Friday, July 11, 2014

Welfare Towns and Equilibrium Traps

Alright, here's where I start to sound like a liberal to those who don't know any better...

Many people seem to believe, that the majority of "welfare recipients", and the recipients of the majority of "welfare dollars" in this country are minorities; particularly blacks and hispanics, and most particularly urban blacks and hispanics living in slums, ghettos, "the barrio", "the hood" etc...

In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

It's certainly understandable why this misperception exists, because for the most part, it's the image the media, and politicians, present to us. It's just not true.

This is not to say that there aren't a large number of blacks and hispanics receiving some type of "welfare" in this county, or even that in many areas they do so in disproportionate numbers to their local populations. It just needs to be pointed out, that the common perception of "the welfare people" and "the welfare areas" as urban, and black is not only false, it's actually the complete opposite of the truth.

While this stereotype is generally true in large urban areas outside of the southwestern border states (California, Arizona, New mexico, and Texas, where the majority of urban recipients of state aid are hispanic); overall, even in heavily urbanized states, the very large majority (in most states without a "top 20" city it's generally somewhere between 60% and 80%) of those receiving AFDC, subsidized housing, food stamps, and medicaid (the most significant "welfare" programs); are white non-hispanic, and live in rural or semi-rural, suburban, or small metropolitan semi-urban areas.

It can be hard to generalize of course, because these things vary year to year, and state to state; and of course there are variations in how the states collect and report data; but some demographic factors are very clear, and any error or variability is damped out over time and in the aggregate, so a clear historical baseline and trend can be established.

Blacks and city dewellers simply are not the major "beneficiaries" of "welfare" programs in this coiuntry.

In fact, if you want to know what the "typical welfare town" looks like, it's not urban or black at all. It's very white, and very "middle america".

Likely It's a midwestern or southern, large town or small city; though these towns can be found in just about every state from Connecticut to California, and at most any size population, from a few thousand up to 200,000 or so.

Generally, it will have a very small "metropolitan area" around it, with a significant semi-rural or rural population around that, using the town for shopping and services.

It will generally have either a single major employer or majority single industry employment (often a legacy manufacturing industry, agribusiness, or a military base), along with the businesses that service and support those employed by that employer/industry.

Generally, that single company or industry will have closed down entirely, be subject to severe boom and bust cycles, or have just generally hit bad times and have significantly contracted.

Even if the towns revenue base was healthy and diversified, or their major employers are doing OK, often they are still in trouble because things have changed around them which have just made them economically stagnant or non-viable. In those cases, very often they were a thriving town or city before the interstate highway system expanded, and the rail network contracted; but now they are off the main transport routes, and they cost too much, or are too inconvenient, for infrastructure and logistics dependent employers, to economically operate.

Sometimes, they are farm towns, or often former farm towns. Over the past 80 years, our nations farm productivity has soared, but farm labor has crashed. Before the depression, at least 10% of our population directly farmed or ranched the land to produce foodstuffs or textiles. Now, it's less than 1%. That's great for the cost of food, and in general keeping inflation down... but what are all those people who used to be farmers doing now? Meanwhile, the populations of farming areas have grown at a rate similar to that of the rest of semi-rural america. Only there's no decent employment opportunities to support this growth.

Often, they are a distant satellite of a medium or large sized college town, state capital, military base town, or similar polity; close enough that the larger city pulls away business and talent, but not close enough for workers to economically commute, or for the smaller city to share in the largers suburban prosperity.

... and generally, outside of a few southeastern states, and the border states; these towns have largely majority white populations, with largely white populations of "welfare" recipients.

These are the places that the permanent or semi-permanent, intergenerational, white underclass in America live.

Those stuck in that underclass are most likely high school dropouts (about 50%), or GED recipients (about 25%. Only about 25% actually graduate high school). They have almost always become parents before the age of 24 (about 60%) if not actually while in high school (about 40% of those).

If we're just looking at women it's more like 80% have had children under the age of 24, 60% of those while still in high school, and 80% of them dropped out and did not later obtain a GD (at least not before the age of 24).

Even if they had any postsecondary education, or a trade outside the industry which has left the town non-viable (and Devry, other trade schools and for profit colleges and the like, recruit heavily in these populations), theres little or no nearby employment base for them to gain better employment.

They are likely (more than 50% overall, with more than 60% or males and more than 40% of females) to have multiple minor convictions for possession or intoxication, simple assault, driving with suspended license and insurance; or other relatively minor crimes, that while not felonies, do make getting better than low end employment difficult.

Very few are active habitual hard drug users, though intermittent methamphetamine and marijuana use are common (again, over 50%), and intermittent misuse of prescription drugs is becoming common.

Oh and while they may not generally be regular users, they are however statistically by far the most likely group of people to become serious abusers of methamphetamine.

Minor and intermittent alcohol abuse is common, but true alcoholism is relatively rare.

Most of them DO smoke though... in fact, they're the only group of white people in this country among whom more than 40% still smoke (about 40% of women and 60% of men).

They also tend to have poor diets, which in addition to making them more likely to be obese (more than 60%), when combined with their other risk factors is likely to make them far less healthy overall.This reduces both their testable intelligence scores (such as they are... rant for another time), and their expected lifespan by between 5% and 15%.

That's the white underclass in America today... and the "welfare" recipients alone make up something like 15-20% of the population, never mind the "working poor" who earn enough to be means tested out of "welfare" programs.

All told, white, black, hispanic, and everyone else, this institutionalized underclass is something like 25% to 35% of our population, depending how you count it, and whose numbers you believe. Most of them don't live in the inner cities, or the "hood"...

They live in... Jacksonville Illinois.... or Kearny Arizona... or Waycross Georgia.

... and whether they are recipients of state "aid" or not, they are in what is known as an equilibrium trap.

If things were any worse, people would just leave. Go to another place with better education and employment prospects.

If things were any better, people could get ahead, and the local economy could grow.

As it is, conditions are just in that "dead spot" on the curve, where they are both "good enough" or even "tolerable enough", that most people willing to live under them long term, AND where there there is little opportunity for anyone to significantly improve their life, without both a major expenditure of effort and resources, and significant risk of failure (actually, the near certainty of failure several times, before success is achieved).

The risk outweighs the potential reward for most, and most of the rest get beaten down by the multiple failures it generally takes before one can succeed.

Equilibrium traps are considered one of the worst steadystate socioeconomic problems for good reason.

That one particular issue: the fact that failure (even repeated failure) is a part of the process of success; is often the hardest obstacle to overcome.

 Even those who are motivated to improve their lot, and willing to put in the effort, and take the risk; generally have neither the resources to keep trying in the face of failure; nor the education, motivation, acculturation, and support network to help them do so... even if only to help them understand that failure is part of the process, and that it is possible to succeed.

So, you get an institutionalized underclass of the barely employed or unemployed, under-educated, disincentivized, and demoralized people, maybe just maybe just getting by, maybe just surviving...

Maybe not really living... maybe just... existing.

Of course, even when our government is not actually directly creating this equilibrium trap (and very often, they are), they encourage, support, and reinforce it. The government gives just enough "aid" to make things tolerable, but not enough to really make it better; not enough resources, or options, or freedom to let someone help themselves effectively; and they take EVERYTHING AWAY if you try to make it better for yourself.

It would be a case of perverse incentive, if it weren't for the fact that the system is clearly functioning as designerd. It's purpose is not to lift people up, or help them lift themselves... but to keep them under control.