“Those People”

Most of us have been in conversations that included someone’s dismissive reference to “those people.”

When I was growing up in Anderson, Indiana (with exactly 30 Jewish families in the whole town), the term was often applied to Jews. It was also–and remains–a favored euphemism when race is being discussed by people who don’t like to think of themselves as racists; they just substitute “those people” for the “n” word when discussing the “lower orders.”

“Those people” is also a term frequently applied to the growing number of poor Americans. And it is particularly harmful when used in the context of economic policy. “Those people” wouldn’t need health care if they didn’t eat junk foods and fail to exercise; “those people” wouldn’t need social welfare programs if they weren’t lazy; any benefits provided to “those people” must be closely monitored, because they will use food stamps for candy and/or booze…”Those people” are irresponsible.

Facts and evidence are inconvenient things. Most poor people, according to overwhelming evidence, work 40 or more hours a week. Most recipients of food stamps use them to buy food. And there is growing evidence that needy folks are anything but irresponsible when they are given cash in lieu of benefit programs that are strictly “monitored.”

A recent study conducted by the Roosevelt Institute describes that evidence.

Providing cash directly to individuals has often been met with criticism, suspicion, and fear: the thinking goes that people who need financial assistance are not to be trusted, as their financial position reflects a moral failing rather than a societal one. These objections to cash transfer programs are rooted more in myth than empirical evidence. As the debate about a universal basic income gains prominence, it is important to set the record straight about the behavioral effects of unconditional cash assistance.

In this evidence review, we explore how unconditional cash transfers affected the behavior of recipients in three major natural experiments. While the amounts dispersed and time periods were distinct in each experiment, each provided money without set conditions and without a means test. We synthesize data for the following outcomes: consumption; labor force participation (employment, hours worked, and earnings); education; health; and other social outcomes, such as marriage or fertility choices. Each of these programs shares different components of a universal basic income (UBI), a cash transfer that everyone within a geographic/political territory receives on a regular basis with no conditions on a long-term basis. By understanding the effects of these programs, we can generate answers to how an unconditional cash transfer program might affect recipients in the future.

We may well be transitioning to an economy that simply cannot provide jobs for those who want them. Automation, as I’ve previously noted, is rapidly making many jobs obsolete. Changes in the way we purchase items–especially consumer goods– is inexorably reducing the number of workers in retail occupations.

The transformation of the economic landscape is accelerating, and it is a huge challenge–one which we ignore at our peril.

A UBI–a guaranteed basic income– may or may not be a viable approach to the dislocations to come. But continuing to sneer at the behavior of “those people” and dismissing emerging evidence of the utility of new social welfare proposals is clearly less viable.

A lot of the people who use the phrase aren’t all that far from becoming one of “those people” themselves.


  1. I think I may fall into this category because I frequently use the term, “You people.” Example; with my own family I forever using the term, ‘You people’ need to learn how to turn out a light around here once in a while!” 🙂

  2. Sheila, your blog is so on target. The working poor are vilified From the development of single family housing (which led to the flight of much industry from the inner cities), to the rental housing crisis facing our nation (where even those with hard to obtain Section 8 housing vouchers cannot find a place to live), these Americans are consistently denied a chance to improve their lives. Suburban communities do all they can to block low income housing from coming to their area. They don’t want “those people” attending their schools or living in apartments around their homes. Some communities even pass regulations insisting on 1/2 acre minimum lot sizes for private homes . We all need to remember that, for most of us, our immigrant ancestors began their lives in America as “those people”…

  3. I also believe a UBI will be a part of our future due to automation that has replaced labor. My real concern is how desperate and hungry will we allow the lives of the growing numbers of “those people” become before humanity and compassion kick in? We are allowing a growing segment of our society to fall into a third world standard of living.

  4. “Those people” can also be applied to the fabled one-percent, as in “those people want to kill us!”

  5. We have thousands of jobs that go unfilled every year because we don’t have adequately trained people to perform them. Why not give tax breaks to corporations who hire and train individuals from the unemployment rolls or those who are under-employed to perform those jobs? The Republicans would be happy because tax breaks would go to their favorite people, corporations. Democrats would be happy because “those people” would be getting some of the help they really need.

    BTW, in some cases that training would have to include the basics of how to be an employee. When Marriott started participating in the welfare to work program, they found that many people didn’t understand things like arranging for child care or transportation, the importance of being on time, what to do when you’re sick for a day, how to open and maintain a bank account etc. They began assigning mentors to new workers in the program, making them the most successful company in the history of welfare to work.

  6. One man’s “those people” are another man’s “them there people.” And often with the same degree of intellectual superiority.

  7. Peggy, I believe that Indiana already offers tax credits to corporations for training. However, corporations keep complaining that they can’t fill technically skilled jobs.

    Research has shown that those jobs demand very specific skills that require at least one year of training in a technical school. The problem is that the training needed is expensive and then there is no guarantee of job placement with a skill that doesn’t provide training for other types of employment.

    The corporations want future employees to take on all of the expense and risk of specific training needed for their company, but don’t want to put any skin in the game that will benefit them.

    Finally, in Indiana the ultimate reason these jobs go unfilled is that they want to start people out at maybe $12 per hour after they have personally invested in training. It is selfish and greedy for corporations to expect people to invest in providing the labor for their business for such a pittance of a reward. You cannot put a roof over your head and food on the table with this low pay while trying to pay back education loans.

  8. “Finally, in Indiana the ultimate reason these jobs go unfilled is that they want to start people out at maybe $12 per hour after they have personally invested in training.”

    Nancy; that comment makes me question why someone with no job would turn down $12 per hour believing they were overqualified due to training – or past work experience. I once spent over 8 months looking for a job to support myself, willing to work for any salary which was better than no salary and forced to depend on help from others due to employment conditions beyond my control. The reason most often given for not hiring me was that I was “overqualified” A true statement but “overqualified” applicants or those educated or experienced above the job they applied for, need to eat and pay bills the same as those who are underqualified. Which situation is actually the reason for the many available job openings today? Where are qualified but unemployed former Carrier workers today? Our tax dollars are still going into Carrier as they continue lowering the number of employees in their workforce.

    “Most recipients of food stamps use them to buy food. And there is growing evidence that needy folks are anything but irresponsible when they are given cash in lieu of benefit programs that are strictly “monitored.”

    The above mentioned are those who are too often classified as “those people”; the ones who will not work or who have jobs but choose not to pay bills…especially health care. Prior to the ACA they could all have big screen TVs, every electronic device available, designer jeans and sneakers, live on fast food, take-out or order-in but had no doctor or health care coverage. And don’t forget they qualify for vouchers the remove their children from the failing public education system. Drinking and drugs are often factors in those who meet the qualifictions of “those people” in the negative sense.

    My former brother-in-law (now deceased, I won’t mention his name because it would be recognized by many in this city) was against food stamps and, in his position, fought to end the program. His own elderly mother received food stamps; when I asked if he would help her financially if she lost her food stamps, he said he would NOT. She needs to learn to live on her income was his reason. He would be one of the class of “those people” at the opposite end that group in the Trump camp today trying to end public assistance to all and end their health care as a bonus…for themselves.

    Whether receiving “cash transfers”, public assistance or earning an income; we will sink or swim depending on our decisions based on common sense, responsibility and determination to survive current conditions and strive to succeed on our own merit.

  9. It is conceivable that US statistics designed to identify who among us qualifies for financial help are as much a corrupting euphemism as “those people”.

    Poverty guidelines, which set boundaries for financial aid in the 48 contiguous states, presumes that if I make $12,061 in 2017, I, by a slim one dollar, am a member of the economic middle class. In the age of instant computer computations, a much more realistic and functional sliding scale could pinpoint poverty levels in several different living standard locations, thus avoiding under-assisting people in costly San Francisco and over-assisting people in more modest Appalachia.

    I visited a friend of mine in Noblesville, Indiana who gets SNAP food assistance. I was shocked to see his home stacked with canned food. Counters, chairs, tables, every flat surface, half of it dog food. He took me on a tour. I am not exaggerating. He was not exaggerating. He said he could not possibly eat all the food he qualified for. He criticized the program for giving him too much, and he made the suggestion that it would be more accurate to define a “subsistence level” for people like him that is way below the poverty line. He explained that he did not expect the government to subsidize him to within one dollar of middle class, but to merely help him subsist as a poor person.

    If the tailored cut of various programs more closely fit the need of individuals, less people would be smacked in the face with real examples of blatant misfit and jump to radical assumptions about “those people” and “those programs”.

    And don’t tell me it cannot be done. When twenty techies get together to create a talking interactive presence for the internet and in about a year invent a near-perfect SIRI, the resources of our government–in, say, about a month–should be able to create an algorithm capable of fitting help resources accurately and justly to any struggling individual.

  10. JoAnn, maybe I wasn’t clear enough. People are not choosing to take out educational loans for thousands of dollars in order to obtain a job that pays $12/hour. They can get a $10/hour job or possibly $12+/hour and not be in debt. That is the reason these jobs go unfilled. If those employers would invest in training employees, then the jobs would be filled. At this point in time the corporations want “potential” employees to take all of the risk. The reward is not great enough. There are jobs out there that pay the same, or better, without taking on debt.

  11. Larry, re your statement:

    “I visited a friend of mine in Noblesville, Indiana who gets SNAP food assistance. I was shocked to see his home stacked with canned food. Counters, chairs, tables, every flat surface, half of it dog food. He took me on a tour. I am not exaggerating. He was not exaggerating. He said he could not possibly eat all the food he qualified for.”

    Something doesn’t smell right about this statement. Pet food cannot be purchased with SNAP benefits. In addition, everyone I know who has SNAP does not receive too much purchase power. Again, something is not right here. Has he lied on his application? Has he under-reported his actual earnings? Did your visit take place many many years ago when people actually did get away with buying pet food on food stamps? It is all electronic now and pet food would be rejected as a covered item at the time of purchase.

  12. I believe the current, correct term for “those people” is “deplorables”, as talked about by the leader of the “resistance”, with her $47 million dollar wealth, earned primarily as a “public servant”. You probably note that the giant student loans bearing down on ex students have several important characteristics, a) that they rarely provided any useful skills, b) the schools do help by pushing the concept that you need a bachelors or higher to fill a job that took a H.S. diploma or less 20 years ago, c) the giant educational-industrial complexes are aggressively attempting to close non public technical schools, such as ITT, Beauty Colleges, Mechanics and A&P programs, and instead direct students to “college oriented” programs that leave students with a mish mash of worthless courses of no value. Of course this is because the giant public college industry is a contradiction in itself. Historically colleges were created to provide the small cadre of intellectuals with things of interest, to those who chose to afford it. To pressure gazillions of students to invest time and resources into college means you must recruit people who aren’t suited to be there to spend on the theory that you don’t get a “good job” without it. Although it is a rarity, at least Mitch Daniels is trying to step that back by reducing ever growing credit requirements, ever expanding budgets, and connecting with Kaplan College. (If not for family issues, he might have made an excellent President). Many of us who own cars are well aware that one prefers “German Mechanics” above others, giving them comfortable and well respected careers based on the German educational system. This is something just now being discovered here, but known for years.

  13. 40 years ago my father told me that in less than 40 years jobs would not be available for the masses in this country; eventually resulting in mass homelessness and starvation. Seemed pretty extreme idea to me then.

    Not so much now.

    We all know that the horrible eonomic turn of events a few years ago created a firestorm that resulted in losses of jobs, savings, and homes. Even now, there are cuts, cuts, and more cuts. It has not stopped. (Of course, the jobs were on their way out anyway.) Automation; another capitalist dream is upon us.

    As a result of the downturn, and reversal of fortune for millions, there are many more out there who are living the lives of “those people.” In just a blink of an eye, some have learned that not all people who live on food stamps, or anything else along those lines, are lazy or useless.
    No one wants their family to starve, and how does anyone feed 3 or 4 people on $12.00 an hour? If all 3 or 4 can work for $12.00 an hour, it could probably work. But wait, what if only 2 of those people are insured? How much do they pay for their insurance? And what if one of them is disabled? Or what about if one is on Social Security and can only pay so much toward their room and board? Or what if 2 are children? Or what if one has dementia? Every home and every life is a story of its own.

    I guess my rambling means how in the world do we truly balance citizenry with governing? Can we? What do the masses mean to the movers and shakers in the present? Do they really care about all “those people?” We are on a precipice.

  14. Times change despite Republican’s best efforts at statusing the quo. Progress slips through and by the time they notice it and the alert goes out and they are prepared to stamp it out it has taken root among we the downtrodden.

    Perhaps we are in technically treacherous times where fundamental change is knocking at the door and Republicans, who are the only ones home in DC by unpopular demand, refuse to answer the call.

    If we should continue to think in terms of universal employment we have to make sure that our education system is up to graduating everyone with employable skills not only on graduation day but for 40 years after.

    If we don’t expect that we need a plan for how those capable of contributing to the future economy can celebrate their extra gifts and support those with less.

    There’s another flyspeck in the pepper. Up until now the engine of progress has been unlimited growth either from growing population or higher standard of living. Both are unaffordable now so what are the alternatives? We just can’t keep operating beyond our resource means.

    We are challenged. We either continue being problem solvers or we will become problem victims.

    That choice is presented to each of us.

  15. Nancy and Maywin; my point about accepting that $12 per hour job when you have no job was that it is better than $0 per hour. Take the job you CAN get and be ever watchful for other opportunities to better employment with higher income. I’m sure there are many out there with college degrees who would gladly accept $12 per hour after months of finding no jobs. Maybe I am simply basing my thoughts on the fact that my Social Security check plus my retirement check from the City of Indianapolis, based on a 40-hour work week, totals $6.67 per hour…I feel blessed to be getting that rather than $0 and $12 per hour looks good to me. Everything is relevant.

    Larry; exactly what are your friend’s qualifications which entitles him to so much? Obviously his vast amount of food doesn’t come from using food stamps; is he receiving government commodities or food boxes from local churches and organizations donating food directly to him? Is there that much difference between county public assistance qualifications or is it the amount that county has to hand out to their recipients. I have a family member who lost her job at Rolls Royce five years ago and is still seeking employment; I’m sure she would welcome $12 per hour. She is held back from many jobs due to an on-the-job injury which requires surgery (nothing to do with her job loss among more than 2,000 Rolls Royce let go); she was turned down by the Township Trustee Office here for “living in a house she can’t afford”. It is a small home in a low-middle class neighborhood; she can’t afford it NOW because she is unemployed. This county requires food stamp recipients to perform community service work; does your friend have such requirements in Noblesville? If he has so much “too much”, why doesn’t he share what he can’t possibly eat with some who have no assistance and are not eating? Does he family that qualifying him to receive such vast amounts of food? What is wrong with this picture?

    “Public Policy and Governance” How can there be such wide discrepancy between two Indiana counties? Could it be gerrymandering crossing county lines? I must plead ignorance at this time regarding the location of Noblesville; it it part of District 88 with Brian Bosma the Representative now sitting in his 31st year in the Republican House?

  16. Nixon, my 44th favorite president (Trump is 45th) was not all bad for America. He at one time proposed to end welfare by adopting a GAW (Guaranteed Annual Wage). It was, of course, quickly shot down by the Congress, as such a proposal would be these days, and that’s unfortunate because it’s a coming certainty with the massive unemployment incident to accelerating automation. I am now informed that even psychiatrists stand to be replaced as Silicon Valley is teaching robots emotional intelligence. No need to hit the couch – just push the right buttons and listen.

    We are deep into a new transitional economy in which the industrial is supplanted by the so-called information economy. Trump’s talk of “bringing back good-paying jobs back from China,” for instance, was delusional in that a panel of economists found that 83 percent of the jobs that “left” were lost to automation and that a majority of the 17 percent that went to China, so to speak, would if returned be automated. Trump lied, as usual. My advice: Hang on to your hats as this maturing transitional economy we are experiencing is a trip into uncharted waters. It’s no time to be Luddites but a time to be aware of where we are going to stand in such uncharted waters. We are going to need Pikettys and Stiglitzes as captains of our ship as we move along in this new economic maze, not politicians, so let’s hear from our economists.

  17. Nancy and others:
    Six months ago, my friend’s income was Social Security, in the amount of about $800 per month. He gets a phone, which he calls an Obamaphone, with 40 minutes per month on it, intended to be his lifeline to 911. I do not know how much SNAP he gets; all I know is he eats very little–apples, lettuce, soup, coffee–and saves the rest, his good health providing proof to me that the rest of us eat too much. I have known him for many years. He would be quite productive even now as smart as he is–he used to lecture at universities on the subject of astrophysics– but a nervous condition, fear of crowds and an opposition to consumerism has sidelined him from gregarious intercourse with society for several years.

    I too know other people on SNAP who complain that it is not enough, but after seeing how my Noblesville friend manages compared to how my other SNAP friends fail to manage, I am enlightened: they want SNAP and other benefits to enable them to live as middle class citizens. That is not only a mistake of ethics, it is a mistake of tactics for survival, making them spend too often too much on too many things they do not need.

    I, myself, until nice royalties from art and books began to roll in, lived even more frugally than my friend. My retirement income was only about $630 a month. Even without SNAP, but with VA medical care, I was able to live in a way that to nib-nose observers resembled entry-level middle class life.

    As contrast, I know extravagant people who spend more than $630 a month on music. Another, again a Noblesville man, has calculated that he can spend $190 a day on fancy whiskey and drinks for the house and never reduce his net worth.

    I propose a universal stipend that assures no more than survival as a poor but alive person. This stipend is to support individuals, not to support consumerism; it is not meant to be a clever trickle-up device, although I am sure some would hope to make it work that way. I also favor universal health care. Unlike some, I would object to any penalty, tax or otherwise, assessed to those individuals who have the initiative, health and energy to strive on their own for more income than their basic stipend. This universal subsistence support would give new life to a very basic freedom–freedom from wondering where the next meal and the next medicine would come–while having no deleterious effect on American ambition and initiative. Lastly, the bottom line: universal subsistence and healthcare would strengthen our nation.

  18. Steve Miller, if the 1% want to not be regarded as “those people,” they have an avenue to acceptance by others. They can simply STOP being greedy and cold-hearted towards the 99%. They can try being generous and compassionate instead.

    Black people, poor people, elderly people, disabled people, and other marginalized people have few, if any, means of changing their status. How do you become un-black? How do you become un-old?

    The 1% are not being persecuted or made to suffer. “They” are “they” by choice.

  19. Pegg Hannon, MORE tax breaks for corporations?? No! Corporations tend to abuse these kinds of incentives, going from a company that produces goods or services, to one that centers their decisions and policies on what will produce the largest tax break.

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