Showing posts with label disabilities. Show all posts
Showing posts with label disabilities. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

African American writer examines the 'invisibility of white poverty' in Eastern Kentucky

Lenoard Pitts, Jr., an African American reporter for the Miami Herald, recently traveled to Eastern Kentucky—an area that was called the Big White Ghetto by one reporter and that was the focus of a story with the headline “What’s The Matter With Eastern Kentucky?” by another reporter—to examine white poverty in one of the nation's poorest regions. (Herald photo by David Stephenson: Samuel Riley buying cigarettes in Booneville, Ky., located in Owsley County, one of the nation's poorest counties)

"Granted, America seldom discusses poverty of any hue, except insofar as conservative pundits and politicians use it as a not-subtle proxy for racial resentments among white voters," Pitts writes. "But white poverty is the great white whale of American social discourse—believed to exist but seldom seen."

"As it turns out, our deeply racialized view of poverty bears no resemblance to reality," Pitts writes. "Though it’s true that African Americans are disproportionately likely to live below the poverty line, it is also true that the vast majority of those in poverty are white: 29.8 million people. In fact, there are more white poor than all other poor combined."

"There is a remarkable consistency to the way citizens of the poor, white mountain South have been portrayed in popular culture and scholarship. In entertainment, they are narrowly defined as naifs whose very innocence and trusting nature insulates them from the conniving machinations of city folk (think Jed Clampett), as lazy sluggards (think Snuffy Smith), as big, dumb rubes (think Jethro Bodine) or as the personification of perverse evil (think Deliverance). Women’s roles are even more constrained: they tend to be either ancient, sexless crones (think Mammy Yokum) or hyper-sexualized young women (think Daisy Duke)."

"Get past John-Boy and the rest of 'The Waltons,' and it is difficult to recall a sympathetic portrait of white Southern poverty in mass media," Pitts writes. "To the contrary, America has always bred a special contempt for the white poor. As far back as 1866, a Boston Daily Advertiser writer opined that 'time and effort will lead the negro up to intelligent manhood, but I almost doubt if it will be possible to ever lift this ‘white trash’ into respectability.'” As recently as 2010, the Hillbilly to English Translation Dictionary was published with a cover depicting "a woman with pigtails and a missing front tooth, clutching a scraggly bouquet. She is wearing a dingy white wedding dress. She is barefoot and pregnant."

"There is no national advocacy group to defend the white poor against such libels as this, no analogue of the NAACP or the National Organization for Women to assert their dignity," Pitts writes. "You may malign them without a whisper of complaint."

"The invisibility of white poverty, says Edmund Shelby, editor of the Beattyville Enterprise, is part of the problem," Pitts writes. Shelby told him, “Those of us who are aware of the issues facing Appalachians and those of us who speak out about those issues see that as one [thing] that has kept us in the position that we are in for so long. I think that can be said for a lot of poor populations because if you can say things about people that dehumanize them, then there’s no need to help them raise themselves up in any way because, after all, using that stereotype, they are incapable.” (Read more)

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Nonprofit's magazine in Michigan explores rural hardships such as poverty and homelessness

Bridge, a magazine published by The Center for Michigan, has been running a series exploring the hardships facing rural Michigan residents. "The statistics are sobering, with many rural communities struggling with moribund economies, mediocre schools and searing poverty, as well as difficulty accessing basic services like medical specialists, public transportation and broadband Internet access," writes Editor David Zeman. "Compounding these challenges is a decline in political clout in Lansing, as more people move to metropolitan areas." (Map: Poverty-rate ranges by county) 

One story takes a look at a rural charter school that closed its doors. "When fourth grader Ian Matthews heard his school would close the end of the last academic year, he said he asked his principal, 'Why do they want to break people’s hearts?'," Pat Shellenbarger writes. "For Ian and more than 150 other students, Threshold Academy, a charter in rural Ionia County, had been a refuge from the constant reminders in other schools that they were different because their families were poor. More than 90 percent of Threshold students qualified for a free or reduced-price lunch."

Another story looks at Lake County, one of the poorest regions in the state. "Robert Traviss’s house, if you can call it that, is an old camper trailer he shares with two Chihuahuas named Spaz and Boots," Shellenbarger writes. "The trailer is parked in the side yard of the home, now rotting away, where he grew up. A second camper trailer, even older, is in the front yard and is filled with the tools he used before a stroke left him disabled. From the camper’s door, Traviss, 55, can look across fields, where deer graze. If he steps outside with his walker and surveys the neighborhood, he sees poverty – rural poverty, the kind that is little noticed by much of the nation. He used to be a machinist and a tool and die maker, but now, since the stroke, his only income is from Social Security disability."

Other stories focus on a 22-year-old panhandler who has been on his own since he was 14, communities trying to craft restrictions on panhandling, being poor in the state’s most affluent county (Livingston) and homeless students in Montcalm, Ionia, Isabella and Gratiot counties – four largely rural regions in Central Michigan. (Read more) The center, a nonprofit, says its objective is "to make Michigan a better place by by encouraging greater understanding and involvement in policy issues among the state’s citizens and making sure their voices are regularly heard."

Monday, July 21, 2014

Writer challenges data-based approach of article naming her county America's hardest place to live

Anne Shelby
Writer Anne Shelby, a longtime resident of Clay County, Kentucky, has responded to Annie Lowery's New York Times article “What’s The Matter With Eastern Kentucky?” in which six Eastern Kentucky counties were among the 10 judged hardest in America to live, with Clay at the top. In an article that was rejected by the Times but appeared in the Lexington Herald-Leader, Shelby challenges the story's reliance on data.

"Lowery reports on a study that compiled data by county in six categories: education, median income, life expectancy, unemployment, disability and obesity," and the hard facts they illustrate are not to be ignored, Shelby writes. "But does the average of these six data points really mean these are, 'the hardest places to live in the United States?' The Times piece uses statistics both to define the problem and to solve it."

Shelby notes the story suggests that "The thing for us to do—and the government should help us do this . . . is to relocate to places with better numbers. We could, for example, head out to Los Alamos County, N.M., and get jobs in the nuclear-weapons industry. Since Los Alamos County boasts the best statistics, it should, by the article's logic, be the easiest place in the country to live. Moving into a suburb of the nation's capital might be nice. Six of those counties made it into the top 10."

Shelby suggests people might want to take a cue from a play she co-wrote, in which one character says: "Maybe we need to come up with a different quality-of-life index for little country places. How many points could we get for each hill? How much is a river worth? Can we add a category for walking on ground your ancestors walked? Or for the percentage of neighbors who'd show up in five minutes if you needed them? How can you measure that? And how can you measure how much you'd miss a place if you had to leave?" (Read more)

Eastern Kentucky author Silas House previously responded to the Times article.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Author Silas House responds to New York Times article about Eastern Kentucky with brilliant retort

Silas House
Silas House, author and National Endowment for the Humanities Chair in Appalachian Studies at Berea College, responded to The New York Times article “What’s The Matter With Eastern Kentucky?” in which Annie Lowery, referring to growing inequality, wrote, "What has happened in the smudge of the country between New Orleans and Pittsburgh — the Deep South and Appalachia — is in many ways as remarkable as what has happened in affluent cities."

Following are excerpts from House's post on his blog, titled "The Matter Is That You Don't Know What You're Talking About." To read the entire post, click here.

"Well, I am that smudge. My people are that smudge. My homeland is that smudge. And we are much, much more than that. In fact, we would fight for that smudge. Many of us have. Many of us have lain down to be arrested for it (Beverly May, for one), have even risked violence (The Widow Combs, for one) and death (Hazel King, for one) for it. . . .

"I will be the first to admit that that article possessed statistics that cannot be denied. But what good are statistics if the reporter using them does not acknowledge or use or even know the history surrounding them? Statistics are only as good as their context. I cannot imagine going into a country I do not know and having the audacity to write about it without knowing my facts, without having worked hard to understand the history of the place and its people, without having the ability to give the joys and sorrows of an entire culture historical context. That is the matter with “What’s The Matter With Eastern Kentucky.” . . .

"You cannot know a place without loving it and hating it and feeling everything in between. You cannot understand a complex people by only looking at data—something inside you has to crack to let in the light so your eyes and brain and heart can adjust properly. . . .

"I’ll be honest with you: sometimes I get frustrated and wonder why my people keep putting terrible representatives back in office. But then I remind myself that voting is complicated in a region where extractive industry has such a stranglehold on everything from local churches and schools to county and state government. Appalachia is a country that has been in the clutches of big corporation propaganda since before propaganda became a marketing strategy on Madison Avenue. And it’s a place where politics and religion are as tangled as a ball of fishing line that has been tossed into the depths of your tackle box and needed quickly: very, very tangled. As much as many of us think for ourselves, there is no denying that as a region many of us have fallen prey to that propaganda. Keep telling people that coal is their only resource, toss in a free T-shirt, shut down the unions, get into the churches and schools...well, you see how this works. . . .

"I’ll use myself as an example here. Because of my outspokenness on the problems created by Big Coal I’ve been called a traitor to my own people. I am proud to be from a coal mining family, but that pride comes from the hard work done by the miners, not an allegiance to the companies that became rich on their backs. Nothing makes me sadder than when I see my own people being fiercely loyal to the corporations that have hurt us over and over. In short, we’ve been convinced to vote against our own interests, but the reasons are not as simple as being brainwashed. Once again, history matters here.

"Mostly I get sad because once there I see how the media portrayals of my people have led to life being worse for us. If you tell people they are worthless long enough, some part of them begins to believe it. Calling a place “a smudge” certainly doesn’t help. . . .

"It is tempting to gather some statistics about this reporter’s socio-economic background and then use that to judge her point of view, but that wouldn’t be classy—and it wouldn’t be accurate, since we’d also need to factor in historical and cultural context. Yet that is what members of the media sometimes do to the people of Appalachia, base their theories on statistics while not taking history and culture into account. As an economics reporter for The New York Times, Lowrey needs to understand that great economic reporting should be about more than statistics. Much more, like history and culture. Especially when reporting on a region like Appalachia that has historically been a sacrificial ground for the rest of the nation. Especially when reporting on a place that has given up its land, timber, natural gas, coal, young people, and many other natural resources throughout the history of this country. . . .

"The thing is, it is hard to live in Appalachia, especially in Southeastern Kentucky. The statistics exhibit some proof of that. The economy is not good. The environment is being devastated. Many places throughout the region are food deserts. There’s a reason I had to move an hour away, after all. The problem with “What's the Matter With Eastern Kentucky” is that the reporter thinks of the people and the place she is writing about as “a smudge.” Not as a place where the history and culture matter. And that’s what’s the matter with the article. . . .

"My point here is, once again, that to properly examine quality of life in the region, one needs to do more than look at data. I do not mean that only Appalachians can write about Appalachia. But I do mean that anyone who is attempting to write about it must become immersed in a special kind of way. Appalachia is the kind of place everyone thinks they understand but very few actually do, and that’s mostly because they haven’t taken the time to educate themselves properly."

House has advice for those who would write about Appalachia: "One must sit and jaw for awhile with folks on their front porches, to attend weddings and high school graduations. One must study the history of the place and come to understand it, must sit at a wake and look at the lines on the faces of the people, the calluses on their hands, understand the gestational and generational complexities of poverty and pride and culture. One must stand for awhile outside the funeral home and smell the air, study the gravestones out back that await the inscriptions of names belonging to people, not statistics. Otherwise, you don’t know what you’re talking about."

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Interactive map ranks all counties by health, wealth

When The New York Times published a story last week saying six Eastern Kentucky coal counties were among the top 10 hardest places to live in the U.S., there was a broader story with an interactive map showing the ranks of all 3,135 counties in the nation. (Hat tip to Covering Poverty for the reminder.)

Counties were ranked based on percentage of residents with bachelor's degree, "median household income, unemployment rate, disability rate, life expectancy and obesity," Allan Flippen writes for The Upshot, a Times blog that did the analysis. "We tried to include other factors, including income mobility and measures of environmental quality, but we were not able to find data sets covering all counties in the United States."

The 10 lowest ranked counties are Breathitt, Clay, Jackson, Lee, Leslie and Magoffin in Eastern Kentucky, along with Humphreys County, Miss.; East Carroll Parish, La.; Jefferson County, Ga.; and Lee County, Ark.  Los Alamos County, New Mexico, ranks highest, and six of the top 10 are suburbs of Washington D.C. To view the interactive map of where your county ranks click here. (Upshot map)

Monday, June 30, 2014

Rural vs. urban stories in New York Times contradict each other, Daily Yonder editor writes

Last week The New York Times published a story saying that six Eastern Kentucky towns were among the 10 most difficult places in the U.S. to live based on longevity of life in relation to education, income, unemployment rate, disability rate, obesity rate and life expectancy. Tim Marema, editor of the Daily Yonder, responds to the Times story by comparing it to a similar story that appeared a few days later in the newspaper that he says contradicted the first story by coming to the conclusion that people in struggling rural areas are liabilities who need to move away, while those in struggling urban ones are assets who need to stay put.

"In a magazine piece titled 'The Problem with Eastern Kentucky,' Annie Lowrey says mountain residents should hit the road to find better economic opportunity," Marema writes. "She argues that safety-net and anti-poverty programs are actually hurting the economy in the long run because they don’t encourage mobility. But Monica Davey reports from Detroit in a Times’ news story that the Motor City 'desperately needs to hold onto residents.' The reason: to keep the city viable by retaining a critical mass of population."

"The pieces are like night and day," Marema writes. "In the story on rural Kentucky, Lowery argues that government poverty-reduction programs hurt people by encouraging them to remain in a distressed area. From Detroit, Davey reports on the efforts of public entities to lessen the burden of home foreclosures and tax liens. There’s not a whiff of disagreement from any quarter—what Detroit needs most is for people to stay where they are."

"So why do two stories, both covering the topic of economic distress, both dealing with migration, printed within days of each other in the Times, focus on such different solutions to the problem?" Marema writes. "Could it have something to do with the fact that Detroit is urban and Eastern Kentucky is rural? In Detroit, people are assets, the building blocks of a new future. In rural Kentucky, they’re liabilities, the remnants of a failed economic past. In Detroit, folks need to shelter in place for the betterment of all. In Kentucky, it’s long past time to load up and move on . . .  If people are assets, paying for their relief is good. If people are liabilities, helping them is money down the drain."

Although Lowery does not approve of the "'trillions of dollars spent to improve the state of the poor in the United States and promote development,'" spending that money to help those who live in cities is apparently advantageous, Marema writes. "More than a few public dollars have flowed into Detroit in the last generation to relieve poverty and rebuild infrastructure. But there’s still plenty of poor people there."

Lower's Eastern Kentucky facts are accurate, and it can be a difficult place to live. Millions of rural Appalachians have, in fact moved away—and many went to Detroit, he writes. "And we’re willing to bet the people now leaving that city include plenty of Appalachian descendants."

"But I find her conclusion smug," he writes. "She has cleverly figured out where to move the human pieces on the map. It is as if East Kentuckians were not living, breathing beings capable of acting in their own behalf. I’d love a good discussion about poverty—both rural and urban. And one about public policy and how to move forward together as a nation. But remember, while we’re having this discussion, rural folks are standing right here. You know we can hear you, right?" (Read more)

Thursday, June 26, 2014

6 E. Ky. coal counties are among U.S.'s 10 hardest to live in, New York Times analysis says

Six adjoining counties in the Eastern Kentucky Coal Field rank among the nation's 10 hardest counties to live in, as defined by six factors compiled by The New York Times to measure quality and longevity of life: education, income, unemployment rate, disability rate, obesity rate and life expectancy.

"Clay County, in dead last, might as well be in a different country," Annie Lowrey writes. "The median household income there is barely above the poverty line, at $22,296, and is just over half the nationwide median. Only 7.4 percent of the population has a bachelor’s degree or higher. The unemployment rate is 12.7 percent. The disability rate is nearly as high, at 11.7 percent. (Nationwide, that figure is 1.3 percent.) Life expectancy is six years shorter than average. Perhaps related, nearly half of Clay County is obese."

Also on the list from Kentucky are Breathitt, Jackson, Lee, Leslie and Magoffin counties. The article did not name the other four worst counties. Lowrey continues, "It’s coal country, but perhaps in name only. In the first quarter of this year, just 54 people were employed in coal mining in Clay County, a precipitous drop from its coal-production peak in 1980. That year, about 2.5 million tons of coal were taken out of the ground in Clay; this year, the county has produced a fraction of that — just over 38,000 tons."

"The public debate about the haves and the have-nots tends to focus on the 1 percent, especially on the astonishing, breakaway wealth in cities like New York, San Francisco and Washington and the great disparities contained therein," Lowrey writes. "But what has happened in the smudge of the country between New Orleans and Pittsburgh — the Deep South and Appalachia — is in many ways as remarkable as what has happened in affluent cities. In some places, decades of growth have failed to raise incomes, and of late, poverty has become more concentrated not in urban areas but in rural ones."

James P. Ziliak, the director of the Center for Poverty Research at the University of Kentucky, told Lowrey, “One of the challenges that faces Eastern Kentucky is the remoteness of the area. It’s difficult to get to a lot of places. The communities are small, and they’re spread apart, so you lose that synergy that you want to spark development a lot of times. . . . My view is that firms will never locate into a community with an unskilled labor force, unless the only labor they need is unskilled. And there has been a historic lack of investment in human capital in these areas.” (Read more)

Deb Markley of the Wealth Creation and Rural Livelihoods group created by the Ford Foundation writes that the analysis "paints a pretty bleak picture but also seems to miss some promising trends, including the kinds of work many in this community are doing. From my own organization's perspective, it's distressing to see no mention of entrepreneurship as a strategy for rural places."

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Rural disabled often struggle to make long-distance trips to receive medical care

Hospital shortages in rural areas mean patients often have to drive long distances to receive medical care. The long trip is even harder for the disabled, especially those living in impoverished areas where high gas prices make it too expensive to travel hundreds of miles for care. More than 56 percent of rural counties have disability rates above the national average of 15.3 percent, and in the rural South the rate is 18.7 percent. Of the nation's 169 counties with the highest disability rates, 159 are rural, according to data from the Census Bureau's American Community Survey from 2008 to 2012. 

In Northeast Louisiana six of the 10 rural parishes have disability rates above the national average, Cole Avery reports for The News-Star in Monroe. That necessitates some people, like Polly Smith, to drive 250 miles to New Orleans to get treatment for her daughter who needs almost constant supervision after suffering severe injuries from being hit by a car.

"The difficulty in reaching health-care providers is one of the biggest hurdles disabled people living in rural places face, according to Aliscia Banks, executive director of Families Helping Families of Northeast Louisiana," Avery writes. The organization provides resources to about 5,000 disabled people in the region, including giving out about $14,000 in gas cards last year. (Read more) (University of Montana Rural Institute map)

Monday, March 10, 2014

More than 56 percent of rural counties have disability rates above the national average

The average rate of self-reported disability in rural (non-metropolitan) counties is 16.5 percent, which is above the national average of 15.3 percent and well above the metro rate of 13.4 percent, according to data from the Census Bureau's American Community Survey from 2008 to 2012. The highest rate is 32.4 percent in Warren County, N.C., while the rural South had an average rate of 18.7 percent, compared to 14.62 percent in the Midwest, reports the University of Montana Rural Institute. More than 56 percent of rural counties have rates higher than the national average, and 159 of the 169 counties with rates 22.9 percent or greater are in rural areas. (Institute map of county-by-county data on disability rates; click on image for larger version) 

The survey was based on responses to questions on impairment of hearing and vision and "concentrating, remembering or making decisions because of a physical, mental or emotional problem, and serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs," reports Montana's Rural Institute. "These functional limitation questions are supplemented by questions about selected difficulties with activities of daily living and instrumental activities of daily living," which are commonly defined. "One item is on self-care and asks if a respondent has difficulty bathing or dressing. The last item is on independent living and asks whether a household member has difficulty doing errands on one’s own because of a physical, mental or emotional problem." (Read more)

Friday, December 13, 2013

Rural cancer patients in Vermont are more likely to retire early, less likely to go on paid disability

Rural cancer patients in Vermont are 66 percent more likely to retire at an earlier age than their urban counterparts after receiving treatment, and are 33 percent less likely to go on paid disability during treatment, finds a study by the University of Vermont published in the Journal of Cancer Survivorship. The study was conducted exclusively in Vermont, with the information based on 1,555 cancer survivors in the state.

"This disparity is ascribed to the fact that rural populations tend to engage in more physically demanding jobs," says a news release from Springer, which publishes the magazine. "The types of manual labor available in rural areas rarely offer disability benefits, and therefore increase the impact of cancer diagnosis for this population. According to the Department of Labor, only 33 percent of persons employed in manual labor jobs are offered short-term disability and only 21 percent are offered long-term disability as part of their benefits. In contrast, more than half of all management or professional workers are offered some form of disability."

Lead author Michelle Snowdwn wrote: “Providers who care for rural patients must recognize that these patients may be at an increased risk for financial impact. Cancer care for these patients should incorporate counselling services related to returning to work after active treatment and assistance related to disability. It is possible that survivorship programs could lead this charge, with employment counseling becoming a standard part of this post-treatment phase of care.” (Read more)

Monday, October 07, 2013

CBS and Senate panel explore abuse of Social Security disability program, running low on money

UPDATE, Oct. 8: Eric Conn earned $22.7 million in attorney fees from the Social Security Administration since 2001, the U.S. Senate committee said in a report released Monday. In 2005-2011, disability judge David Daugherty approved appeals Conn requested in all of his 3,143 cases. John Cheves of the Lexington Herald-Leader reports, "Daugherty and Conn's law office communicated about upcoming cases, and when Conn's clients randomly were assigned to other judges, Daugherty used his computer to reassign them to himself, Senate investigators wrote in their report. Daugherty sped Conn's cases to approval, sometimes not even holding the required hearing. Colleagues knew what the judge was doing but did not stop him, as evidenced by interviews and internal emails." (Read more)

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The Federal Disability Insurance Program was designed to help Americans in need, but has turned into a business for shady lawyers, corrupt judges, and people looking to cash in on unneeded benefits, according to a CBS News report on "60 Minutes." Because so many people receive disability benefits -- the program serves 12 million people, up 20 percent in the last six years, and has a budget of $135 billion -- the Senate Committee on Government Affairs is releasing a report today on the program, which is quickly running out of money.

The program is especially expensive in Appalachian Kentucky and West Virginia, where more than a quarter of a million people, or 10 to 15 percent of the population, are on disability, which is three times the national average, CBS reports. Stanville, Ky., is home to lawyer Eric Conn, who runs the third largest disability practice in the country. Virtually all of his 1,823 cases were approved by former disability judge David Daugherty, who has been investigated by the federal government. Conn's clients have been awarded $500 million in claims, and the report released today "will show that Conn collected more than $13 million in legal fees from the federal government over the past six years and that he paid five doctors roughly $2 million to regularly sign off on bogus medical forms that had been manufactured and filled out ahead of time by Conn's staff," CBS's Steve Kroft reports.

"The Social Security Administration, which runs the disability program says the explosive surge is due to aging baby boomers and the lingering effects of a bad economy," Kroft reports. But Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), "the ranking Republican on the Senate Subcommittee for Investigations, who's also a physician, says it's more complicated than that. Last year, his staff randomly selected hundreds of disability files and found that 25 percent of them should never have been approved. Another 20 percent, he said, were highly questionable." Coburn told 60 minutes, "Go read the statute. If there's any job in the economy you can perform, you are not eligible for disability. That's pretty clear. So, where'd all those disabled people come from? You take a good concept that's well-meaning, and then you don't manage it, you don't monitor it, Congress doesn't oversight it, and pretty soon, you end up with places where, you know, you're born to be on disability."

Coburn says much of the blame falls on lawyers who use commercials and advertisements, such as billboards, to attract the "two-thirds of the people who have already applied for disability and been rejected," CBS reports. "There's not much to lose, really. It doesn't cost you anything unless you win the appeal and the lawyers collect from the federal government." Disability judge Marilyn Zahm told CBS, "If the American public knew what was going on in our system, half would be outraged and the other half would apply for benefits." Zahm and fellow attorney Randy Frye, the president and vice president of the Association of Administrative Law Judges, "are each expected to read, hear, and decide up to 700 appeals a year to clear a backlog of nearly a million cases. They say disability lawyers have flooded the system with cases that shouldn't be there," 60 Minutes reports. Zahm said in 1971 less than 20 percent of claimants had lawyers. Now, more than 80 percent do. (Read more)

Monday, September 23, 2013

More workers on disability, especially in rural areas

The growing number of people going from full-time work to disability pay continues to grow, especially in rural areas, where the closing of factories and mills has left many unemployed and with no other option but to take government benefits, partly because they lack the education needed for jobs that don't involve physical labor. Michael Fletcher reports for The Washington Post that the number of former workers in the U.S. receiving benefits has soared "from just over 5 million to 8.8 million between 2000 and 2012. An additional 2.1 million dependent children and spouses also receive benefits. Federal officials project that the program will exhaust its trust fund by 2016 — 20 years before the trust fund that supports Social Security’s old-age benefits is projected to run dry." (Post graphic from federal data)

Maine, which has the largest percentage of rural population of any state, has been hit hard by the loss of jobs, especially in Penobscot County, an area with 153,000 residents, where well-paying jobs once provided an economic foothold for generations of blue-collar workers. It has "become a place where an unusually large share of the unemployed are seeking economic shelter on federal disability rolls," Fletcher writes. The number of people receiving Social Security disability in the county rose from 2000-2012 "from 4,475 to 7,955 — or nearly one in 12 of the county’s adults between the ages of 18 and 64, according to Social Security statistics."

"In 2004, nearly one in five male high school dropouts between ages 55 and 64 were in the disability program, according to a paper by economists David Autor and Mark Duggan," Fletcher writes "That rate was more than double that of high school graduates of the same age in the program and more than five times higher than the 3.7 percent of college graduates of that age who collect disability." John Dorrer, an economist and former acting commissioner of the Maine Department of Labor, told Fletcher, “The Social Security disability program has become an economic option for many people. As a result of the economic downturn, a whole lot of unskilled males 50 and over were bounced out of the labor force.” (Read more)

In Dec., 2011 it was reported that disability benefit rates were 80 percent higher in rural areas, especially in Appalachia, the deep South and the Ozarks. The national average of adults receiving benefits was 4.6 percent, but in rural areas, that rate was 7.6 percent. There has also been reports of disability judges being too generous with funds, specifically one judge who served in Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia that approved payments in all 729 of his decisions in the first six months of the 2011 fiscal year.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Census offers fresh data by congressional district

My Congressional District is a new tool that provides access to updated U.S. Census Bureau statistics from the American Community Survey, the bureau's ongoing survey of the American population.

Users can search by district for data on age, race, ethnicity, the number of residents born in the U.S. or the state, the ancestry of the district's population, the number of veterans and disabled, and where residents lived one year ago -- a very good tool to track migration.

To use the tool, type in the name of a state, and the district number (a map shows how each state's districts are broken up), then scroll through the available statistics. To use the tool click here.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Fungal disease with no cure spreads in Southwest; each year it kills about 160 and disables thousands

A disease with no cure is spreading in the Southwestern U.S. Each year there are more than 20,000 reported cases of Coccidioidomycosis, "an insidious airborne fungal disease in which microscopic spores in the soil take flight on the wind or even a mild breeze to lodge in the moist habitat of the lungs and, in the most extreme instances, spread to the bones, the skin, the eyes," and sometimes the brain, Patricia Leigh Brown reports for The New York Times. (NYT photos by Monica Almeida: No one knows how 8-year-old Kaden Watson, who spent six months in the hospital, contracted the disease, but the guess is that he was digging in the dirt.)

The disease, commonly called as "cocci," has been labeled “a silent epidemic” by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Brown reports. Most people exposed to the fungus don't get ill, but about 160 people die each year, and thousands face years of disability and surgery. About 9 percent contract pneumonia and 1 percent experience serious complications beyond the lungs.
The numbers are probably larger because some states, including huge Texas, don't require public reporting of deaths from it; and a 2010 survey from New Mexico found 69 percent of clinicians did not consider it in patients with respiratory problems. Hopefully, that number is smaller now. Cocci is most prevalent in California and Arizona.

Effects of the disease are alarming. One man dropped from 220 to 145 in two weeks and had lesions on his face and body. Another, who's been told he has 10 years to live, lives in constant pain, and wakes up retching every day. A study by Arizona's Department of Health Services showed African Americans have a a 25 percent risk of developing complications, while Caucasians' risk is only 6 percent. (Barbara Lundy dropped to 71 lbs. at one point; it has affected her ability to think, remember, walk, or live independently)

Last year 13,000 cases were reported in Arizona, with more cases reported when rainfall is followed by dry spells, Brown reports. Many scientists say the increase is related to changing climate patterns, while state epidemiologist Kenneth K. Komatsu told Brown another factor might be urban sprawl: “digging up rural areas where valley fever is growing in the soil,” he said. (Read more)

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Rural movie theater offers 'sensory-friendly' screenings for children with disabilities

Some children with autism or other disabilities might never get to experience seeing a movie on the big screen, because they have trouble sitting still for that long, or might not be able to adjust to sitting in the dark surrounded by loud noises. But an independently owned theater in rural West Plains, Mo., has decided to do something about it, offering a sensory-friendly experience for movie goers, reports Jennifer Davidson of KSMU Radio in Springfield.
During sensory-friendly shows, the Glass Sword Cinema leaves the lights on, sets the sound lower than normal, and "the audience is free to express themselves however they want," Clint Corman, the theater's technical manager, told Davidson. "They can sing along. They can clap. They can dance. There’s not going to be any judgment from people.”

West Plains, with a population of 12,000, might be the only theater in Southern Missouri that offers sensory-friendly shows. Melissa Davenport, of the Burrell Autism Center in Springfield, said she was unaware of any sensory-friendly showings in the 160,000-population Springfield area, reports Davidson. One theater said they would consider it if enough parents asked for the special showings. But at the Glass Sword, "the owners didn’t take a market sample before making their decision...they just did it," reports Davidson. "In doing so, it’s kind of become 'The little theater that could.'" (Read more)

Monday, December 10, 2012

Entitlement program keeps some families in cycle of poverty, liberal New York Times columnist says

In the midst of debate about the "fiscal cliff," cuts and changes in entitlement programs like Medicaid, welfare and Supplemental Security Income have been discussed as cost-saving measures. Liberals say entitlement programs help millions of struggling people every year; conservatives say entitlements are abused, costing taxpayers millions that could be spent more effectively elsewhere and fostering a culture of dependency.

Nicholas Kristof, left, a liberal columnist for The New York Times, explores the issue with this glimpse of a facet of SSI: "Parents here in Appalachian hill country pulling their children out of literacy classes. Moms and dads fear that if kids learn to read, they are less likely to qualify for a monthly check for having an intellectual disability." In Breathitt County, Kentucky, he writes, $698 a month "goes a long way."

"This is painful for a liberal to admit, but conservatives have a point when they suggest that America’s safety net can sometimes entangle people in a soul-crushing dependency," Kristof writes. "Some young people here don’t join the military (a traditional escape route for poor, rural Americans) because it’s easier to rely on food stamps and disability payments. Antipoverty programs also discourage marriage . . . Most wrenching of all are the parents who think it’s best if a child stays illiterate, because then the family may be able to claim a disability check each month."

Kristof does not document how many such cases he found in Appalachia, nor does he cite military enlistment data. His headline, "Profiting from a child's illiteracy," does not take into account the circumstances of individual families. But he quotes the woman who runs the literacy program and a local school official, who says, "The greatest challenge we face as educators is how to break that dependency on government. In second grade, they have a dream. In seventh grade, they have a plan."

In a 2009 piece for the Times, University of Richmond political science professor Jennifer Erkulwater noted, "Between 1984 and 1990, Congress loosened SSI requirements, especially for children with mental disabilities. It also said it wouldn't cut off recipients it thought weren't disabled anymore unless it could prove this. As a result, it should come as no surprise that, compared to two decades ago, it is much easier today for younger adults and children ... to receive disability benefits and to stay on the disability rolls longer once found eligible."

Because of those loosened rules, 55 percent of disabilities covered by SSI are "fuzzier intellectual disabilities," Kristof writes. He reports that 1.2 million low-income children, 8 percent of the total, are on SSI. It's a $9 billion annual burden for taxpayers, he writes, but "It can be even worse for children whose families have a huge stake in their failing school." He cites a 2009 study that found two-thirds of SSI kids who turn 18 transfer into the adult program: "They may never hold a job in their entire lives and are condemned to a life of poverty on the dole — and that’s the outcome of a program intended to fight poverty."

Kristof acknowledges that he's no expert on poverty, and says fighting it is complex, "But for me, a tentative lesson from the field is that while we need safety nets, the focus should be instead on creating opportunity, and, still more difficult, on creating an environment that leads people to seize opportunities." (Read more)

UPDATE, Jan. 29, 2013: New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan criticizes Kristoff for not reporting the issue of poverty and federal assistance programs more rigorously. She writes in her column, "The Public Editor's Journal," that Kristof "does plenty of shoe-leather reporting for his columns," and that he travels all over the world and talks to many people about the issues he addresses. But this time, "he did not talk to the primary sources, the parents of poor and developmentally disabled children," Sullivan writes. "Given the provocative nature of his opening statement and its importance in setting up the column's thesis, it should have been completely solid." After reading all the points, counterpoints, objections and defenses in relations to Kristof's column, she writes: "I believe that some of the column's assertions were based on too little direct evidence or used statistical information that is, at the very least, open to interpretation." 

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Disability-benefit rate in rural areas is 80% higher than the national rate

"Rural areas are more dependent on disability benefits than are metropolitan areas," according to an investigation of the rate of Social Security benefits received by working age adults nationwide in 2009, Bill Bishop and Roberto Gallardo report in the Daily Yonder.

The national average of adults receiving benefits is 4.6 percent, but in rural areas, that rate is 7.6 percent, with some places like Appalachia, the deep South and the Ozarks becoming pockets with high rates of disability benefits received. (Yonder map; click to make larger)

To qualify for benefits, a person has to prove he or she can't work because of a disability that will last more than a year. Some conditions that qualify are cancer, chronic back pain, anxiety and schizophrenia.

Disability rates vary widely by state, Bishop and Gallardo report, with West Virginia having the highest rate at 9.6 percent and Utah with one of the lowest at 2.8 percent, or one third the rates in West Virginia, Kentucky and Arkansas. In Alabama, Mississippi, Maine and the Ozarks there are areas with over 10 percent of working-age adults receiving Social Security benefits.

Among the 50 counties with the highest percentage of working age adults receiving benefits, three are urban, five contain small cities and 42 are rural. Bishop and Gallardo analyze the numbers this way: "Disability payments are concentrated in counties where the jobs require manual labor and where unemployment is traditionally high. Mining and timbering are major industries in many of the counties with the highest percentages of disability beneficiaries. These are also counties with historically high rates of unemployment." (Read more)

"In some areas, there is probably a correlation with low education, because the lack of schooling makes many people employable mainly in manual-labor work," said Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which publishes The Rural Blog.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Disability judge's generosity leads to probe, and a story with a data-packed interactive table

The actions of a disability-claim judge who served West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio has led to a federal investigation of the Huntington, W.Va., Social Security Administration office and a congressional review of how the agency grants disability claims. It has also prompted a story in The Wall Street Journal, along with a nice interactive table where all judges' performance can be examined.

Administrative Law Judge David Daugherty approved payments in all 729 of his decisions in the first six months of the 2011 fiscal year, Damian Paletta of the Journal reports. (Herald-Dispatch photo) "The inspector general reportedly is looking into the matter to ensure that the review process is working as it should — from the Social Security commissioner on down. The American people should expect nothing less," U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, a Democrat whose district includes Huntington, told Paletta. (Read more)

On average, judges award payments in about 60 percent of cases and spend about an hour on each case, Patella reports. Daugherty tended to favor one particular lawyer and scheduled hearings 15 minutes apart for as many as 20 of this lawyer's clients. (Read more) Amid investigation surrounding his awards, Daugherty retired on July 13, Carrie Cline of WSAZ-TV in Huntington reports.

Social Security disabillity cases appear to be more prevalent in rural areas where men without a high-school diploma are injured and unable, or less able, to perform the sort of manual labor that once sustained them. In Central Appalachia, disabilility lawyers advertise heavily.

To view the Journal's interactive list of all Social Security disability judges and data on their cases and awards, click here. The list can be arranged by state, city, judge or other parameter by clicking on the head of the appropriate column.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Many Miss. schools lack good speech therapists

Almost half of Mississippi's 152 school districts don't have a staff member fully qualified to help students with speech-related problems, and that shortage that may be reflected in other schools around the country. In Mississippi, "about 150 speech and language clinicians are working under emergency licenses in 72 school districts," Marquita Brown of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger reports. "Emergency licenses for speech therapy are issued to those with a bachelor's degree. Full certification requires a master's degree with the clinical experience that goes with it."

"Some speech therapists say someone with only a bachelor's degree likely has no clinical experience and, thus, no training to diagnose underlying abnormalities behind a speech problem," Brown writes. Undergraduate students studying communicative disorders have little direct contact with students. School superintendents say its difficult to recruit speech therapists with master's degrees because they can earn almost twice as much money in the private sector. "So where would you go? A $35,000 job or a $70,000 job? It's a no-brainer," Suzie Rosser, president of the Mississippi Speech-Language Hearing Association, told Brown.

Rosser suggested forgiving student loans to speech therapists who work in hard-to-staff areas. Four Mississippi state colleges -- Jackson State, Mississippi University for Women, the University of Southern Mississippi and the University of Mississippi -- have graduate speech-language programs, but admit a limited number of students each year. "It's a matter of supply and demand," Stephen Handley, superintendent of Hinds County Schools, told Brown. "We have the demand, but the supply is not there." (Read more)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Sons' play makes rural editor think of heroes and write an editorial praising them

In rural and community journalism, sometimes the best editorials are those that make a point by using the personal experience of the writer, who is usually known to most of the community. A good example of that was last week's editorial (presented as a column, as rural editors often do) by Ryan Craig of the Todd County Standard, for several years judged Kentucky's best small newspaper.

When his sons dressed up as superheroes, it made him think of two other local children whom he called heroes in a headline because they made a video that got "a governing body to spend $35,000 to do something that had never bene done before in Todd County . . . make the playground at North Todd Elementary handicap-accessible," he wrote in his piece. Read it here (PDF)