary was The Psychology of Public Policy

Welfare And Work Ethic Reciprocity:

One dilemma has been the clash between our desire to provide protection against the great social ills of poverty, disease, lack of education, poor housing, and unemployment and society’s resistance to violations of the social norm of reciprocity. The easiest attack on welfare has always been to assert that other people are getting something for nothing and thus divide society between the payer and payee.
It is not foreordained that all forms of social welfare have to meet the same fate. It is possible to be both right and smart – and learn to tack into the wind of public opinion.
Looking at the In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) model gives us one possible solution for how to do just that.


(The above is not a direct quote, but contains multiple direct plagarizations and I believe presents a reasonably accurate interpretation)

(The following is my synopsis of this article)

The Eternal Problem of Single Motherhood:

Single motherhood has always been both a major source of poverty and a potent blend of gender, cultural, racial, and class anxieties.  These assorted social anxieties are used politically to prevent any alleviation of said poverty.

Single mothers are easy to “other". Framing black women as “welfare queens” tapped into all three, but the phenomenon was equally visible when it came to white women in the 1910s-1930s when “mothers’ pensions” were the issue of the day.

It’s not just a question of conservatives tapping into fear, anxiety, and resentment to abolish programs or zero-out funding; there’s also been a historical tradition of using state benefits to regulate women. The current fad for trying to encourage marriage is only the most recent trend; infamously, the “man in the house” rule under the old AFDC program sought to prevent single mothers from having sexual relationships if they wanted to continue to receive benefits.

These anxieties play right into popular belief in the importance of work and reciprocity.  This model addresses the classic welfare dilemma:

(1.) The American people really do want to protect children and to help the poor, but react negatively to methods of delivery that violate social norms, as evidenced from surveys that show a desire for increased spending on the poor, but antipathy to welfare.

(2.) The caring work done by women, be they single or married mothers or caring for a sick loved one, is both valuable and unpaid. Live-in child care can range from $15,000-38,000 a year, live-in elder care can range from $18,000-60,000 a year, yet millions of Americans (mostly women) provide this care without being recognized for their labor and their contribution to the family.

And this is where IHSS comes into the picture.

IHSS – Squaring the Circle:

Expanding social insurance into new areas of public policy is one way to make the public’s expectations about wage labor work in our favor. In-home supportive services is a model that reconciles society's desire to provide assistance with the reciprocity of earned benefits.
IHSS is a state-level program that exists in California, but receives part of its funding through Medicaid. It provides money for seniors, the disabled, or the blind to hire in-home care for housecleaning, meal preparation, laundry, grocery shopping, personal care services, accompaniment to medical appointments, and protective supervision for the mentally impaired. The program allows seniors and the disabled the ability to control their own care while remaining in their own homes rather than being institutionalized.

One interesting wrinkle in IHSS is that recipients have the choice to either hire a professional caregiver or to designate a family member as their caregiver. In both cases, the caregiver becomes a contracted state employee, because they get at least part of their paycheck from the state government.

This model of service provision offers a way to tap into society’s beliefs about work and extend social welfare to groups that have been extremely difficult to cover under traditional welfare. If a relative can get paid for providing care to a loved one who’s either elderly or disabled on the grounds that their loved one can’t look out for themselves on their own, the same logic applies to children.

An In-Home Child Care Service
(IHCCS) program could be established in such a way that children are given a monthly care budget, similar to current IHSS recipients, and the primary caregiver for those children is recognized as a contracted state employee. Whether it’s a single or married parent, or a relative of the parents, IHCCS could provide not just a paycheck but also professional training so that the parent can get a qualification as a professional child care provider. Alternatively, the primary caregiver could use the IHCCS payment to hire a professional carer so that they can work.

IHCCS kills several birds with one stone. 

(1.) It provides social protection to children and prevents child poverty and single-parent poverty.

(2.) It  provides a wage for the unwaged “second shift” – removing a major source of gender inequality within the family. This allows IHCCS recipients to contribute to Social Security, Medicare, UI, and similar contributory programs, a major source of gender inequality within the social insurance system.

(3.) It expands positive economic liberty, by allowing flexibility between work and home to millions of Americans.

The IHSS model is useful for more than just back-filing the gap in our welfare state left by the end of AFDC. There are many kinds of unwaged work that we deem socially important but don’t always provide compensation for. IHSS hardly is a comprehensive answer to the phenomenon of 46 million Americans who provide care for an adult relative of friend without pay.

As a state-level program that gets partial funding from Medicaid, IHSS is also strictly limited by wealth; a  $2,000 limitation in property, for example. Establishing an IHSS-like program that operates through Social Security/Medicare/Disability Insurance would eliminate the need for seniors to spend down their life’s savings to get care while compensating 46 million Americans for their labor.


What the IHSS model of social welfare policy shows us is that, far from causing dependency, it can be a way to pay people for the unpaid labor that society needs to function while expanding their positive economic liberty.

In the face of manifest human need and the gross waste of our current system, what else can we do but help?

The larger question is why aren’t we doing this already?


Tags: The Work Ethic State, welfare, Moral Hazard (all tags)



The Moral Hazard Dilemma

  The political clash between welfare and reciprocity is the political/social meme referred to as The Moral Hazard politicians face for supporting governmental assistance to low-income "undeserving" Americans. Also from Dean Baker The Right to Rent Trumps Moral Hazard

by nanobot 2011-06-02 05:59AM | 0 recs

Maybe marriage is a mistake.

The problem is 'certain' women not knowing what they're in for, seeing visions of wedding cakes and eternal love...that only lasts 2 years.

I'm divorcing, and not marrying again, although I know marriage is presented as a social safety net (that never was). 

I'll be on my own in the world, because a woman who refuses to be a sex slave is 'choosing' a hard road, but however hard things get, I'm not going to steal some poor woman's husband, or deprive her children of their father.  

Maybe someday, I'll meet some 'weird' guy who no one understands, but understands. I won't have to explain, or apologize.

Time will tell.

by Maori 2011-06-06 12:47PM | 0 recs


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