Not so compassionate…

Many Republicans argue that a truly conservative welfare state would focus resources on individuals and families who genuinely require a helping hand, while limiting assistance to claimants who would properly be doing more to help themselves. The compassionate conservative project can claim a few genuine achievements, most notably PEPFAR. On the whole, though, conservative politicians and political majorities are not following through on what honorable figures such as Michael Gerson and Jack Kemp aspired to do.

Consider, as I did today in the New Republic, what’s happening in one arena: that of intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD).

Intellectually disabled Americans living in modest group homes or living with aging parents in their family homes may be the paradigmatic population of worthy people whom compassionate conservatives would wish to help. Americans across the political spectrum have opened our hearts to offer practical help to the intellectually disabled and to their caregivers.

This help can be costly. Moreover, states have considerable latitude to maintain or to cut these services. So states have faced a gut-check moment during the current economic and fiscal crisis in deciding whether and by how much to cut I/DD services. It’s been a show-don’t-tell moment regarding what politicians and citizens really believe about the size, scope, and proper financing of American government.

The below scatter plot shows the results. The vertical axis represents states’ “fiscal effort” deployed to finance I/DD services. Here fiscal effort is defined as dollars per $1,000 of state personal income. It’s not a perfect measure, but it’s a valuable one.

The pattern is clear. In both the level and the change in public spending to assist the intellectually disabled, liberal states do notably more. Some bright red states—Texas, Oklahoma, and South Carolina, for example—are doing notably little. for more, see here.

Comments

  1. Leo says

    Huh? I’m as liberal as the next guy, and I would certainly *expect* your conclusion to be true, but I just don’t see how this data shows that.

    To me, the blue points are just a blob showing no significant correlation between ‘fiscal effort’ and ‘degree of liberalness’ (which is what I presume we use the horizontal axis for here). If the red points represent a linear regression fit on this data, I would like to know the error bar on its slope, which I would expect to be huge.

    Your examples of Texas, Oklahoma, and South Carolina are well taken, but how about relatively liberal states such as Washington, Illinois, and Hawaii? And how about the red state Louisiana that is doing so much?

    As much as I tend to agree with you on a gut feeling level, this data doesn’t seem to offer strong support of what we think.

    Liberals. They can’t even agree with themselves.
    /Self-deprecation

  2. Harold Pollack says

    If you run a population-weighted regression, you find that the standardized regression coef is 0.5 that’s a big number.

  3. says

    Harold, this is a good post. Can you tell me where exactly you found that graph? I did some Braddock googling but couldn’t find it. Thanks.

  4. Ken D. says

    A fundamental problem with all that targeting the needy and cutting loose the less needy is that it requires constant, invasive, resource-consuming government evaluation of potential recipients. Much of the population moves from more to less needy multiple times in a lifespan, sometimes on short notice. A solid “safety net” for all of things like health care and retirement income is arguably the true small-government option that is compatible with a decent 21st Century, developed-nation standard of living. But just to be clear: today’s Republicans do. not. care.

  5. says

    Ken, that’s a good point. However, without proper assessment of need – both at the individual and community level – “safety net” spending can be hugely wasteful. Assessment-based, evidence-based policy allows use to not only make efficient use of our spending, but actually *does something effective*.

    I’ve worked in a number of areas of social work and have always been surprised at how little various programs, by and large a patchwork of cobbled-together responses to various needs, work together. For instance, right now I work with troubled teens. As we are a public school, the biggest absurdity we face is trying to fit into the larger educational-reform agenda of accountability, standards, etc. Making sure that Enrique is being taught Standard 2.d, what telescopes tell us about star cycles, takes priority over every other aspect of his life. This, despite the fact that his dad is in prison, his mom is on meth, and he only goes to school because if he didn’t his probation officer would throw him back into juvie. Now, I would love nothing more than for Enrique to want to know about star cycles. But there are *more pressing concerns* in his life.

    A major need right now for us is to prioritize our responses to need. We need to take a closer look at how we allocate resources to programs, with the goal in mind of finding out what forms of social capital will grant people the most leverage in their lives. It certainly isn’t an easy question. But it is one that will begin to pay off greatly in terms of social and economic dividends. For instance, we know that the earlier we intervene in the lives of disadvantaged children, the more likely they will be to succeed as time goes on. Cases like Enrique represent systemic failure, and a corrective response will likely be not only marginally effective, but a response that should not have had to happen.

    As it stands today, our school has only two counselors, for a population of around 300. Mind you this is a continuation school and most of the students have severe emotional and/or behavioral problems. The counselors spend most of their time on academic issues, with no time to realistically spend on the sort of counseling these children need, much less bringing their families into the picture, and attempting any larger corrective interventions. With no ability to form much trust or binding with students, the counselors must simply offer ad hoc support, and give parents the number of a local therapist. They rarely hear back from parents in such cases, with certainly no communication between the mental health professionals and the counselors.

    Which is where the teachers come in. We are often times the only responsible, concerned parents in these children’s lives. We see them daily (well, when they decide to attend class), and form bonds that allow us to begin to have an impact in their lives. Of course, we aren’t trained counselors, nor do we generally have the time required to meet their needs. A sad irony of our school is that because the student population is in such crisis, attendance is relatively quite low, which does allow us settings for interpersonal communication and guidance that would be unthinkable in a regular classroom. At the regular high school, from where all of these students have come (after even less intervention), classes routinely reach 50 students. I am fortunate in that, even though these are the “worst of the worst”, I am able to work with them in groups that average 10-20. Of course, as I say, this setting is far from ideal from the standpoint of intervention.

    So, starting early is best. But as it stands, this rarely means much more than signing a kid up for head start, where the parent drops the kid off before heading to work. Yet the levels of social capital in which the children are otherwise being raised are abysmally low. Therefore a system of intervention ought to be much more robust. Parents ought to go through a much more intensive assessment process, with programmatic responses to their individual need. This could be drug or alcohol counseling, job training, parenting classes, home-health visits, etc. I think one of the most important things we could is literally send in “life coaches” to work with parents – to literally spend large amounts of time at the home, working with the parent to establish a more functional environment. The amount of social capital we could be creating in the home could be extraordinary.

    This may sound radical, but in principal, it really isn’t. For the mentally ill or physically disabled, we spend large amounts of money on just this sort of thing. What we are talking about with disadvantaged communities is not a physical disorder, but a social disorder. We would be applying the same fundamental concept of intervention to social dysfunction as we do to physical dysfunction. And the beautiful part is, while there are often no cures for physical disability, there is enormous potential in treating social dysfunction.

    Because in reality what we are doing is contributing to human development. Social dysfunction is mostly due to a lack of appropriate development. The process becomes all the more horrific when it is passed on generationally, becoming what we call (somewhat incorrectly) a culture of poverty. Because it isn’t a “culture” so much as a lack of development in cognitive and emotional skills. Of course people can’t be successful when they lack the skills to leverage into what success means in the modern world. This would be no different than if a blind person was never taught learned braille, or if an amputee was never given a wheelchair. What we see over and over in poor communities is the result of this lack of social capital resulting in a lack of the development of human capital, and the subsequent tragic consequences.

    Public schools are perhaps no better an example of the ham-fisted approach society takes to this problem. Already having been selected for relatively low levels of social capital by income and property values, poor schools are filled with disadvantaged children. Yet the model we rely on for their success is fundamentally no different than at the wealthier school across town, where students were selected, again, for higher levels of social capital by income. Yet the class-sizes are largely the same. Aside from what title I money (federally mandated money for low-income students) pays for – mostly school lunches and maybe a remedial reading specialist or two, there is really not much of an intervention at all. In fact, in terms of pure finances, wealthier school have access to far greater fundraising capacity. And this is largely due to the much greater levels of social capital in general. Parents tend to be better educated, make more money, have fewer issues with drugs (at least that effect their life success), have more intact families, etc. This generally explains how they were able to afford to live in a better neighborhood and send their kids to “good” schools. “Good” being a euphemism for a student population with higher levels of social capital.
    Ken, that’s a good point. However, without proper assessment of need – both at the individual and community level – “safety net” spending can be hugely wasteful. Assessment-based, evidence-based policy allows use to not only make efficient use of our spending, but actually *does something effective*.

    I’ve worked in a number of areas of social work and have always been surprised at how little various programs (by and large a patchwork of cobbled-together responses to various needs) work together. For instance, right now I work with troubled teens at a continuation school. As we are a public school, the biggest absurdity we face is trying to fit into the larger educational-reform agenda of accountability, standards, etc. Making sure that Enrique is being taught Standard 2.d (what telescopes tell us about star cycles), takes priority over every other aspect of his life. This, despite the fact that his dad is in prison, his mom is on meth, and he only goes to school because if he didn’t his probation officer would throw him back into juvie. Now, I would love nothing more than for Enrique to want to know about star cycles. But there are *more pressing concerns* in his life.

    A major need right now for us is to prioritize our responses to need. We need to take a closer look at how we allocate resources to programs, with the goal in mind of finding out what forms of social capital will grant people the most leverage in their lives. It certainly isn’t an easy question. But it is one that will begin to pay off greatly in terms of social and economic dividends. For instance, we know that the earlier we intervene in the lives of disadvantaged children, the more likely they will be to succeed as time goes on. Cases like Enrique represent systemic failure, and a corrective response will likely be not only marginally effective, but a response that should not have had to happen.

    As it stands today, our school has only two counselors, for a population of around 300. Mind you this is a continuation school and most of the students have severe emotional and/or behavioral problems. The counselors spend most of their time on academic issues, with no time to realistically spend on the sort of counseling these children need, much less bringing their families into the picture, and attempting any larger corrective interventions. With no ability to form much trust or bonding with students, the counselors must simply offer ad hoc support, and give parents the number of a local therapist. They rarely hear back from parents in such cases, with certainly no communication between the mental health professionals and the counselors.

    Which is where the teachers come in. We are often times the only responsible, concerned parents in these children’s lives. We see them daily (well, when they decide to attend class), and form bonds that allow us to begin to have an impact in their lives. Of course, we aren’t trained counselors, nor do we generally have the time required to meet their needs. A sad irony of our school is that because the student population is in such crisis, attendance is relatively quite low, which does allow us settings for interpersonal communication and guidance that would be unthinkable in a regular classroom. At the regular high school, from where all of these students have come (after even less intervention), classes routinely reach 50 students. I am fortunate in that, even though these are the “worst of the worst”, I am able to work with them in groups that average 10-20. Of course, as I say, this setting is far from ideal from the standpoint of intervention. There is certainly no time for home visits, and no coordination of any other social service agencies that I am aware of.

    So, starting early is best. But as it stands, this rarely means much more than signing a kid up for head start, where the parent drops the kid off before heading to work. Yet the levels of social capital in which the children are otherwise being raised are abysmally low. Therefore, a system of intervention ought to be much more robust. Parents ought to go through a much more intensive assessment process, with programmatic responses to their individual need (ideally starting at birth, with managed follow-ups). This could be drug or alcohol counseling, job training, parenting classes, home-health visits, etc. I think one of the most important things we could is literally send in “life coaches” to work with parents – to literally spend large amounts of time at the home, working with the parent to establish a more functional environment. The amount of social capital we could be creating in the home could be extraordinary. And in terms of cost, once you factor in the savings down the road, the initial expense would be quite reasonable.

    This may sound radical, but in principal, it really isn’t. For the mentally ill or physically disabled, we spend large amounts of money on just this sort of thing. What we are talking about with disadvantaged communities is not a physical disorder, but a social disorder. We would be applying the same fundamental concept of intervention to social dysfunction as we do to physical dysfunction. And the beautiful part is, while there are often no cures for physical disability, there is enormous potential in treating social dysfunction.

    Because in reality what we are doing is contributing to human development. Social dysfunction is mostly due to a lack of appropriate development. The process becomes all the more horrific when it is passed on generationally, becoming what we call (somewhat incorrectly) a culture of poverty. Because, it isn’t a “culture” so much as a lack of development in cognitive and emotional skills. Of course people can’t be successful when they lack the skills to leverage into what success means in the modern world. This would be no different than if a blind person was never taught learned braille, or if an amputee was never given a wheelchair. What we see over and over in poor communities is the result of this lack of social capital resulting in a lack of the development of human capital, and the subsequent tragic consequences.

    Public schools are perhaps no better example of the ham-fisted approach society takes to this problem. Already having been selected for relatively low levels of social capital by income and property values, poor schools are filled with disadvantaged children. Yet the model we rely on for their success is fundamentally no different than at the wealthier school across town, where students were selected, again, for higher levels of social capital by income. Yet the class-sizes are largely the same. Aside from what title I money (federally mandated money for low-income students) pays for – mostly school lunches and maybe a remedial reading specialist or two, there is really not much of an intervention at all. In fact, in terms of pure finances, wealthier schools have access to far greater fundraising capacity. And this is largely due to the much greater levels of social capital in general. Parents tend to be better educated, make more money, have fewer issues with drugs (at least that affect their life success), have more intact families, etc. This generally explains how they were able to afford to live in a better neighborhood and send their kids to “good” schools. “Good” being a euphemism for a student population with higher levels of social capital.

    The interesting nature of social capital is that it is exponential. The greater the capital, the more it is leveraged into more total capital. Inversely, the less the capital, the less it is leveraged, resulting in less total capital. In this way, it is like other forms of capital, in which when invested (put to good use), they pay off in dividends. When we expect people with low levels of social capital to see themselves rewarded with success, it is an absurd an expectation than as if we expected a small amount of money in the bank to pay out great dividends. To extend the analogy to schools, a most schools’ ability to pay dividends on its student population, in terms of student learning, is generally the same, as are two banks with similar declared interest rates. Yet when we put more money in one bank, we don’t put less money in another bank and expect it to perform as well. “Garbage in, garbage out”, as they say. That’s a terrible way to speak of children, but that’s precisely how we are ultimately treating them when our policy interventions don’t match the hubris of our rhetoric.

    So if we truly care about intervening in these communities, we will approach them with an accurate accounting of their need. Only then will be able to properly diagnose and respond to their needs in ways which are both cost effective and which produce overall increases in social capital. Because the worst thing we can do is wait around for things to go bad, and then respond. This sort of “emergency mentality” conflates the difference between treatment and preventative care. Of course we must provide a safety net for those in need. But we also need to respond to the issue of social capital disadvantage and its corrosive effects on communities and individuals. What this will inevitably require is a more holistic approach, a sort of “social capital management”, in which community needs are assessed and targeted for remediation.

  6. Harold Pollack says

    To Joel:
    I produced the graph myself using data reported in the state of the states in developmental disabilities 2011 and a June 2011 Braddock presentation.

  7. Ken D. says

    “Safety net” was probably not the right term in my previous post. I do contend that a good all-qualify health care financing system (like the rest of the developed world has) and a good base retirement income plan (and Social Security is actually very good), both with means testing minimized as much as possible, will do more to prevent government intrusion into private lives than the means-tested alternatives. This would be a significant argument if any significant portion of today’s “conservatives” were actually principled conservatives.

  8. says

    I imagine the basic conservative response would be that services are fine, but *they ought not be performed by the state*, opting instead to rely on private charity, etc. to “fill-in”. This fails if we’re talking about guaranteed access in the abstract, as well as the reality. Many communities will simply not be served. How this is by any touch “compassionate” is beyond my feeble sense of morality. The fact that none of them would dream of taking this approach with regard to services they personally depend on, such as roads, police or military, illustrates the depth of their intellectually debauchery.

  9. Rick Taylor says

    “. . . while limiting assistance to claimants who would properly be doing more to help themselves.”

    We’re speaking about bank executives here, I presume?