Monday, July 26, 2010

A Public Assistance Mind-set, part 1

Today and Tomorrow: Two Anecdotal Reports on Public Assistance, with Two Different Viewpoints:

I don't know if I blogged about this before or not. It's a little bit about political correctness I suppose and a little about me. My main point will be, though, that public assistance comes with an attitude. When that attitude is pervasive in your life, I think it is deadening.

A long time ago, I worked for 7-11. At that time, companies such as this were eligible for supplements from the government for hiring people that fit a job-training criteria. Therefore, all of the employees in my district were sent, with pay, to the local Social Services for an interview to see if we were part of 7-11's job-training contribution to American society.

Now this program probably had the intention of rewarding companies that taught job skills, and making it easier for small businesses to hire people who didn't have those skills in the first place. At the same time, it seemed ridiculous to me. This company was nation-wide, and was doing okay. Why give money to a corporation when there were so many people walking around with real problems?

I didn't get it. It was about teaching people how to fish, instead of standing in line for the Dole.

My appointment (although I didn't realize it at the time) took up time for local S.S. (social services, not storm troopers). Multiply that by every clerk in every convenience store in town. We all know that S.S. workload is huge and heartbreaking. Conversely, it is a system dominated by a civil service mentality. So long as Some progress is made, then it's progress, so do your work steadily, slowly, and avoid burnout.  I am sure that my appointment looked like a huge waste of time to the S.S. that interviewed me.

At the end of my interview, she told me that "Yes, I did look like a disadvantaged youth in trouble" to her and so would be eligible for the program. I couldn't believe she said that to me. Was that what I was interviewing for, the position of "Disadvantaged" and "In Trouble"? How could you call a person like me disadvantaged? What about all the amazing steps I was taking, to pay my own rent, get to my own job, fix my own car for the first time in life? I had a royal blue phone and the bill was paid on time. What was so damn wrong with me?

I cried all the way to work. Shouldn't have been driving, really. My boss was flabbergasted.

"They called me a disadvantaged youth, like I have nothing going for me at all," I sobbed.

This (the same guy who told me to use napkins on a bleeding-to-death shooting victim, because they were not on inventory) got mad. "Those Assholes!" he stormed. "You're perfectly good just as you are. I'm calling the f*ing District Manager! None of my people are going to go through this. I'm telling him."

I would like to think that he supported me, but nowadays I wonder about the extra hours he was putting in while we all went to be interviewed. That may have been a major part of his ire.

My main point is this: the language of classification in Social Services is not empowering. It is a language that documents our weaknesses and not our strengths. How could it be otherwise, if they are addressing  social gaps? We aren't planning to give assistance to the able-bodied that don't need it (except, well, 7-11?). The only way to avoid this weakening language is to use number categories, which are even more dehumanizing, and--always come with a verbal explanation anyway.

Somehow I fit that description, and though I was insulted by it, it wasn't wrong. If major disaster had struck (as it did, a year after) I had no cushion.  Yet I found the process demeaning, dismissive of my humanity, and onerous. If a "disadvantaged youth's" parents learn to operate under this demeaning, dismissive, and onerous categorization, what does he or she learn? They are more disadvantaged than me, have more to overcome. We talk about generations of people on Welfare, but we don't see how the system itself can be weakening to its participants from the get. And yet starvation and joblessness are far more weakening still.

There must be a way to involve the language and actions of strength in the public assistance process. If we can do that, we can probably get people out of the bottom of the barrel and into a better world. By doing this, we strengthen our citizenry, and our efforts are more likely to gain us a win-win outcome.


Yellow said...

You put into words how I felt. My first degree was going to be in social work. However, after many a class I just got mad! The system is set to put people down. Demeaning is how you put it, yes. It pulls out all the weak points a person has. The focus seems to be more on what’s wrong with people then what is right.
"Ohh you get this score, so here are the services we can offer you" Whatever happened to here is what you can you do?!
My child was recommended into the state funded preschool because I was a teenage mother. Marked big on my file was “Accepted: teenage parent” When I asked how in the world that could be they said I was 18 years old when I had my daughter, and that counts. No matter that I was married. And not to put down real teenaged parents, I just wasn’t one of them. And to discount the fact that I got married 10 months before I had children does, on some level, upset me.
Let us call it pride, but on some level I think many people are “too good” for some of the services out there, I know I am. And as hard as things get I don’t take a hand out real well…and hand up is always welcome!


Bob G. said...

Again, you contimnue to amaze me with thoughtful insight on what has been a perennial burr under MY saddle with society for decades.

And I totally agree with "Yellow" regarding the demeaning factor at work here.

It's insidious at BEST!

We (govermnment) have to get AS MANY people to become "victims" as is possible in order to "help them" (read CONTROL).

I've read Larry Elder and John McWhorter, and they BOTH mention the same things.

The whole "GIVE someone a fish and you feed them for a DAY - TEACH them to fish and you feed them for LIFE" gig should mean more today than ever before.

We, as a society have to wrest back the entire "oh, poor me" mentality so pervasive these days, and instead instill a sense of virtue in people.

Every person is worth something.

But to paint everyone with such a broad societal brush when it comes to being "disadvantaged" serves no one in the long run.

We are ALL disadvantaged in some manner, be it finances, education, or whatever...but we STILL have the capacity (and quite often, the DESIRE) to LEARN, and thereby BE TAUGHT.

We have got to do away with regarding the value of people by CLASS.
We ALL have potential...
We ALL can succeed...

We just need to be ALLOWED to do so, without being put down because of our circumstances.

Circumstances are like the wind...they can change.
As can we all.

Marvelous post and comments!

Love it!

Have a great week!

Ann T. said...

Dear Yellow,
Oh, thank you! And believe me, I know what it's like to fit yourself for a profession, only to learn that this profession is so skewed it won't agree with its own stated principles.

The world is nuts. And social services as you describe, too. They're so conditioned to thinking your marriage won't work, you'll lose your job, etc, etc, they sow doubt and dis-ease that they're supposed to prevent.

I keep thinking we need to incentivize social services. I also think their burnout is partly due to the way they are made to think. It surely must go against the grain for the best of them out there.

Thanks for an echoing experience. The other thing is, how personal those experiences are--how our very identities and ideals are assaulted by the categories. Oh, ick!

Ann T.

Ann T. said...

Dear Bob,
Oh, yes, it's definitely time to wrest the system out of its path off the cliff. I don't believe it is serving anyone well any more.

We can't teach a man to fish, if we don't give him credit for being able to learn how. The system that we have hands out fish, poles and I think a weary contempt for those it is supposed to help. I don't blame any particular S.S. worker for this, but the onerous system that defines need without defining strengths, and no longer even seems to believe in strength.

Social workers see many of the dregs and much of what is wrong--and--they are inundated with hopelessness on both sides.

I knew you'd be interested in this--not sure what your reaction would be. Wait till tomorrow! I have yet another one I don't know what you'll think of!

As always,
Thanks for a great comment!
Ann T.

chiccoreal said...

Dear ATH: Certainly can sympathize with your plight against "The Machine". It is the way the system is structured with archaic prejudices. The inhuman treatment of yourself is case in point. Shouldnt those in the Humanities be HUMAN. Where is the study of Maslow and Abrams et al? The pen pushers are just trying to save their a**ses and thereby their precious "jobs" by not being vocal. It is the job of the unemployed to be the voice of the employed because the employed will and do get fired if they speak out regarding any injustice. In this way, the unemployed balance the system, sot hey are not so unworthy anymore. Besides, people should try to come from a place of help not hinder and the hypocricy that is happening today in all professions in due to the fact that there is no input from the ranks and if there is; it is tainted as per managerial requirements; in other words; it's all bull feathers. It would be best if the bottom line meant people. This will happen when we realize NEEDS are priority ONE in the country (which ever country you are living in; hopefully a democracy!). We need accountability to The People via referendums on important issues, more of a say as to how we want to be managed, rather than steam rolled. Doctors should get paid when they actually heal someone; not getting rich pushing pills and signing death certificates and rich on the Cancer Can be Beaten money for research. No wonder hardly any cures, etc! By this time in our development you'd think we'd be immortal! Honestly! It is PURE greed! The premise being; Doctor Heal Thyself from the mortal wound from those whose methodology is pure greed of tainted heart. Where's the humanity?

meleah rebeccah said...

"It is a language that documents our weaknesses and not our strengths"

This post got me all fired up! If I was your boss, I too would have called the training department that insulted you the way they did.

Ann T. said...

Dear Chicoreal,
This is really great, because I was thinking about Maslow in regard to public assistance. But also I was thinking about he is an outgrowth, in a way, of Hobbes. What is it we must have in order to live well, and in what order?

The theories are supposed to fit the people-for sure-and not the other way around. I'm afraid that government adds more language modifiers though, and more regs, instead of scrapping the trash and starting over.

I share your concern.
Thanks for writing in!
Ann T.

oh, P.S. I am in the U.S. Hello, neighbor!

Ann T. said...

Dear Meleah,
Thank you! What great support! I'm going to keep posting on Public Assistance, I have a couple of posts to go!

I love that!
Ann T.

The Observer said...

Ann T:
What a great post! Could it be that the helping professions, including medicine, are more comfortable with dysfunction rather than function? In other words, when you are at the doctor's, they are looking for your weaknesses, not your strengths.

It takes a lot of personal fortitude to say, "Well, I have _______ and I'm getting help for that, but I am moving ahead anyway." rather than resting in the identity provided by the ________.

Looking forward to more!

The Observer

The Bug said...

I don't have any more to add here than what has already been stated - except that today I was working one of my cryptograms & this is the quote that was the answer: Charity is injurious unless it helps the recipient to become independent of it. J. D. Rockefeller Sr.

Insert Twilight Zone music here LOL.

Ann T. said...

Dear The Observer,
Many thanks! Yes, I think you could stretch it to medicine.

We have somehow accepted this and carried it through. It's not that people shouldn't talk about themselves or their weaknesses though--just as you lay out. It's just that somehow we accept that we are a "gall bladder" instead of a whole person, or a disadvantaged youth instead of a contributor or potential contributor to society.

Thanks for the observations!
Ann T.

Ann T. said...

Dear The Bug,
Oh, now that's the woo-woo!

Thanks for sharing the quote! Good one.

Ann T.

Unknown said...

I do love your approach girl. ALWAYS making me re-think how I think of things.

When Lauren was born I lost my job after taking off 30 days to stay home with her (huh?? yeah, it happened). So no insurance, no job and the firt month peds checkup visit was at hand. I had no money and I signed up for WIC. I got a check for cheese, formula, milk and eggs. And more importantly her first set of shots was at a clinic downtown.

What I saw there that day was enough to make myself a promise that I would find a job...3 if needed so I wouldnt have to bring my baby to this place ever again.

Despair/depression may be two words used to describe the clinic.

It was a lesson learned. I was no longer under my parents care and to boot, I HAD to care for my own child.

My parents could have paid for her dr's visit easily. They taught me a lesson by not doing it though.

One visit and I decided I would pay my own way vs dealing with the system.

I guess if they (ss recipients) have never seen the "other" side, they don't know what they are missing.....

Im excited to see the rest!!

Ann T. said...

Der peedee,
Thank you for the compliiment!

And, your post is the perfect entrance to tomorrow's post!

Reading my mind!.
It is amazing isn't it, how everyone who has brushed into the system has found it hard to take? i am trying to imagine how dim a place that was.

You have accomplished Very much.
So that's a compliment back.
Be proud! and Muahs!
Ann T.

Slamdunk said...

I think your anecdotal share supports the research in this area.

I believe the current system is often demeaning, and should be scrapped for a more empowering alternative--though my limited government side kicks in and would want to shove government away from involvement in anything and everything.

Ann T. said...

Dear Slamdunk,
I know. Just the thought of what it would take is totally daunting.

And by the time we were done, Congress would pork it to death. That was why I liked Singapore's way so much.

But in any case, we have a huge challenge.

Thanks for writing in!
Ann T.