Saturday, June 03, 2017

The "Disability" Epidemic in Rural Red America

One of the ironies of the white voters who supported Donald Trump is that many seemingly were motivated by animus towards "those people" - read black, Hispanic, immigrant, and to a lesser extent, LGBT - whom they viewed as free loaders who "abused the system."  Yet, rural whites in red states receive more welfare benefits than anyone else.  Largely rural red states depend on federal programs to prop up their economies than do large coastal blue states.  The animus was misdirected and should have been directed at their fellow whites, especially in rural America and the Bible Belt.  Of course, it is always easier to blame someone who looks different or believes differently.  A piece in the Washington Post looks at the epidemic of families in rural and Southern America who are living on disability benefits, sometimes multi-generations at a time.   I do not intend to seem cruel, but the refusal of whites, especially rural whites, to look at their own pathologies is maddening and the height of hypocrisy.  Moreover, such blindness to they systemic abuses in their own communities prevents solutions from being found.  And note the correlations in the article of the disability epidemic with the Bible Belt, the region with the most social pathologies of anywhere in America.  Do we really want these values and world view forced on the rest of the nation?  I think not.  Here are article highlights:
PEMISCOT COUNTY, Mo. — The food was nearly gone and the bills were going unpaid, but they still had their pills, and that was what they thought of as the sky brightened and they awoke, one by one. First came Kathy Strait, 55, who withdrew six pills from a miniature backpack and swallowed them. Then emerged her daughter, Franny Tidwell, 32, who rummaged through 29 bottles of medication atop the refrigerator and brought down her own: oxcarbazepine for bipolar disorder, fluoxetine for depression, an opiate for pain. She next reached for two green bottles of Tenex, a medication for hyperactivity, filled two glasses with water and said, “Come here, boys.”The boys were identical twins William and Dale, 10. They were the fourth generation in this family to receive federal disability checks, and the first to be declared no longer disabled and have them taken away. 
Talk of medications, of diagnoses, of monthly checks that never seem to cover every need — these are the constants in households like this one, composed of multiple generations of people living on disability. Little-studied and largely unreported, such families have become familiar in rural communities reshaped by a decades-long surge that swelled the nation’s disability rolls by millions before declining slightly in 2015 as older beneficiaries aged into retirement benefits, according to interviews with social workers, lawyers, school officials, academics and rural residents.
How to visualize the growth in disability in the United States? One way is to think of a map. Rural communities, where on average 9.1 percent of working-age people are on disability — nearly twice the urban rate and 40 percent higher than the national average — are in a brighter shade than cities. An even brighter hue then spreads from Appalachia into the Deep South and out into Missouri, where rates are higher yet, places economists have called “disability belts.” The brightest color of all can be found in 102 counties, mostly within these belts, where a Washington Post analysis of federal statistics estimates that, at minimum, about 1 in 6 working-age residents draw disability checks.
As the number of working-age Americans receiving disability rose from 7.7 million in 1996 to 13 million in 2015, so did the number of households with multiple family members on disability, climbing from an estimated 525,000 in 2000 to an estimated 850,000 in 2015, according to a Post analysis of census data. The analysis is probably an undercount.
“I’ve been aware of it my whole professional life,” said Michael L. Price, a demographer who retired from the University of Louisville in 2013. “In eastern Kentucky and other rural areas, you’re more likely to have intergenerational households, not just two but three generations. You have grandparents, very young grandparents, living together with grandchildren or in close proximity. And families don’t separate, so it sets it up not only for the next generation, but for two generations, that ‘This is what’s there, this is what you’re dependent on.’ ”
Other experts, however, say the phenomenon has little to do with generational dependence. 
And yet others say it’s about money.
Ruth Horn, director of social services in Buchanan County, Va., which has one of the country’s highest rates of disability, has spent decades working with profoundly poor families. Some parents, she said, don’t encourage their children academically, and even actively discourage them from doing well, because they view disability as a “source of income,” and think failure will help the family receive a check.
“It’s not a hard thing to limit a person,” Horn said, adding: “It’s generations deep.”
Kathy sat with a notepad that said “Live Like Your Life Depends On It” and did the math. Their monthly checks totaled $2,005 — $1,128 less than when the twins received benefits — and bills would consume all of it except $167. There wouldn’t be enough to whittle down her payday loans. Or to settle up with the school for her granddaughter’s cheerleading. Or to pay her lawyer for a divorce from her fourth husband.
[S]he loaded the rest of the family — Franny, William, Kaitlyn and Bella, 4 — into the their dented Ford Taurus and started the engine. Rubbing her right forearm, she drove out into a county of endless farmland, where the poverty rate is more than twice the national figure, life expectancy is seven years shorter than the national average and the disability rate is nearly three times what it is nationally.
Disability characterized her family’s story, too. Kathy’s father, an illiterate laborer, had gone on disability after damaging an arm while working on a manhole. Franny went on it next. Then Kathy, who had dropped out of high school and had her first child at 15, hurt her shoulder working at a gas pump hose factory. Several denials and applications later, and after the twins started collecting benefits, Kathy began receiving disability, too.
It was a Sunday, and soon the family would leave for church, where anyone could get on stage and dance and sing, and this was the week Franny was sure she would marshal enough courage to perform a solo of “Amazing Grace.”
 She saw that gravel road turn into another and another. She saw trailers, dirt-battered and deteriorating. She saw land as flat as it was empty, land that migrant workers traveled hundreds of miles to cultivate, reaping both that year’s watermelon harvest and jobs that few in the community were willing to do.

There is much more, all of it depressing or maddening depending upon one's believe in self-responsibility and accountability.  The latter, of course, are much talked about by conservatives and the "godly folks" but rarely applied to themselves.  I feel bad for the children who sadly have been born into disastrous families.  In the article there is mention of Buchanan County, Virginia.  A family member did a summer medical internship in a rural clinic in that area and came back very disgusted with many of the adults who were defined by bad decisions and irresponsible behavior.  Only the children deserved sympathy and would have been best served to have been removed from their families.  What is frightening is the reality that dysfunctional individuals like those in the article and others in their communities likely put Der Trumpenf├╝hrer in the White House.  Not content with ruining their own lives, they are now destroying the country.  

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