Mary O'Connell

Recent Articles

Coming Unfringed: The Unraveling of Job-Based Entitlements

Health care, pensions, and other forms of social income should be rights of citizenship, not perks of increasingly unreliable jobs.

T he American welfare state is as embedded in private employment as it is embodied in public programs. Paid work is not an exit from the welfare state, it is a point of entry. For the fortunate, work is a link to a vast array of public and private benefits that pay for our health care, support us in old age, tide us over between jobs, care for us if we are injured or disabled, and support our dependents in the event of our untimely death. Grafted onto the work force, this rich set of benefits forms the work-based welfare state. Societies need productive workers, and rewarding productivity with security might make sense if the rewards were open to all. But the work-based welfare state has neer been an equal opportunity employer. It reserves its most generous protections for the well-paid, longer term employee whose work involves uninterrupted attachment to a single firm. This is "the good worker," and only he and his dependents reap the full measure of the work-based welfare state. "...

Rehnquist's Road to Serfdom: The Ominous Message of -Rust v. Sullivan-

An Orwellian Supreme Court decision creates a false choice between social benefits and individual rights.

Americans have a profound ambivalence about interdependence and reliance on government. Our deepest national myths celebrate self-reliance, yet most of us are more collectively reliant than our mythology admits. We disguise our dependence and rationalize our ambivalence through a two-class system of social entitlement. Under this system, the virtuous self-reliant majority enjoys government benefits as a matter of earned right, while the unworthy minority, the charity cases, must endure the indignities of the dole. From time to time, a Supreme Court case provides a prism that reveals the distortions in the conventional image. Last May's decision in Rust v. Sullivan was such a case. While its text reaffirmed the myth, in the context of abortion and access to health care, its subtext reveals complex interconnections between access and rights, autonomy and dependence. The Rust opinion affirmed the legality of a Reagan-era Department of Health and Human Services regulation barring all...