September 19, 2009

Crickets, crows and retrospects

September's Baccalaureate
A combination is
Of Crickets -- Crows -- and Retrospects
And a dissembling Breeze

That hints without assuming --
An Innuendo sear
That makes the Heart put up its Fun
And turn Philosopher.--Emily Dickinson

September 18, 2009

Honk if you love the class system

In his book Lies My Teacher Told Me, James Loewen relates the story of an interesting experiment on American attitudes towards social class and status.

It had to do with honking horns and cars.

Two students drove around Burlington, Vermont, first in a new luxury car and then in an old junker. In each case, they would sit at a stoplight after the light turned green to see how long it would take drivers behind them to honk.

The results were pretty striking. It took less than seven seconds for drivers to honk at the junker, but almost twice as long (13.2 seconds) for them to honk at the luxury car.

When you consider that statistically speaking most of the honkers were working class people, this shows how many Americans unconsciously ascribe respect and deference to people who seem to enjoy a higher social position.

That explains a lot.

CHANGING OF THE GUARD. From Ken Ward's uberblog Coal Tattoo, here's a post about Rich Trumka, the new president of the AFLCIO. Trumka is former president of the UMWA.

HEALTH CARE REFORM. Here's a statement from Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities on Senator Baucus' health care reform plans and here's Paul Krugman on whether the bill is or can be made to be up to snuff.

WHY THE #*$& DO WE CUSS? Dealing with pain may be part of the answer.



September 17, 2009

I'd like to thank the Academy...

Earlier this week, there was a post about the connection between social status and health. Suffice it to say there is one and it's big.

In fact, there is what epidemiologist and author Michael Marmot calls "a social gradient" for health and mortality. It's not just that the very poor are sicker and more likely to die sooner, although that is true. It's also the case that there's a difference in health and mortality at every level, i.e. the very rich have better health outcomes than the rich, who have it better than the well off, who have it better than the middling sort and so on down the line.

Again, money is part of it but not all of it. A big part is status.

Here's a very interesting finding. Two researchers, Donald Redelmeier and Sheldon Singh looked at health and mortality data for actors nominated for Academy Awards over 72 years. They found that Oscar winners on average lived four years longer than those who were nominated but didn't win. The non-winners were highly respected actors with plenty of film credits and a healthy income, but there was some kind of magic boost in the recognition an award like that give.

The same kind of pattern shows up all over the place.

LINKS are on strike today. We're hoping they'll settle by tomorrow.


September 16, 2009

Getting warmer

This is Holden 22, where Don Blankenship's Labor Day inversion was held. The picture was taken when there was still a mountain there.

I had planned on leading with another topic today, but an item from Ken Ward's Coal Tattoo blog caught my eye.

Since Labor Day, I've written here and elsewhere about the contrast between the United Mine Workers of America and Don Blankenship's effort to present himself as the voice and protector of coal miners. The subject of Ward's post, an interview with union president Cecil Roberts on Living on Earth, is a case in point.

In contrast to Blankenship and allies, who are taking the position that climate change cannot be real because it may cut into their profits, UMWA president Cecil Robert admits that it's a reality that must be faced. Roberts said:

The union has never taken a position arguing against the science of climate change. We've engaged in the debate as to how to deal with it.

That realistic response to a problem from labor is a welcome contrast to the ruling class hissy fit we've been subjected to lately. It shows once again the need for workers to have a voice independent of their employers. It is also reason #9484 why we need to pass the Employee Free Choice Act.

SPEAKING OF HISSY FITS, here's Dean Baker on the opposition to a public option in health care reform.

WHILE WE'RE AT IT, here's Washington Post columnist Marie Cocco pointing out that we already have several public options and they're working pretty well. Senator Rockefeller said yesterday that he wouldn't support a bill without one.

STILL THERE. Cost of health insurance have increased faster than wages and inflation.

WONKY BUT IMPORTANT. Parts of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act dealing with TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families), can be used to do interesting things like beef up emergency assistance for families or even create subsidized employment. The catch is that states have to be willing to do it. Here's info about the possibilities. This is something I'm going to be pushing for with folks in WV.


September 15, 2009

Inequality and health

Image courtesy of wikipedia.

Topics like economic inequality and health outcomes show up frequently in this blog, but lately I've been nudged into looking at the overlap between the two. In the public health field, a growing amount of attention has been paid to what is called the "social determinants of health," which kind of is what it sounds like.

A large body of scientific research has shown that how long we live and how well we are is influenced in no small degree by our social standing. It has long been known that life can be nasty brutish and short for the very poor, but the latest research shows that this applies all across the board.

This also means that negative health outcomes increase as inequality grows.

It's not all about money or education level, although they are a major part of it. As Michael Marmot put it in The Status Syndrome: How Social Standing Affects our Health and Longevity,

...for people above a certain threshold of material well-being, another kind of well-being is central. Autonomy--how much control you have over your life--and the opportunities you have for full social engagement and participation are crucial for health, well-being, and longevity. It is inequality in these that plays a big part in producing the social gradient and health. Degrees of control and participation underlie the status syndrome.

In our society, autonomy and participation are closely correlated with income and education. And, as I've written about many times before, one of the nastiest things about poverty is that it robs you of both. The interesting thing about the latest research is that it shows the effect of status on health at all levels of education and income. In other words, it's everybody's business.

More on this to come.

HOW DID I MISS THIS? Here's a major NY Times article about water quality that highlights mining's effect on health in West Virginia. And here's way more on the subject from Ken Ward's Coal Tattoo.

HEALTH CARE. One positive feature of proposed health care reform is an expansion of eligibility for Medicaid benefits, but the politics are complicated. And here is an op-ed by a friend about the public option.

UNEMPLOYMENT is up in El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia, but is still below the national average.

HEALTH ADVICE. Your mama got it right sometimes. Other times, not so much.


September 13, 2009

Recessions and child poverty

Random animal picture.

Census figures released last week showed that the poverty rate increased to 13.2 percent in 2008. The actual number of people living in poverty now is 39.8 million. The rate hasn't been that high since 1997 and the numbers haven't been that high since 1960.

This doesn't reflect the worst of the recession, which didn't really hit what I hope is bottom until this year. This probably won't surprise anybody, but poverty rates tend to spike along with unemployment rates. As noted here last week, things would have been a lot worse without the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), but states need to act to take advantage of its provisions.

Child poverty is especially likely to increase during recessions. This is serious since even temporary childhood poverty can have long lasting consequences.

To use West Virginia as an example, a new report by the WV Center on Budget and Policy finds that,

Based on an analysis of previous recessions, one in four West Virginians is expected to fall into poverty during the current recession. The number of state children living in poverty is estimated to increase by more than a third to 130,585, or 34.4 percent. Each one-percent increase in the unemployment rate is projected to raise the number of West Virginia children in poverty by about 8,000. The increase is of particular concern because of the harmful and long-lasting effects of poverty – even temporary poverty –on children...

The report cites a longitudinal study of child poverty which found that children who became poor during recessions had vastly different outcomes than their peers who were never poor. They had median incomes that were 30 percent lower; were three times as likely to still be poor; were less likely to finish high school or college; and were less likely to report being in good or excellent health.

The report recommends taking full advantage of ARRA by accessing emergency contingency TANF funds to provide increased or temporary assistance. These funds can also be used to subsidize employment programs. Other measures states can take include maximizing Medicaid participation, modernizing unemployment insurance by extending benefits to people currently excluded from the system, and expanding Childrens Health Insurance Program benefits.

ON THE BRIGHT SIDE, WV's fiscal health is better than most states these days, which may make it easier to take advantage of some of the opportunities mentioned above.

COAL WARS. Here's an op-ed by yours truly on coalfield conflicts then and now.

LEFT OUT. Non profit groups are not happy about being left out of current health care reform proposals.