Susan Hoffman: Good afternoon everyone. Welcome to the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UC Berkeley. I’m Susan Hoffman, the director of OLLI, and we are here at Freight and Salvage for the first of four speaker events for this winter term. Today, we have Tina Sacks on the American welfare state in the age of Trump. Next week, we have Richard Rothstein, who will speak on his book, The Color of Law. We’re also developing today’s speaker series starts with a collaboration with not only the School of Social Welfare, but also with UC Berkeley’s news center that is starting a podcast series. So you’ll be able check the Berkeley website for this as a podcast and share it with your friends.
Tina Sacks is an assistant professor at UC Berkeley’s School of Social Welfare. Her fields of interest include racial inequities and health, social determinants of health and poverty and inequality. She focuses on structural discrimination and immigration. She investigates the persistence of racial and gender discrimination in healthcare settings among racial and ethnic minorities who are not poor. Her recent book published, just this month, by Oxford University press is entitled Invisible Visits, black middle-class women in the American healthcare system. Her next major project explores the implications of the infamous US Public Health Service Tuskegee’s syphilis study on the study’s direct descendants.
Professor Sacks is also the principal investigator for two research projects on campus with immigration and health. She studies gender dynamics and food stamp participation among Latina immigrants in California and works in collaboration with the Berkeley Food Institute and the UC Berkeley Nutrition Policy Institute. And, in addition to all this scholarship, she also works on film projects. Dr. Sacks has worked with Carlos Javier Ortiz, a photographer and documentary filmmaker. Their work is called, We All We Got and A Thousand Midnights. These appeared at very prestigious film festivals like AFI, Tribeca, LA and the St. Louis International Film Festival. Before she came to the Berkeley School of Social Welfare, she worked for a decade at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Would you please welcome to the stage Professor Tina Sacks.
Tina Sacks: I’m so excited to be here today. Thank you so much Susan for that very generous introduction. I think all that sort of says is that I’ve been around a time or two on this earth. I’ve had sort of a career prior to my academic career in working for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and I also was a social worker, so my interest in social work is really what brings me to my current career and my real interest in making sure that people who are very poor and vulnerable have a voice. And so what I’m going to talk about today is really the people that we often forget that we don’t see, or maybe we choose not to see. And I’m going to talk about the ways in which, although the Trump administration perhaps compounds those challenges for people who are poor, the welfare state in the United States is not particularly generous by many measures. And so what I’m going to do today is kind of trace the development of the welfare state to help us think about where we have been and where we are right now and then I’ll close with a little bit about where I think we can go, how we might resist some of the real challenges that face people who are poor and as a result, the challenges that face all of us.
So, I wrote this article a couple of years ago when Trump was first inaugurated, and it really, I don’t think it took a genius to foresee that vulnerable people would be even more vulnerable with the incoming Trump administration. And as I wrote this, I thought about what we might be able to do to really kind of stem that tide. And unfortunately, many of the things that I anticipated might happen, and that many of us anticipated would happen, seem as though they may come to pass. And so again, what can we do about this? We’re not impotent to try to stem this tide.
As I mentioned before, when we talk about Trump, I think it’s important to understand where we are in the current moment, in terms of poverty in the United States. What do we do for people who are poor in the United States? And also I want to trace a theme that I think really resonates and has always resonated through the welfare state, which is the idea that the prominence and importance and emphasis on work. The United States is really predicated on the idea of working toward the American dream. The Protestant work ethic, our entire culture and society is really oriented around the prominence of work, the importance of work both in terms of social organization but also in terms of our own well-being, how we think about ourselves, how we conceive of ourselves. And while that is one of the factors that likely contributed to the United States being the richest country in the world, there are also some drawbacks to that. There are some problems with that in terms of thinking about there are many people who are unable to work and there are challenges to securing the kind of employment that would lift one out of poverty.
So, although many people work in the United States, obviously we’re working in the United States, we have a very significant problem with low-wage labor. And so I’m going to talk very briefly about that, but this is a theme that I think runs throughout the welfare state and welfare programs in this country. And then I’ll talk about where we go from here and particularly we’ll spend a little bit of time at the end talking about the issue of the public charge, quote-on-quote. This is something that the Trump administration is trying to change. And this our definition of what is considered a public charge, and this issue with much, much like many things with the Trump Administration, this really dovetails with his extreme antipathy toward immigrants to people who have been thus far classified as non-white in the United States. And the public charge issues essentially that in order for many legal immigrants who were trying to become citizens, there are certain programs that may count against them, should they want to become citizens after they received green cards. So they can’t have ever gotten food stamps or other kinds of public benefits under this new rule that Trump is proposing.
So just to kind of shift gears here a little bit. About 16 percent of Californians live in poverty. And I’m just curious if anyone has any sense of what is the threshold to be considered poor in the state of California for a family of four per se? Any guesses? Someone said 15, 18. Someone knows. I heard 40. Okay so I heard a range from about 18 to 40. So it turns out that someone is a poverty policy scholar in the room. And the poverty level is about $24,000. So to be considered poor and therefore eligible for certain antipoverty programs, a family of four can make no more than $24,000 a year. And any sense of whether that varies geographically, that poverty level, does it matter if you live in New York City or in Iowa? California has the highest housing costs of any place in the United States and always has, but it turns out that the way we actually calculate the poverty level does not take into account any geographic variation.
So to be considered poor, to be categorized as poor, and therefore eligible for certain programs, it doesn’t matter whether you make $24,000 in California or you make $24,000 in rural Iowa. So we need to think about that as we first of all consider the number of people, the percentage of people who are in poverty in the U.S., as well as the programs for which they are eligible. So when we also, we think about this next stat here that the official poverty rate was about 12.3 percent or almost 40 million people in 2017, we’re officially classified as poor, we have to think about what about the people who are just over that threshold. And so for one person, the threshold is about $12,000 a year. Another thing to note about the way Americans think about poverty is that it’s an absolute number, so that if you make just over this $12,060 a year threshold, you are somehow considered not poor even though your relative standing and your relative needs certainly would indicate that you are still poor if you made $13,000 a year, for example.
And what about age? So there are also some very important things in terms of the distribution of who’s poor in this country that for me in particular, I think for many of us, give me great pause. And so which group do you think has the highest rate of poverty in the United States. Children? So almost 18 percent of all children in the United States, all people under 18 are officially classified, categorized as poor. So this is about one in five, one in five children in this country are officially living in poverty. That’s to say nothing of the people who are living near or right around that threshold. Children are overrepresented among people who are poor, and people over 65 actually have the lowest rate of poverty at about 9 percent. And the reason I show this is because I think it’s very important to note here that one of the main reasons that people over 65 have the lowest rate of poverty is because of social security.
This is not to say that that there are many, many people over 65 who face material hardships every month because social security is not sufficient oftentimes to meet all of their needs. But, social security is very important because we’ve been able to lower the poverty rate among people who are over 65 through income transfers, through a program of the federal government that provides money. Certainly it’s related to work, and to the amount of quarters someone has contributed to that system, but I say this to point out that it doesn’t, just because we have a system the way it is now, it doesn’t mean it always has to be this way. There are things that we can do to actually try to reduce the number of poor people in this country. We also have a disproportionality based on race in this country, so that certain groups of people are more likely to be poor than others. So for example black people comprise about 15 percent of the U.S. population, but about 21 percent of people who are poor. And Latinos comprise about 17 percent and make up about 18 percent of all the people who are poor in the United States. So we need to think about as well the disproportionality in the way racial groups are affected by poverty.
Another very important element of the welfare state, and about the lived experience of poverty that I think is often overlooked in our discussions of who is poor, is just how poor people in this country really are. The day-to-day hardships that people experience when they do not have enough to survive on. So there’re almost 21 million people who reported household incomes below one half of their poverty threshold. So that means for a family of four, a $24,000 is the threshold and a family at about 50 percent of that threshold will be living on less than $12,000 a year for a family of four. This is 21 million people in this country and we often bandy about the term and the richest country in the world and richest country in the world, but we have extreme poverty in this country that’s often unseen. And the group of people who are living in extreme poverty represent almost 45 percent of all of the people living in poverty and among this group, there’re almost 7 million children living like this.
My former classmate Luke Schaffer, wrote this book with his colleague Catherine Eden, and it’s called Two Dollars a Day. I don’t think you can actually see that, but the subtitle of this book is Living on Almost Nothing in America. Their work actually found that there are many people in the United States who are living on less than $2 a day per person. This is what the World Bank would also consider to be poor in the developing world. So we have people in the developed world, in the most developed world, who are enduring under these conditions. You can also see here that there’s geographic variation in the number and depth of poverty. And so you can see that the states, you see in the southeast there, in the deep south, where you have intergenerational and entrenched poverty, and also entrenched structural discrimination that you have many people, 18 percent or more of the people in this state are actually living in poverty. This is a slide that indicates or demonstrates something called economic precarity. So this actually shows the distribution of people who are living at about 200 percent of the federal poverty level. So for a family of three, that’s about $40,000. You can see here that about 48 percent of the 40 percent of the white population is economically insecure. 18 percent of the black population and 27 percent of the Latino population is economically insecure. So this is a huge swath of the country. This is a lot of people. So the people that are at about 200 percent of the federal poverty level will not even be eligible for many of the programs that I’m going to talk about in a little bit.
And going back to the idea of work and its relationship to poverty. You can see here that about 34 percent of people, of all the people in the United States, adults I should say, who are economically insecure, a full third of those people work full time, and are still very, living in situations that are very economically precarious. You also see the other, the largest group there are people living with disabilities, people with disabilities are also over-represented among the poor, because of, for many, many reasons, one of them is persistent discrimination against people with disabilities. And so again, we need to think about our relationship to both work and the idea that if you work, I venture to say that many of us would think if you, if we work, we shouldn’t be poor, that that might be a value that we hold. But in the United States it turns out that that’s not the case. And so what are the programs that we have to try to help people who are poor? There are many of them.
We have some, we try to do certain things through, in the tax system. So we the have the earned income tax credit, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, housing assistance, temporary assistance to needy families. That’s what we used to call aid families with dependent children. That’s what people typically think of when they think of quote-on-quote welfare. Child nutrition programs, Head Start, etc. And so the total of this in 2017 was about $729 billion dollars that we spent on welfare programs. And anyone have a guess as to roughly how much that, what percentage that is of the overall federal budget? Two, half a percent less. Okay. So turns out we’re a little less stingy than everyone in the room thinks. It’s about nine percent of the federal budget. And that’s important I think to know because although it’s still, it’s a little more generous than one might have expected, it is by no means the largest percentage of federal spending by any stretch. We hear often about the bloated welfare system that we need to fix it, that it’s an inefficient, that it’s bloated, that there’s so much welfare fraud, and those things are certainly on the margin. Could be true, that it could be, it could be run more efficiently in some ways, or there might be a very low percentage of instances of fraud. But overall, this is a relatively small part of the overall budget. It’s a very small part of what we spend our money on as a country as a whole.
So how did we get here? I’m going to shift gears into, to get to Trump, but I really wanted to kind of trace the origin of how I think we’ve arrived here to the Age of Trump. In 1996, the president at that time was Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton vowed and was very proud to say that he would end welfare as we knew it. And he did. The clunky acronym there that you see on this slide stands for personal responsibility, work opportunity and reconciliation act. And that mouthful tells you quite a bit about the underlying value system of the country, which values personal responsibility and work above almost anything else.
So in 1996, Bill Clinton decided that that was going to be one of the things that he ran on, that he changed about this country. And I think I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the racial dog whistles that are embedded in this kind of challenge, this kind of change. The idea that there are so many people defrauding welfare goes back to the Reagan administration, certainly with the welfare queen, who was characterized as a black woman who was roaming around the streets of my hometown of Chicago in a Cadillac and a fur coat, unlawfully collecting multiple welfare benefits. So at any rate, during welfare reform, Bill Clinton decided that he would change this program.
One of the most fundamental ways in which this program changed everything for poor people in the mid-90s, is that it ended the federal entitlement to cash assistance. Aid to families with dependent children was the program that had been in existence since the New Deal in different iterations. But in 1996, when Clinton decided that we had to end welfare as we knew it, he did away with the idea that if you met a certain income requirement and if you were destitute, that you were legally entitled to some kind of benefit, if you had children. That is no longer the case. He did away with that. And, for many people, poverty advocates and scholars, it’s had catastrophic impact, a catastrophic impact on people who are very economically vulnerable. One of the reasons it has been catastrophic is because the welfare reform also required people to work for their benefits, or to try to find a job to, be in school, or to be taking some kind of job training. Now on its face that may not necessarily be a problem, but there are many people in this country who are unable to work for certain reasons, who have challenges getting a foothold in the labor market, again, oftentimes because of discrimination, poor schooling, just a host of kind of accumulated disadvantages. So these work requirements can be very arduous for people.
The other very important part of this story that’s often overlooked, that there aren’t always enough jobs and if there are enough jobs, many of them do not pay enough to lift people out of poverty. And so requiring people to work in order to get some modicum of monthly benefit can have a real chilling effect on people who are poor. The other aspect of welfare reform is that it put a lifetime 60-month limit on how long people could actually receive benefits. So 60 months in your entire lifetime, once you get 60 months of benefits, you are ineligible for any more welfare assistance in your entire life. There are also, of course, as is the case with many other parts of the welfare state, discrimination is really built into the welfare programs, immigrants were banned from ever receiving any kind of welfare support. So going forward, a few things about TANF it was reauthorized recently and there is great variation in terms of what states provide for people.
The key characteristic of this though is that whatever kind of monthly benefit you receive, it will only get you to less than 50 percent of the federal poverty line. So cash benefits in and of themselves as our welfare state is currently constructed, will never lift anyone out of poverty. It’s actually designed to make sure that it doesn’t disincentivize people from getting back into the labor market. And so they don’t give you very much money so that you will be incentivized to get into the labor market and that on its face may be okay, but there are some significant problems with that around the margin, I would say. As of 2015, about 22 states have actually lowered the lifetime 60-month limit on TANF benefits. And 13 states have set that limit to as low as 24 months. So no matter what happens, no matter what sort of shocks to the economy we may experience, you only have 24 months of even meager support.
So what does that look like for families? One thing that many people talk about as a success of welfare reform is that the number of people on welfare has fallen, as though that is an indication that poverty has also been reduced. That is not the case. The number of families who receive TANF has fallen. But that does not mean that poverty has fallen, or that the material hardship that people experience has declined. So this map of the United States just shows the geographically, the ways which the safety net cash assistance in particular in the safety net has actually declined dramatically under TANF. So in 1995, you can see here that the states in blue, like California, about 90 out of every 100 families that was eligible for TANF in California in 1995 and 96 actually received some kind of cash benefit. By 2013 or 2014, you can see how dramatically these numbers have declined. So California and Vermont are still among the states that seem to be holding on a little bit to actually providing some kinds of cash assistance to people. Other states have very intentionally just slashed the roles, stopped providing these kinds of cash assistance to people, and then have claimed it as a victory against poverty.
So what is a natural corollary of poverty? It’s hunger. Many people, 40 million people in this country struggle with hunger. People who live in rural areas struggle mightily with hunger. And again, as is the case with poverty in general, the people who are disproportionately impacted by this are children. So nearly one in six households with children cannot buy enough food for their families. And I say this because as we think about the welfare state in the Age of Trump, I think it’s important to remember that this predates Trump. This is what we had going forward when Trump came in to office. This is the persistent deep poverty that Americans face and have faced under many different administrations. And I think it begs the question of what is our responsibility to one another? Do we think this is okay? And what does this really say about the American project?
This graph shows the food hardship rate by year and quarter. The red line are families with children. The blue is the one in the middle is all households and the green are families without children or households without children. So you can see here that many families struggle with hardship and so hardship is when the question is asked, in the last month have you struggled to get enough food on the table essentially? And many, many people in this country struggle mightily everyday. So what’s your guess here about? CalFresh is the California version of the supplemental nutrition and assistance program. That’s what people typically think of as food stamps. So in California, how much do you think a single person might be able to get in food stamps or food benefits? They’re no longer stamps. $2 a day. Others? I heard 160. Okay. So a single person can get not quite $200 a month in food stamps, but they can make no more than just a little bit under $1,300 a month to qualify for this. I should also say that food stamps are one of the only welfare programs that a person can receive if they do not have children. So this is something for people who are single and you know, working adults and they are not making very much money. This is one of the only programs that they can actually, that they are actually eligible for. What about larger families? Any guesses as to how much you might get? 400, 300. So it turns out to California is actually a little bit more generous, a little more progressive as one would expect. So a family of four might get about $649 a month. But the income limit to receive that benefit is about $2,600. So as we think about how much it costs to live here in California, how much the rent is in California, you have to be in a very dire situation to qualify for these benefits.
And now shifting gears just a bit to Mr. Trump. During the shutdown, it’s interesting and ironic I think that in a country that’s predicated on work, people who were working and many of whom will require to work without pay. I was a federal worker for almost 10 years and I experienced many shutdowns, never as long as this one. And one thing that was always very clear to me was the ripple effect throughout Atlanta because CDC is a very large employer in Atlanta. The ripple effect in Atlanta, you know, you could feel that things were closed, there weren’t as many, there just wasn’t quite as much activity. The other important thing to note about that is that contractors, you know, you might’ve heard too, that everyone will be made whole in the end and that is absolutely not the case. In terms of the most vulnerable people here who are receiving snap benefits, because of the shutdown, many households actually will face a lengthy gap between benefits. And so, this is something that you can see here that about 34 percent of families will have a 41- to 45-day gap in receipt of SNAP benefits as a result of the shut down. And when you’re thinking about stretching, stretching that money month to month, you know, there’s a saying, you know, that some people when you, when you’re required to, you can stretch a dollar until it hollers, these people will have to really stretch these food stamp benefits. And to go for up to 50 days without receiving their benefits is an incredible material hardship.
So last year in April, the Trump administration decided to ramp up its rhetoric on work and the idea that working will lift you out of poverty or work will make you free, or what other other, other rhetoric that’s embedded in the Trump language. And so, he actually signed an executive order called reducing poverty in America by promoting opportunity and economic mobility. He ordered secretaries across the government to review their welfare programs from food stamps to medicaid to housing programs, and propose new regulations, particularly work requirements, the executive order called on federal agencies to enforce current work requirements, propose additional stronger requirements and find savings. In other words, make cuts to welfare programs and also give states more flexibility to run welfare programs. And so the idea here that working will lift you out of out of poverty. And somehow, interestingly enough, that promoting opportunity and economic mobility is somehow just a property that you have of yourself and has nothing to do with the structural arrangements of the U.S. economy and the globalized economy. It certainly pushes the responsibility back to the person and also blames them for whatever kinds of material hardship they might encounter.
Another part of Trump’s rhetoric that we see playing out as it relates to the welfare state is the idea of the public charge. So we know that trump has his target on undocumented people in this country. He also has a target on the backs of people who are legal immigrants as well through his Svengali of evil as I call him, Stephen Miller. So Trump has decided that he wanted to expand the rules or the categories of the categories that would exempt or exclude, I should say, immigrants from being allowed to get legal permanent residency in the United States. So the term publIc charge is used by immigration officials to refer to a person who is considered dependent on the government for cash assistance or some other kind of institutional longterm care. Where this consideration applies, an immigrant who is found to be quote unquote likely to become a public charge may be denied admission to the U.S. or lawful permanent resident status. So this could have chilling effects on the welfare state writ large because of its implications for people who are living in mixed status families.
So right now whether someone is likely to become a public charge is based only on temporary assistance to needy families. So if a person has had temporary assistance to needy families, that can be considered against you as to whether or not you should be allowed to become a citizen. But now they want to expand the definition, the category of programs that excludes a person to include food stamps, medicaid and section eight vouchers. This really could have, particularly in a state like California, this could have huge implications for the many people who are living here in which their parents may not be citizens, but they have U.S.-born children. My colleagues at the labor center here actually are doing some really good work on the way this proposed change to the immigration rules would cost California jobs and also harm public health. Essentially what’s happened now with this public charge rule is that there was an announcement that was put out in the federal register that asked people to comment on whether or not they thought that the category of exclusions should be expanded essentially. And there was a ground swell of activism. About 200,000 people submitted comments explaining why this would be absolutely detrimental to many people in the United States. And the comment period actually closed in December, just about six weeks ago. So it’s unclear what will happen now if they’re actually going to expand this category of exclusions.
The implications again, for safety net programs and for children are profound. There’re almost 7 million children, U.S. children who have at least one noncitizen parent who’s enrolled in Medicaid or the children’s health insurance program. They’re at high risk for losing their coverage because people are afraid that if they enroll their children, that they somehow might, that might be held against the family overall. They don’t quite understand that the, you know, their children may be citizens, but if they’re noncitizens, they’re afraid that enrolling the child and then the health insurance to which they are entitled and need might blow back negatively against the family overall. Some estimates by the Kaiser Family Foundation suggest that somewhere between 15 percent and 35 percent of citizen children with noncitizen parents might lose, might drop their health insurance. So we’re talking about 875,000 children to about rough ranging to 2 million children might forego health insurance to which they are entitled because of fear. And that fear is purposely stoked, I would argue. So in sum, I just want to close with a couple of ideas and then take your comments or questions.
I think the more I’ve studied and thought about poverty in the United States, in my estimation, it seems to be a fixture of advanced capitalism. We’ve had a war on poverty. We have had the New Deal. We’ve had many. We’ve had welfare reform, which we would in some ways could be characterized instead of a war on poverty. It could be simply characterized as a war on the poor themselves, but poverty seems to stay with us and one must ask, are we able to do away with poverty again in the richest country in the world? Is this something that is an enduring feature of our country or can we do something about it, and if so, what? The other thing that this raises for me, particularly in the context of the election of 2016, the Russian tampering with the election, with the constant threats, I would say to American democracy is really for us to think about what are the implications for democracy when 40 million people don’t have enough to eat? How does one engage in a participatory democracy without food, without shelter, and what does that mean for the people who are able to engage? Do they represent the interests of those who cannot?
I also think that what’s happening under Trump is certainly troubling for many of us who are concerned about poor people and vulnerable people and the attacks on immigrants and the safety net are very troubling. But I would argue that these are things that have, that were here well before Trump. And that, perhaps an unintended positive of Trump is that it shines a light on the ways in which we treat the most vulnerable among us. Trump’s administration seems to have created a ground swell of activism and energy in this country to really think deeply about the ongoing fissures that we have in our country. And the emphasis on work has always been there. And that has, I think, positive and negative effects on people who are unable to work, who have challenges getting work, etc. But the emphasis on work does not necessarily say anything about the availability of work. And so we need to think about that as a country.
And finally, when I teach my classes, oftentimes what my students will say to me, “But Professor Sacks, it’s so gloom and doom. Don’t you have anything we can do about it?” And I wish I had more. But I do think as a social worker, that I am inclined to action and I’m inclined to lean toward working together as a collective. There are things that we’ve been able to do to improve our country, to improve the way people live in our country. And there are examples of workers’ movements in the United States and abroad. There are the international solidarities around workers that are trying to really raise the specter of the conditions of workers as well in particularly low wage workers. We know right here actually not too far away in Stockton, California.
There is a very young mayor who is trying to implement something called a universal basic income experiment. That’s the idea that in the richest country in the world, we should not allow people to fall below a certain threshold so that in some respects we should set up an income floor. And in Stockton they are actually providing about $500 a month to every family in that city with the idea that first of all, if everyone receives this universal income that it’s de stigmatized, the ways in which welfare programs are highly stigmatized in the United States, and it also provides some autonomy to people so that they’re not running around trying to get reauthorized for their $200 a month food stamp benefit. If they took an odd job and they made a little bit more than the income requirement for that month and then they would get kicked off the rolls. There’s just an enormous amount of rigamarole for people who are using safety net programs and being poor is really expensive. Being poor is really hard and people pay. Poor people spend a lot of time navigating large bureaucracies, trying to get the benefits that barely sustain them.
So there are also some discussions I think that are just bubbling up, just barely around how to address poverty and inequality through taxation. And so there was some discussion of this at the world economic forum in Davos, recently. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and Elizabeth Warren had been talking about thinking about a marginal tax rate that would actually have a redistributive effect. And I’m not an expert in tax policy whatsoever, but I just wanted to close with the idea that there are things we can do. I think it’s really a matter of knowledge and will as to whether or not we want to try to tackle this and to try to think about the kind of twin systems here of both racial and gender exploitation and economic and capitalist exploitation that they work together. And so, to think about them as a system that we might want to address. Thank you.
Audience member 1: I think on the public charge, there’s another aspect of that that undocumented immigrants in my discussions with the Bay Area social service directors, they’ve been decreasing their use of services for fear that having their name in any public registry will lead to an ice intervention. So it’s not just public charge for immigrants, or legal immigrants, but it’s the undocumented immigrants as well.
Tina Sacks: Absolutely. Thank you for that. That point. I mean, it has a chilling effect across very vulnerable people. Certainly.
Audience member 2: You indicated that people only had a limited time 24 months and 60 months for in California to get benefits. Does that include people that are on SSDI or Medicaid or things like that?
Tina Sacks: No. No, it does not.
Audience member 2: Okay. And what would they do if they did that? What would those people, that lose it? What did they do?
Tina Sacks: The people who lose TANF?
Audience member 2: Yes.
Tina Sacks: They’re just out of luck.
Audience member 3: Yes I wonder since Trump has taken office, I have heard that there has been some reduction in housing assistance. Are you aware of that?
Tina Sacks: I’m not aware of that specifically, although I wouldn’t be surprised that the way Trump seems to, the way he seems to sort of allow his agenda to permeate is to just … He throws up barriers using executive orders that make things more difficult for people. So I would not be surprised.
Audience member 4: Hi. You mentioned that participation in various programs decreased after the 1996 Clinton welfare reforms. Are there statistics about what, like the work requirements did to the actual poverty level? And part two of my question is the universal income that’s being experimented with by the Stockton mayor, has that been experimented with in other countries and if so, what’s the result?
Tina Sacks: Sure. So the first question was about the actual impact on poverty. So poverty, I mean it’s been relatively constant. So the rate of poverty is relatively constant. And there, it is not vulnerable. It is affected by exogenous shocks to the economy. Right, so when we had the crash, there were many more people living in poverty. So it seems to have much more to do with the macro structure of the economy writ large than with these, these programs themselves. And the second part of the question there, I think the evidence on universal basic income is mixed. It certainly has been used in other countries. Canada has a big experiment. They use it in some other western democracies in Northern Europe, I believe, in Scandinavia and Sweden. And so there are some scholars who are doing some more research about it in terms of the effects, the implications here in the states. And I think for both people and the sort of the left and the right, there is some tension about whether it really, quote unquote works or not. So I think it remains to be seen what happens in Stockton.
Audience member 5: Can you comment on why California seems to be better at getting more families into the assistance program, the cash program.
Tina Sacks: I think California just tends to be a little more generous in terms of the ideas around welfare. So you see that in states where the demographics are, you know, extremely diverse. Lefter states where the state capital is more left leaning because states actually determine how much people get, how open they are to people being on welfare assistance. And so California as a relatively progressive state certainly would lean that way. And you see great variation across the states so that in the deep south you see, you know, very, like the roles are, much less than they are here.
Audience member 6: Hi. I’m concerned about the structural causes of poverty. Of course the solutions are important. Of course we know housing, lack of prenatal care, most especially lack of childcare, but I’m particularly concerned with incarceration. The differential rates of races on incarceration and of poor people.
Tina Sacks: Certainly. I think, I mean the structural causes of poverty I think cannot be disentangled from structural racism. And incarceration and the whole carceral apparatus is related to that. And so as we try to think about think differently about ending mass incarceration, I think we have to be very careful about, again, the intersection of racism and capitalism where we’re starting to see some energy across the political spectrum for decarceration for not having so many people incarcerated in this country. But what we’re also seeing is kind of a rise in a surveillance state. So that people are outside, they’re not in an actual institution, but there are still being surveilled and people are making money off of people’s ankle bracelets. Having to check in with you know, an organization that’s surveilling their whereabouts and their comings and goings. And so we have to really be thinking about the ways in which these forms of discrimination, they morph into something else. They take on a different format.
Audience member 7: Is there evidence of the voting patterns of people in poverty. So the idea that people don’t understand their economic interests in terms of how they vote and whether there might be better education for people who have the challenges of poverty as to their political interests.
Tina Sacks: I think there are probably some variation in people’s views on that. Personally, I think people are very well aware of their economic interests. I think that if you know, god forbid we had a national day off to vote, like other developed nations, we might see much higher voting rate turnout. If we didn’t have such orchestrated voter suppression, we might see people who are actually able to go out and vote in their economic interest. So I’m a structuralist in many ways and so I certainly see the role of individual behavior, but I do think that individuals are constrained by the structure in which they find themselves. And so I also think it’s just a real hardship honestly, when you’re working. You know, people who are poor work a lot of jobs, they schlep back and forth on the bus. Their cars are breaking down. It’s very expensive and time consuming to be poor. So on top of that, when you don’t get time off or you might be penalized for voting, we have some extreme disincentives to voting in this country. And I guess even just today, Mitch McConnell laughed at the idea of a national holiday for voting, saying it was absurd.
Audience member 8: You mentioned Stockton. They have been recently been bankrupt. Now I don’t know how you plan to pay for this, these things. Their system is unworkable, and they will bankrupt again if they keep doing that. The other thing is you didn’t talk about the incredible cost of chain migration, where somebody comes across, a child has dropped over the wall. And then once they are a citizen or a lady delivers a child here in United States, they bring over the whole family.
Tina Sacks: Like the Irish immigrants do?
Audience member 8: Well, that doesn’t excuse it. The cost of that is incredible.
Tina Sacks: I appreciate your question. I actually don’t have the data on the cost. I think that the idea of chain migration is actually a falsehood. I don’t think it’s empirically true. If it is true, actually, it would be more likely to be true of previous generations of European immigrants as opposed to the current crop of immigrants. But I don’t have the data to respond to that.
Audience member 9: What is the best evidence that you can cite that says that work requirements don’t work?
Tina Sacks: Oh, I’m not saying that they don’t necessarily work. I think what the question is what does working mean, right? If working is the idea that we’re going to incentivize everyone to get back into the labor market at any cost, no matter what kind of a job they might be able to get. Then work requirements certainly do work. If that’s the metric. If the metric is reducing poverty, we know empirically that they do not work. So it depends on how you defined work… or success, I guess is the right word there. Thank you so much.