By INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE | April 10, 2012,
When Rendezvous wrote about Europe’s “lost generation” of unemployed young people — and what their lot in life will mean for Europe’s future — many RDV readers voiced their concerns about the overall decline of The West. Wrote Ian Walthew in France:
Any OECD society, of any political stripe, of any amount of income disparity, is going to be faced with growing social unrest for as long as the following factors remain on the table:
a) rigid labour laws concerning hiring and firing;
b) undignified minimum wage laws;
c) lack of universal healthcare;
d) failure to tax unearned investment income in the same way as earned income;
e) unequal access to higher education;
f) failing schools. Point A is a job creation killer. Points B-F are a recipe for revolution
Some readers commented that the United States is no better than Europe, even if its youth employment numbers look better than many European or EU economies.
“Are we talking about Europe or the US?” asked Frederick from Orlando, Florida.
“America has already eaten many of its young people and is quietly digesting them within its prisons!” said julianzzz in Manchester, UK. This weekend, our colleague Jason DeParle wrote a long piece on the front page of The New York Times investigating just how bad things are in the United States — not for young people but for poor people, who happen to be disproportionately young and very young.
Despite the worst economic situation since The Great Depression, because of vast changes to the public assistance system during the Clinton administration, the number of poor people receiving cash subsidies from the U.S. government is the lowest in decades.
“Just one in five poor children now receives cash aid, the lowest level in nearly 50 years,” Jason wrote.
The number of very poor families appears to be growing. Pamela Loprest and Austin Nichols, researchers at the Urban Institute, found that one in four low-income single mothers nationwide — about 1.5 million — are jobless and without cash aid. That is twice the rate the researchers found under the old welfare law. More than 40 percent remain that way for more than a year, and many have mental or physical disabilities, sick children or problems with domestic violence.
Using a different definition of distress, Luke Shaefer of the University of Michigan and Kathryn Edin of Harvard examined the share of households with children in a given month living on less than $2 per person per day. It has nearly doubled since 1996, to almost 4 percent. Even when counting food stamps as cash, they found one of every 50 children live in such a household.
The American social welfare system is far less generous than Continental Europe’s and even Britain’s — that American cousin often lumped in when the French disparage “savage capitalism.”
(The British have universal health care and amounts of public housing that are unfanthomable in the United States. Assured lodging and health care, plus more generous cash benefits make Britain look much more like Europe than America.)
In the nearly 700 comments generated by Jason’s piece before the Times closed the comments, many readers — mostly Americans — lamented their country’s indifference to its citizens’ suffering. On the other side, many readers said they did not see why U.S. taxpayers should foot the bill for other people having children they could not afford to take care of.
Where do you stand? Is the European risk of long-term dependency an acceptable trade for assuring a minimum quality of life for everyone in a society? Or is the American system, despite its flaws, one where the dignity of work is placed front and center and no one is coddled? Or do you think the United States is headed the way of China: little government safety net and a reliance on family and community to care for the poor instead?
See online: America Is Eating Its Poor