Casaubon's Book

From Alternet, a good piece on what it really means to be one of the six million Americans with no income at all save food stamps:

In March 2009, in the midst of the worst job crisis in at least a generation, Eva opened the last welfare check she will ever receive. She is one of a growing number of people in the United States who can’t find work in this recession but don’t qualify for government cash assistance, no matter how poor they are or how bad the economy gets.

Without the help of welfare, Eva doesn’t have enough money left at the end of each month to feed her daughters full meals. It is the first time in her life, she said, that she hasn’t had enough money for food.

Now, with no other source of income, Eva breaks the law, selling her food stamps to pay for the rent, phone bill, detergent and tampons.

On the first day of each month, when her food stamps arrive, she walks to the convenience store up the street, buys food for her family with her food stamp card and uses it to pay off the debt she accumulated the previous month after she ran out of money. She then trades in the remaining balance for cash. Although the bodega is more expensive than larger chain grocery stores nearby, she’s locked into shopping here because places like Wal-Mart won’t let her keep a tab–or exchange her food stamps for desperately needed cash.

You absolutely want to read the whole thing. It would, of course, be easy for people with internet access and enough food in the pantry to sit in judgement of someone who lost her job because she took her kid to the emergency room, and is taking care of her mother with cancer and her children. Easy, but cheap.

We know, intellectually, that if the only income you have is food stamps that you must be trading them for cash – no one gets free housing, childcare, detergent, toilet paper, birth control, medications, transportation. This is why I tend to think poorly of those exercises in living on a “food stamp budget” sometimes taken by the well meaning – they usually exempt themselves from the realities of the poor. They provide themselves with the maximum, which most households don’t get, and assume that they don’t have to consider the real questions of whether they could maintain qualifications and meet basic needs. Of course a person with a job and a car and supply of tampons and advil can get by on the food stamp maximum – that’s not really the point, is it?

We are teetering on a basic question, I think – what is government for? In the present situation, we don’t have the luxury of doing everything we’d like – of funding every project, of engaging in every kind of research or investing in every area of life that we’d like. We have to make choices. So we come to the question – as more and more citizens are impoverished and desperate, and we invest more and more money in propping up an economy that is still failing, still falling, what should governments do? What choices should we make? Is the mission of our society to preserve an economy at all costs? To preserve an imperialist enterprise? Or to preserve the people?

In the US, these questions are often framed in poor ways – it is implied that the only choices are socialism vs. neo-liberal capitalism. But of course, those aren’t the only choices – and things that serve us when we are growing don’t always serve us as we are falling.

Sharon

Comments

  1. #1 MCLepus
    February 21, 2010

    This woman’s plight is not surprising.

    Nor, was it surprising when Glenn Beck at yesterday’s CPAC proclaimed to cheers:

    “You do not have a Right to Housing. You do not have a Right to Health care.” He left out: You do not have a right to simple Human Dignity

  2. #2 Barbara
    February 21, 2010

    I read an analysis somewhere that concluded it would cost about the same as current welfare programs to provide minimum cash incomes to every person in the U.S. The reason is that, with a guaranteed minimum income, no money would have to be spent on making sure only qualified recipients receive benefits.

    I don’t remember where I saw this, and I can’t say for sure how true it is, but the idea makes sense to me. A guaranteed minimum income would not be a disincentive to work, because one would keep getting it whether one worked or not. In fact, I would expect that overall, people would be more productive. Take, for example, Eva, the woman whose life was summarized in the Alternet article. According to the article, she spends huge amounts of time pounding the pavement looking for jobs at hamburger joints and lives in constant terror of ending up homeless. She also spends a great deal of time filling out forms for various welfare programs. With a guaranteed minimum income, Eva would spending her time very differently. She might have a home-based business of some sort, or she might have formed a partnership with other women to run a bakery, or their own burger joint. She could use some of the time and energy she now uses filling out government forms to work on her GED.

    Large corporations like Burger King or Wendy’s might find themselves with a smaller labor pool (or might have to offer higher compensation to attract employees), but overall, the economy would probably be better off with a guaranteed minimum income than it is with the present system.

  3. #3 Barbara
    February 21, 2010

    Here’s what WIKI has to say:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guaranteed_minimum_income

    American revolutionary Thomas Paine advocated a basic Income Guarantee to all US citizens as compensation for “loss of his or her natural inheritance, by the introduction of the system of landed property” (Agrarian Justice, 1795).
    In his final book Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? (1967) Martin Luther King Jr. wrote[2]
    I am now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most effective — the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income.
    —from the chapter entitled “Where We Are Going”
    In 1968, James Tobin, Paul Samuelson, John Kenneth Galbraith and another 1,200 economists signed a document calling for the US Congress to introduce in that year a system of income guarantees and supplements.[citation needed]
    In 1973, Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote The Politics of a Guaranteed Income in which he advocated for the Guaranteed Minimum Income and discussed Richard Nixon’s GAI proposal.
    In 1987, New Zealand’s Labour Finance Minister Roger Douglas announced a Guaranteed Minimum Family Income Scheme to accompany a new flat tax. Both were squashed by then Prime Minister David Lange, who sacked Douglas.[3]
    Modern advocates include Hans-Werner Sinn (Germany) and Ayşe Buğra (Turkey).[citation needed]

  4. #4 Barbara
    February 21, 2010

    It looks like the term for what I was describing is “Basic Income.”

    More from WIKI:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basic_income

    A basic income is a proposed system[1] of social security, that periodically provides each citizen with a sum of money that allows the receiver to participate in society with human dignity. Except for citizenship, a basic income is entirely unconditional. Furthermore, there is no means test; the richest as well as the poorest citizens would receive it. The U.S. Basic Income Guarantee Network emphasizes this absence of means testing in its precise definition, “The Basic Income Guarantee is an unconditional, government-insured guarantee that all citizens will have enough income to meet their basic needs.”
    In everyday usage, the phrase basic income is often inaccurately conflated with means tested guaranteed minimum income alternatives such as citizen’s dividend or a negative income tax. A basic income of any amount less than the social minimum is referred to as a partial basic income.
    Moreover, in contrast to income redistribution between nations themselves, the phrase basic income defines payments to individuals rather than households, groups, or nations, in order to provide for individual basic human needs.
    To clarify, the phrase basic income is the short form of the more specific Basic Income Guarantee. In brief, if there is any condition imposed upon individual recipients of the regular, periodic income payments, beyond that of legal citizenship, then the proposal or program is not a form of basic income. See guaranteed minimum income for more detailed, conditional, or means tested alternatives to basic income.
    Similar proposals for “capital grants provided at the age of majority” date to Thomas Paine’s Agrarian Justice of 1795, there paired with asset-based egalitarianism.

  5. #5 Adrienne
    February 21, 2010

    Her story is sad, yes, but the libertarian in me thinks her current circumstances are at least partly the results of her own bad choices. Having children with a man you aren’t married to and don’t want to be married to and when you aren’t educated and thus will be spending your life in a series of low-skill, low-wage jobs is just a bad decision, period. And it’s irresponsible to the children she had. It’s not the government’s fault to help her avoid the consequences of her own bad choices.

    And yes, education could have been affordable for her. There are plenty of programs out there to assist the low-income and minorities with tuition to at least a community college.

    The article talked about the poverty among women-headed households, a disproportionate amount of whom are headed by minority single mothers. The Hispanic out-of-wedlock and teenage birthrates are huge, and the black female out-of-wedlock and teen birthrates aren’t as bad, but are certainly worse than comparable white and asian rates. That alone is a huge contributor of the cycle of poverty in these two communities.

    They need more birth control, not more food stamps, and they need to understand that having a child as an unwed mother by someone you don’t want to marry or stick around is a recipe for continued poverty.

  6. #6 Name withheld this time, but Sharon knows who I am
    February 21, 2010

    Wow I wish I had some answers for this, especially since some of us have seen this coming for many years now as the logical collision of an entitlement-craving society with Peak Oil.

    I’m not even sure I can live with myself anymore, reading these kinds of stories. Yeah, yeah, I have a garden. Yeah, yeah, I warned people about this. Yeah, yeah nobody wanted to listen. And/or….. I can sit around and pour out the sympathy (hopefully genuine) for disadvantaged people like this. Which one keeps me more human? Which approach of these, or others, avoids me being sickeningly, superficially pious?

    As some folks know, I work at a residential treatment center for at-risk, teenaged boys, set on a campus that is a large, former farm. While we got off to a good start several years ago, recreating an agricultural program and mini CSA with and for the client/students, more recently, in the face of apathy and dis-involvement on the part of fellow staff, (they’d rather sit and play video games or take the boys girl hunting at the shopping mall, amid the many vacancies there) as well as some outright hostility from a few superiors in our downtown agency office, we’ve pulled way back. Meanwhile, the families of our teenage clients are hitting the economic rocks harder than ever. No jobs. Food is a struggle. They’re victims of crime, while some of their kids are perpetrators of the same. I picked a kid up from a home visit last night in Lawrence, MA, (a 1+ hour drive away) which is a fairly decrepit old mill city, where as one might imagine, scenes such as those depicted in the Hartford essay play out with great similarity. Meanwhile MA DCF and the school systems pay about $130,000 per year per kid for treatment, room, and board in our facility. How long will THAT continue?

    As much as I try to help at as many levels as I can, in the long run there are natural consequences of one’s choices. Our students learn that when they attempt to punch a peer in the face, and their families learn that when they have multiple kids out of wed/partnership-lock and attempt to support the same on the (low) income of an uneducated, single mother that, at one time, chose immediate gratification over the future. Ditto for her boyfriend(s). I’ve only been in this business 8 years and already former, youthful clients of mine have preschooler kids of their own that, being the dad, they’ve run out on.

    In the end, I do what I can, but also in the end I know that the natural consequences of at least some of these folks’ choices are going to bite them in the ass royally, no matter what I do. I carry on just the same, but, wow, the battle is being lost even worse at all levels, than even I suspected it would.

    I don’t know what the role government has in all this. I *do* know that government ought to at least stop spending money it doesn’t have on all the fat cat bailouts, the wars, and the insane road rebuilding. But I don’t think government can simply keep handing out checks to poor people either. It’s been doing that for most of my life, and it only seems to have made the problem worse.

    Instead, what’s needed are compassionate, patient people who can provide some self-sufficiency education and assistance to those in need. It may not help everybody. Indeed, such efforts might not even help much of a minority, but if it helps at least some, then great. It’s all we can do.

  7. #7 Barbara
    February 21, 2010

    Adrienne,

    I agree with you about the bad choices. The article mentioned several major bad choices Eva made, such as not finishing high school, having kids she was in no position to take care of, always being late to work and quitting because her boss and the other employees (who probably had to do Eva’s share of the work when she wasn’t there) let her know they were not pleased, etc. etc. The woman sounds incompetent and perhaps not very bright, although we can’t know for sure from the small amount of information provided in the article.

    The libertarian way to deal with this would be to let people who want to help Eva and her kids do so, and let people who do not want to help use their resources in other ways.

    I would be willing to donate money to help people like Eva, if I were not already paying so much in taxes — not because I think Eva has any built-in *right* to my labor or the products of my mind, but selfishly, because I prefer not to live in a society in which people are starving on the streets. I would like people who received my help to maintain whatever self-esteem and dignity they have, for similar selfish reasons — I prefer to live among people who have respect for themselves. I find that such people will have more respect for me as well, than people who have been forced to grovel for a meal or a box of tampons.

    The way we deal with people like Eva now is to have a small elite group of rulers decide who’s going to be helped, and give them the power to force everyone else to do what they want. Aside from the probability of injustice, this method of wealth redistribution is grossly inefficient, because so much time, effort, and money are spent trying to determine who is qualified for the hand-outs and who is not.

  8. #8 Autistic Lurker
    February 21, 2010

    Adrienne, did you miss the part that she had a learning disability which hinged on her ability to get a degree?

    And before you tell me about special ed, please keep in mind that a good number of schools in the US have problem getting the necessary ressources for regular students (as evidenced by the donorchoose program on SB), never mind disabled students.

  9. #9 Sharon Astyk
    February 21, 2010

    Adrienne, I think the problem is that you have a libertarian in you – I think there’s a pill for that ;-).

    Seriously, I don’t disagree that those are bad choices – on the other hand, the article points out that by 10th grade, Eva still couldn’t read due to a learning disability. Do we think there’s any responsibility there for anyone but her? How about the fact that she had her first child at 15 – she should have fully grasped all the economic and social implications by then? How do we know that she didn’t try and get birth control? That she consented to have sex? That she wasn’t battered by the father of her younger children – I don’t think it specifies that she wasn’t married to the father, that I can see, although I could have missed that.

    Look, no one is going to argue that it would have been better for her to make better choices, but when you start 500 yards behind everyone else, you are going to lose the race unless someone provides some extraordinary help – and maybe even then. My claim is not “this isn’t her fault” or “this is her fault” it is that the process of decline is going to play out first among the already poor, and it is going to (as it already is) move into the near poor and the working class and the middle class. And someone will still be saying “and you shoulda…” when it is me and you trying to get by on whatever subsidies are left. And maybe they’ll be right.

    My parents did foster care – I grew up with people who lived in a hell of their own making. It is still hell, and the truth is, if you can get people out of hell, you should.

    Sharon

  10. #10 Sharon Astyk
    February 21, 2010

    Barbara, I appreciate your analysis, but the point about her being chronically late to work was that she was dependent on an unreliable, long distance bus system – she didn’t seem to have that problem in her other jobs. She is also learning disabled – maybe she’s bright, maybe she isn’t, maybe this is apologetics but fair’s fair.

    Sharon

  11. #11 luvcats
    February 21, 2010

    Welfare To Work is a joke. It has only expanded jobs for government workers, expanded daycare assistance and created more red tape for applicants and while cutting off those that need assistance. The only people I see it helpful for are those that are in college. They will get some extra support like transportation and daycare.
    I’d love to see any of these politicans to just make it through the approval process of gettng TANF or food stamps. No car to drive around in getting the paperwork done and they should be carry 2 small children to carry on the buses. I doubt any would finish the process of applying nevermind trying to survive on it.
    I’m glad she has a place to live that is subsidized.

  12. #12 yogi-one
    February 21, 2010

    These are complex issues because:
    1. people who are facing homelessness have a variety of causes and circumstances. It is difficult even to make broad groups, and even individual cases vary so much, that figuring out who qualifies for what, and whether they are lying on their applications, is a huge headache. A fallout result is that honest people who need help face an overwhelmingly complex, slow-moving and anonymous system to contend with.
    2. the basic beliefs on which we structure our society don’t include unemployed people. These include the idea that everyone can find work if they look hard enough, long enough, that a free-market, consumer-spending dependent economy will never crash or run out of anything (the market takes care of itself), and that since it won’t happen to a majority of the people any time soon, it is not politically important enough to deal with (and if it does affect a lot of people suddenly, it’s too big to deal with, as in India).
    In other words, the belief that it always happens to “them” not “us”.
    3. somehow, everyone who ends up on the skids deserved it, and it’s ok for them to get punished for their sins (or pay back their karma, whichever phrasing suits your fancy)
    4. if a woman has a kid out of wedlock, it’s because a. she’s a hopeless sinner, b. she’s a slut, 3. it’s her fault, (circumstances need not be taken into account here) 4. the guy who inseminated her has no responsibility
    5. Society doesn’t owe anybody anything, so don’t look to society or government to provide anything for anybody. If you need a road, build it yourself. If you need money to build that road, get a job. Get it? You might try moving to Colorado Springs, actually
    http://www.scholarsandrogues.com/2010/02/17/welcome-to-colorado-springs-americas-teabagger-paradise/

    The basic guranteed income idea, while having a lot of good benefits, is so politcally toxic in our current environment that it will never pass. Any politician who introduces it again to congress is just creating a week-long field day for Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. It’s a made-to-order tea-partier punching bag. You want to help Sarah Palin get elected? There’s no better way that to start talking about how everyone deserves a basic income. You can’t imagine the political mileage she’ll get out of that one.

    The irony is that America has made seriously awful choices and we have paralyzed our political process by converting every political agenda item into a partisan battleground. Getting good ideas passed is so far away from the agenda on Capitol Hill nowadays it’s useless to even try. All that matters is how you can spin an idea – any idea- into a baseball bat to club the other party with.

    The irony is that the USA as a nation is going to have to pay for it’s bad choices. We’ve been sinners; we’ve done irresponsible things; we’ve wasted the money we should have been saving, and we’ve run our credit up to insane limits; we’ve spent like there’s no tomorrow on things that do not enrich our lives in any way. We’ve handed the keys to the national treasury to a bunch of gamblers–, er, investment bankers.

    These are very, very bad choices we’ve made. As the free-marketeers themselves say, “payback’s a bitch.”

    So get ready. It will no longer be just the Eva’s who are going to get hit. I have friends who are die-hard freemarketeers, who believe in God and believe in Sarah Palin, and they looking at something perilously close to Eva’s situation after their lucrative careers in the house-building industry collapsed. They had to get out of the half-million dollar home. They had to cut their daughter’s state university education funds. They had to get rid of the SUVs. These are people who live by Rush’s words, never miss a show and cheer his every simplistic platitude. You know what – their beliefs didn’t exempt them from the realities. How about that?

    It can happen to you. Don’t lie to yourself about that.

    Then we’ll see how preachy you get about it.

  13. #13 Barbara
    February 21, 2010

    Sharon,

    I suspect that one of Eva’s main problems is that she sees herself as dependent on various large corporations and government entities, including the public transport system. I have no idea of Eva’s total situation, but a couple of alternatives occur to me without a great deal of thought (both of which I have employed myself at one time or another)– (1) she could get a bicycle (you can almost always find someone selling a serviceable bike for less than you’d pay in train or bus fare in a month); (2) take an earlier train or bus, even if it means possibly sitting around for half an hour when she gets there, or starting work a little early.

  14. #14 tarynkay
    February 21, 2010

    I am certain that if you asked her, Eva would agree that she has made mistakes. You know what? I don’t know about anybody else, but I make mistakes too. I’ve made lots of really bad decisions, financial and personal. The only difference is that somehow, randomly, through no virtue of my own, was born into a family that helped me out. I have a wonderful father, and now I have a wonderful husband. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. My family taught me how to read, made sure I graduated, taught me how to cook, how to balance a checkbook and how to make a budget. I can read, so if I need to save more money, I can go to the library and check out books on financial management and frugality. In addition to all of this amazing foundational work my family did, they are also an irreplaceable safety net. My husband and I support ourselves financially and we always have, but our families are always there with good advice, and I know that if anything catastrophic happened, they would help. Maybe this isn’t the case for many people who are critical of the bad decisions Eva has made in her life. Maybe it’s just me, maybe others pulled themselves up by the bootstraps and nobody has ever helped out. If that’s you, good job! But think about it- if you can read this, you already have WAY more resources than Eva. If you are reading this particular website, you are like a billionaire compared with Eva.

  15. #15 Barbara
    February 21, 2010

    I’ve done foster care too as well as volunteer work for two different battered women’s centers, and I’ve found that the way to get people out of hell is to show them how to think and act on their own — not train them to be always dependent on someone else.

    “The highest degree [of tzedakah = just charity] exceeded by none, is that of the person who assists a poor person by providing him with a gift or a loan or by accepting him into a business partnership or by helping him find employment – in a word, by putting him where he can dispense with other people’s aid.” — based on Maimonides’ Ladder of Giving

  16. #16 Isis
    February 21, 2010

    Dear Libertarians,

    Dropping out of school was not a ‘bad decision’ on Eva’s part. She was in 10th grade and COULDN’T READ. That means that school had been a hopeless waste of time and very likely an exercise in humiliation for her for a very long time. Without special ed, dropping out was the only reasonable option she had. What’s surprising is that she didn’t do it earlier than she did.

    As for having children, look, nobody here knows what her circumstances were. Who knows, maybe she was even married to the children’s father. Or maybe he promised he’d marry her. Or maybe she felt that since she would obviously never have anything remotely resembling professional success (see the previous paragraph), she felt that there was no good reason to delay having kids. If she definitely wanted to be a mom, I’m not at all convinced that this would count as poor judgment on her part.

  17. #17 Greenpa
    February 21, 2010

    All this is very similar to a post on my blog some time ago:

    http://littlebloginthebigwoods.blogspot.com/2009/12/talking-about-hunger-in-usa.html

    The comments are really worth reading there, too.

    My point is- as a result of that post, and those comments, a new possibility for something to DO – that could actually help- occurred to me; and I’m writing a post about it right now (Since you’ve got the ball rolling, Sharon.) :-)

  18. #18 Adrienne
    February 21, 2010

    OK, point taken on Eva’s learning disability. So maybe she could be excused from not finishing high school. Except that my own husband finished high school despite his LD. And the only guy I trust to fix up my house has an LD, an elementary-school reading level, not sure if he even finished high school…but he taught himself a very skilled trade that he could use to support himself and be financially independent with.

    OK, back to Eva: Worst case, Eva can’t get educated and must accept that she has low-skill jobs her whole life. That still doesn’t excuse her from bad decisions regarding men and having children.

    Sharon wrote:
    How about the fact that she had her first child at 15 – she should have fully grasped all the economic and social implications by then?

    It doesn’t take a genius to grasp that having a child at 15 is a VERY BAD IDEA. I don’t know about social implications, but the economic implications would have been damn obvious even then.

    How do we know that she didn’t try and get birth control? That she consented to have sex? That she wasn’t battered by the father of her younger children – I don’t think it specifies that she wasn’t married to the father, that I can see, although I could have missed that.

    OK, so maybe all of these circumstances could have resulted in one accidental child. Despite all of the mitigating circumstances that could have accounted for Eva’s baby #1, that doesn’t excuse at all Eva’s decision to have child #2.

    If a man is untrustworthy and abusive and not good father material, then it’s a really, really bad idea to have sex with him, much less to conceive a child with him. Eva presumably made that choice at least once. It’s too bad Eva did not have the help or guidance of her family to avoid the pregnancy at 15, but she was several years older and already a single mother when she chose to have baby #2.

    …but when you start 500 yards behind everyone else, you are going to lose the race unless someone provides some extraordinary help

    This is demonstrably false, because my mother got out of poverty herself with NO family support (kicked out by her own parents at age 14, left another relative’s house to make her own way at 17 in a new city without financial help) by not getting pregnant as a teen and by going to trade school to learn how to be a secretary. I’m all for help. But again, people need to take responsibility for their own lives and choices.

    …And someone will still be saying “and you shoulda…” when it is me and you trying to get by on whatever subsidies are left. And maybe they’ll be right.

    These subsidies you speak of don’t materialize out of thin air. They come from money paid in by other people–taxpayers like myself (and presumably you). I do not feel responsible for subsidizing other people’s bad choices, period. And that extends to corporations and corporate welfare and government excess and people getting breaks after signing up for mortgages they couldn’t afford and greedy banker bailouts. I wish the government would start cutting programs –left and right– to get rid of our deficit, even if that eats into hallowed programs like Social Security and defense spending.

    I know what I say sounds harsh, but consider that I myself found myself pregnant at a time when the father was not willing to be involved, and at a time that even though I was working, I did not feel that I could adequately provide medically and financially for a child. I made the hardest decision I have ever made in my life, despite wanting that baby, and I ended the pregnancy. If I had had the baby and the father split, and I had lost my job in the recession even though I am educated, I might well be in Eva’s situation now and facing poverty or at least loss of housing as a single mother. But I chose differently.

    Now I am married but also at an age of reduced fertility and higher chances of complications and miscarriage . I might very well never be pregnant again in my life. But I still think I made the right decision about my pregnancy at the time I did, and that is why I am not sympathetic to Eva now.

    While I do not feel sorry for Eva, I do feel sorry for her children. They are obviously paying for Eva’s bad choices too. Hopefully they will learn from their mother’s example and won’t drop out of high school or become unwed mothers themselves.

    Someone else here mentioned the help that having a family brings. Yes, I completely agree. But then again, having a family isn’t completely a matter of luck either, but also involves choices. You can have a set of awful and uninvolved and unsupportive parents the way my mother did, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make your own responsible choices regarding family and childbearing. These include waiting to have children until you have an education or skill, a job or some other form of financial support, AND a co-parent to raise them with. Preferably a co-parent who actually lives with you, pools his/her income with yours, and has frequent interaction with your child. Children do best with two parents…DUH…whether it’s two moms, two dads, or mom and dad. A woman choosing to have a child out of wedlock or similarly committed partnership is, once again, making a HUGELY bad choice, both for herself and her children.

  19. #19 Adrienne
    February 21, 2010

    Isis wrote:
    If she definitely wanted to be a mom, I’m not at all convinced that this would count as poor judgment on her part.

    Not poor judgment to have not just one child but two when you are a poor high school dropout with no job skills and no paternal support for your kids? That is the very definition of poor judgment.

  20. #20 Greenpa
    February 21, 2010

    Adrienne – so, you buy the argument then, that since my grandpa smoked two packs a day all his life and didn’t ever get cancer- that means cigarrettes don’t cause cancer?

    Your examples of people who have made it are great- but would be even better if not used as a bludgeon.

    My post is up:

    http://littlebloginthebigwoods.blogspot.com/2010/02/hunger-in-usa-2.html

  21. #21 Adrienne
    February 21, 2010

    Greenpa, not sure what you’re trying to say with your smoking grandpa argument. Is it that some people make very bad choices and seemingly don’t suffer ill consequences from them? Yes, some people are lucky.

    Your examples of people who have made it are great- but would be even better if not used as a bludgeon.

    Hmm. Well, my original intention in posting them was to use them as anecdotes to illustrate that someone’s being born and raised in bad circumstances does not inevitably mean that one is doomed to perpetuating that awful cycle.

  22. #22 Greenpa
    February 21, 2010

    Adrienne – what! It’s obvious. (famous last words of professors everywhere)

    What I was pointing out is that: the fact that you, and others, HAVE managed to pull yourselves out of really crappy, dire situations- really does NOT mean that the next person is line will also be able to.

    There are, indeed, many stellar examples of people pulling out of it. But- that truly does not mean everyone has the ability.

    This was what motivated me:

    “…but when you start 500 yards behind everyone else, you are going to lose the race unless someone provides some extraordinary help

    This is demonstrably false, because my mother got out of poverty herself with NO family support”

    I know Sharon well enough to know for certain that she did not intend to state that ALL persons starting 500 yards behind will fail; just that many, maybe most, will. And you jumped from an absolute to an absolute.

    And as we know, ALL absolute statements are wrong. :-) (humor)

    An example from the animal world, if you’ll permit. If you hitch a horse, or an ox to a load it CANNOT pull- and urge it to try anyway- they will.

    They’ll try. And try again. Often they’ll strain and struggle and try 30 times.

    But eventually – they will quit. They can’t pull the load- they tried as hard as they could. Now they are not only depressed; but exhausted. Urge all you want- they will not try again. Something inside is broken.

    That is exactly the situation many humans find themselves in. Something inside has been broken. And NOT by themselves.

    I’m not in favor of throwing money at problems when it clearly isn’t working. But I am in favor of giving folks a hand, when I can.

  23. #23 Roy
    February 21, 2010

    G_d forbid that Eva has an IQ not high enough to a) learn to read, b) find work, c) know what that guy was doing when she became pregnant.

    Some parts of our society need help in just existing.

  24. #24 Adrienne
    February 21, 2010

    OK, Greenpa, thanks for the clarification.

    Yes, it’s true, I jumped from absolute to absolute, I do admit that.

    I guess what irritates me about the Alternet piece on Eva is that it portrays Eva as a helpless victim of circumstance, which I don’t believe is completely true. Eva is the victim of many bad circumstances, yes, but she also made choices that hurt herself and her children.

    Sharon seems to imply in her post that she thinks the solution here is to give more government subsidies to the impoverished Evas of this country. While I would have supported that position even just 10 years ago, I simply cannot support that position now for many of the reasons I’ve presented here.

  25. #25 Greenpa
    February 21, 2010

    Well, it may all be moot very quickly anyway. According to Tom Friedman, NYT pundit- The Fat Lady Has Sung. He reports this:

    “A small news item from Tracy, Calif., caught my eye last week. Local station CBS 13 reported: “Tracy residents will now have to pay every time they call 911 for a medical emergency. But there are a couple of options. Residents can pay a $48 voluntary fee for the year, which allows them to call 911 as many times as necessary. Or there’s the option of not signing up for the annual fee. Instead they will be charged $300 if they make a call for help.

    Welcome to the lean years.”

    Now there’s a nice cutback.

  26. #26 Katherine
    February 21, 2010

    I don’t know why America is so keen to use the poor to fund their illegal wars and terrible banking practices – sorry, I mean reduce their deficit. My country has less poverty because we have a good welfare system. We realise (well, not all of us) that accidents happen while on contraception, that not everyone has the resources to leave abusive relationships; and that despite bad choices that their parents might have made, children deserve food! Our welfare program strongly encourages people to find jobs and to skill up so that they can actually hold a job that is good enough to get them off the bottom rung of the ladder.

    Well done, Adrienne, you just advocated forced abortion for poor women. Oh right, absolutes. “You’re allowed choice, but only if your choices are the same as mine.” WTF?

  27. #27 Robyn M.
    February 21, 2010

    Adrienne,
    You know, I really used to agree with you, nearly 100%. Heck, my own husband was a card-carrying Libertarian. And even now I don’t think that the libertarian line is wrong in all instances (same as I think about nearly all political ideologies–nutcase outliers excepted). But over some period of time, I think maybe around 26ish years old (probably not coincidentally around the same time I had my first child) I realized that all of my successes and achievements were not due solely to my abilities and Honest Hard Work. I had benefited exorbitantly from my circumstances, and by a great deal of straight-up good luck. Yes, I had worked hard. Yes, I had made many good choices. And yes, I’d slacked off in some places and made some stunningly bad choices, too. And I’d benefited from a family that valued education, and had a reasonable level of means, and fairly good nutrition and raising, and living in a reasonably well-funded community, and so many more things that I can’t count them. How could I possibly believe that I don’t owe anyone else anything? Or that it isn’t incumbent on me to help others who make mistakes? Gods knows I benefited so many times from others helping me when I screwed up, even if it took me years to see it. And I realized that my typical response to people like Eva, which looked almost exactly like yours, ignored the basic fact that my security and success was no My Doing, and that I had an awful big head on myself to think that it was. I owe others, and I owe in spades. People helped me, and now it’s my turn to help others, and it doesn’t matter worth a damn if they deserve it or not, and even if it did I am in no position to judge in the first place. I suspect the same is the case for anyone who is even moderately comfortable these days. In fact, I simply don’t believe the contrary. We owe. We owe each other, we owe those who helped us, we owe those who are screwing up and need help, we owe those who are succeeding, we owe those who deserve it and we owe those who don’t. If I do not believe I don’t owe others, especially the “undeserving”, then I have lost sight of all of the undeserving luck and help I have received in my life, and I would do well to be reminded. We are sinners all. It is not the fact that we all live on a (more or less) contiguous piece of dirt that we are a nation. We have a duty to each other. That’s what it means to be a citizen of this country.

  28. #28 Robyn M.
    February 21, 2010

    “If I do not believe I don’t owe others,…” ACK! F*ed that right up now didn’t I? Should have read “If I believe that I don’t owe others…” I hope that was obvious, but still. D’oh.

  29. #29 Isis
    February 21, 2010

    Adrienne,

    So what would like to do? Cut all aid to the poor and unemployed and/or unemployable? And have people starve in the streets?

    Except: people WON’T just starve in the streets. Because, you see, that would be a very bad choice indeed. Instead, they’ll beg, deal drugs, prostitute themselves and their children, shoplift, mug old ladies, break into people’s homes, etc. etc. etc. And that means that you’ll either have to pay for more law enforcement (that means TAXES; both for the police and for the prisons: last I heard, an inmate cost something like 30K a year, a good deal more than a person on welfare), or pay for private security (if you can afford it, and chances are you can’t), or just deal with a much higher level of violence, and hope you don’t fall victim to it.

  30. #30 Barbara
    February 21, 2010

    What Could Be Instead:
    Kiran Bir Sethi teaches kids to take charge

    Very inspiring video – infecting children with the “I Can” bug. Please watch it!

    http://www.ted.com/talks/kiran_bir_sethi_teaches_kids_to_take_charge.html

  31. #31 Adrienne
    February 22, 2010

    Katherine @26:

    I don’t know why America is so keen to use the poor to fund their illegal wars and terrible banking practices – sorry, I mean reduce their deficit.

    You’ve got it backwards. America’s stupid wars and terrible banking practices are greatly expanding, not reducing, the deficit. But a deficit means that cost cutting should come in order to bring the deficit under control, and cost cutting will mean reductions in government largesse, not just to corporations but to the poor.

    Well done, Adrienne, you just advocated forced abortion for poor women. Oh right, absolutes. “You’re allowed choice, but only if your choices are the same as mine.” WTF?

    Show me where I advocated any forced abortions of anyone. What I do advocate is not increasing aid to women on welfare/food stamps etc. if they have more children out of wedlock while on assistance. And I support having limited welfare rather than unlimited welfare forever, so I support the changes Clinton made in 1996. I also support greater access to birth control and abortion for all women, but especially poor women. Not because I hate poor women, but because having children when poor often makes poor women even poorer, not to mention the children they end up having and raising in poverty.

    Robyn @27:

    But over some period of time, I think maybe around 26ish years old (probably not coincidentally around the same time I had my first child) I realized that all of my successes and achievements were not due solely to my abilities and Honest Hard Work.

    Interestingly enough, it is around that time in my life that I went the opposite direction, going from a bleeding heart type who had believed that the poor vs. rich divide was all due to inequality, racism, and bad luck. That is when I also started to realize that personal actions and choices played a substantial role in the outcomes of people’s lives, including among my peers.

    One very influential book in my thinking was Theodore Dalrymple’s Life at the Bottom, about the underclass in the UK and the concept of poverty as a result of certain behaviors and choices rather than as simply a set of bad circumstances. While Dalrymple overdoes it on railing against the UK welfare system, he has several penetrating insights gained over decades of being a doctor to the desperately poor. He’s seen firsthand who makes it out of poverty and who doesn’t, and why.

    And then there is the living laboratory of my husband’s family. He has several siblings, and one of them has made a hash of their life thanks to bad choices regarding education, sex, alcohol, and especially drugs. This despite the same wonderful parents and middle-class upbringing that my husband and the other siblings have had.

    We owe. We owe each other, we owe those who helped us, we owe those who are screwing up and need help, we owe those who are succeeding, we owe those who deserve it and we owe those who don’t.

    Couple of thoughts on this:

    1) It’s one thing to promote personal charity. I have no problem with people’s decisions to give time and money to charities. If you want to help the poor, then by all means, do so. That is fundamentally different from asking taxpayers to essentially give their money to people like Eva. Government charity is different than private charity.

    2) Sometimes, what seems to be a good form of helping really isn’t. Helping in a way that encourages dependence and allows for father abandonment isn’t really helping if, in the long run, it serves to perpetuate the cycle of poverty and dependence.

    We have a duty to each other. That’s what it means to be a citizen of this country.

    I do not feel any sense of duty to use my taxes to bail out some stupid people who bought an expensive house on easy mortgage money when they couldn’t really afford that house. I do not have a duty to use or support my taxes being used to help someone in poverty when she acted in such a way as to keep herself in poverty. If my taxes are going to be used to help poor people, as I think they should to some extent, then I should be able to influence through my votes how they are used as such and to ask for accountability in terms of whether or not tax-funded programs for the poor are in fact helping them to get out of poverty or are really encouraging them to stay in poverty.

    Isis @29:

    So what would like to do? Cut all aid to the poor and unemployed and/or unemployable? And have people starve in the streets?

    I would end unlimited welfare (already done). I would also not increase welfare payments to women who have more children while on welfare. In fact, I would encourage and educate women on welfare regarding birth control and sex education.

    Rather than subsidizing food stamps or living allowances for people like Eva, I would rather see federal and state monies spent on making comprehensive sex-ed, contraception, and early abortion readily available to all women and girls. I would put in place programs to teach young people in public schools some basic life success strategies such as these: 1) avoid sex or at least pregnancy at too young an age, 2) put a huge priority on earning a high school education or at least learning a marketable trade skill, and 3) do not even consider pregnancy and childrearing until you have reached fully legal adulthood, and only then in the context familial and economic stability and dual parenthood. I would promote responsible motherhood among teen girls and responsible fatherhood among teen boys. I would tell them that fathers are important and that children deserve father involvement and support in their lives. I would encourage teens to form stable marriages or committed partnerships and I also like to see some time spent in school teaching them basic money management skills, marriage skills, and even parenting skills.

    I would stress that it is not simply a bad choice but profoundly irresponsible and antisocial act to bear and rear a child while unmarried or otherwise uncoupled, uneducated, and poor. If a teen girl finds herself pregnant, especially if she has no reason to expect support from the child’s father, I would encourage her to have an abortion or to put her child up for adoption rather than keep the child and raise it herself. Why? Because single teenage motherhood is the worst life choice in terms of perpetuating the cycle of poverty, not to mention other terrible outcomes such welfare dependence and gang violence among young men who grow up without fathers.

  32. #32 Adrienne
    February 22, 2010

    Isis @29:

    So what would like to do? Cut all aid to the poor and unemployed and/or unemployable? And have people starve in the streets?

    Except: people WON’T just starve in the streets. Because, you see, that would be a very bad choice indeed. Instead, they’ll beg, deal drugs, prostitute themselves and their children, shoplift, mug old ladies, break into people’s homes, etc. etc. etc.

    Funny, these things happened even before the welfare limitations were put in place in 1996, and they happened mostly in places where welfare use (and abuse?) was rampant, typically in big cities..Detroit, DC, LA to name a few. Look at the big crack crime epidemic in the inner cities in the 1980s, for instance. Clearly, subsidizing people with lifelong welfare certainly didn’t prevent them from committing thefts, burglaries, rapes, murders, drug dealing, gang crimes, and so on.

    And violent crime rates have been dropping pretty steadily in the US, have they not, despite the limits put on welfare back in 1996? This does not support your proposition that cutting back on welfare and other government subsidies for the poor leads to the poor committing more crimes. If anything, the circumstantial evidence would seem to support the opposite conclusion.

  33. #33 Adrienne
    February 22, 2010

    So what would like to do? Cut all aid to the poor and unemployed and/or unemployable? And have people starve in the streets?

    Actually, you know what I would really like to see happen? I’d like to see the US government get rid of Social Security (it’s a pyramid scheme anyway) and welfare subsidies and instead institute a single-payer nationalized health care system in the US. With, of course, subsidized and easily accessible family planning services. Getting free health care is no disincentive to work.

    This still might not stop the single teen mother epidemic in poorer communities, though.

  34. #34 Alan
    February 22, 2010

    Aside from the moral question, Sharon, I’m puzzled by the distinction you draw in your last paragraph between “preserving an economy” and “preserving the people”. How can these be different? Every prospect Eva has for a job, every good and service she consumes, every dollar paid for her welfare is a part of that economy. If the economy declines, so do the taxes that pay for her welfare, and any chance she has at self-sufficiency.

  35. #35 Sharon Astyk
    February 22, 2010

    Adrienne – I don’t know whether the Alternet piece was accurate or not – you seem to think they left stuff out or misrepresented Eva’s story. That may be true, but we don’t know that, so I think what’s interesting about it is that Eva made some stupid choices, but they are pretty comprehensible bad choices – she’s illiterate, and failed by her educational system that doesn’t seem to have responded to her disabilities, and it isn’t clear that any point she was made to understand the long term risks of sex or pregnancy – you know just how bad our sex ed system is. So it does seem reasonable to me to give her the benefit of the doubt. I did not mean to imply, and you are correct, that all people who start out 500 yards behind will fail – but the majority of them do.

    But more importantly to me is the question you are skipping – if we kick people like Eva off welfare (already done), what are we doing to her kids? What happens to them when they have to move again and again, and go through homeless shelters, and thus, her daughters can’t get the special education they might need (or not) or they miss large chunks of school because of the moves? What happens when they suffer from undernutrition, with the intellectual deficits that accompany that, because she ran out of food stamps early and the grocery store won’t let her run a tab anymore? What about the problems that arise from the kids being on the street while Mom is working at McDonalds after Grandma is gone? She has multiple children – we have one person who started 500 yards behind, what about the two daughters -do we start them back too and hope they are good bootstrap pullers? Or do we wait until *her* daughters are pregnant and dropouts too?

    The truth is that you can’t fully disengage the process of making the mother endure the consequences of both her actions and her bad fortune from the questions of how you best prevent those consequences from falling upon another generation and another and another.

    I like some of what you suggest we do – and that’s a great “in a perfect world” strategy. But let’s talk about what we can do in this world, where Eva doesn’t have health insurance, where employers are allowed to fire her because her kid had to go to the hospital, where she’s already got her kids, and they are really the point of the discussion.

    Sharon

  36. #36 Sharon Astyk
    February 22, 2010

    Alan – You mean every hope that Eva has for a short term job she’ll lose as soon as someone gets sick or the bus is late? That’s probably true. But we’re not preserving the economy – we’re failing to preserve the economy at the cost of trillions that could serve the basic well-being of people like Eva. The reality is that we know that countries can allocate more resources to poverty prevention and less to imperialism or propping up financial companies because, well, a whole bunch of nations do this – it isn’t speculative.

    Sharon

  37. #37 Brad K.
    February 22, 2010

    Taking responsibility for someone else.

    Is that what this is leading to? The old parable of “give a man a fish, and he will eat for today. Teach a man to fish, and he will eat for a lifetime.” This presumes, of course, no one pollutes or poisons the fish, they don’t get overfished, no one gets lamed or ill, etc.

    But the difference between charity – giving a fish – and help, is the responsibility one takes in another’s life. The man learning to fish doesn’t just learn a survival skill, but about the fish, the world of the fish and around him, and a communication and connection to the teacher.

    Eva’s problem is that no one cares, or cared, to take her in arm, teach her a living world, put the tools in her hands to thrive, and stand with her as she learns. The answer to her problem is someone being responsible.

    When I took in a foster boy, I was introduced to “disconnection”, I think it was called. That is that each child usually has the ability to bond emotionally to her/his family. When taken from that family, even for a brief time, there is a chance that the ability to bond won’t function again, and the child won’t make connection to the new “family” or community or anyone functional. Each move increases the likelihood that this will be the “disconnecting” move. Disconnected people are impaired in their ability to identify with the needs of the community or family, or anyone else. Sometimes lawless, often disregarding of the law or security, they are a spectre and legacy of not just the foster care system.

    Assuming that Eva is still able to connect, to live like a “good citizen”, is an assumption that might be a bit arrogant. Losing work, losing subsistence, being rejected from home and services – these can each lead to disconnecting. It will likely be a personal connection, if it can be done, that will make a serious change in Eva’s and other poor people’s lives. Finding work for a person – not a company – might do it, the interpersonal interdependency that recognizes and reinforces connections, virtues, and responsibilities.

    For now, precariously, Eva has a life. She gets by. She mostly has some level of food, some meager amount of hope that next week or next month might not be much worse. This is more than some have, and much worse than others. From outside her life, we might say, that isn’t sustainable, food stamps and other programs can change, food prices can go up, the bodega might get caught laundering food stamps. And she isn’t producing anything to sustain her community, except maybe the chance her daughter might contribute some day. But then, her daughter could turn out to be President of the US, a state or local representative, a community advocate or business owner employing and enabling many in her community. Maybe.

    But for Eva, some charitable soul keeps handing her fish, and not caring to teach her to catch her own.

    Thanks, Sharon.

  38. #38 ranklebiter
    February 22, 2010

    You guys should take a look at Greenpa’s suggestion, and the comments, over on his blog. A real “we could do this”, perhaps.

    http://littlebloginthebigwoods.blogspot.com/2010/02/hunger-in-usa-2.html

  39. #39 Brad K.
    February 22, 2010

    Adrienne,

    Not poor judgment to have not just one child but two when you are a poor high school dropout with no job skills and no paternal support for your kids? That is the very definition of poor judgment.

    Two points: Informal economy; and community growth.

    First, I think you have bought into the great corporate/big government lie – that human worth is measured in taxable income. This is the formal economy, the Gross National Product calculation. And Eva doesn’t contribute to the GNP, she is a drain. Informally, though, where Eva and millions of others live, and many millions visit, that isn’t the case.

    Just like any housewife and parent, her value is much more than taxable earnings. She isn’t valued for anything on the formal scale, but she makes a stab at providing parenting and arranging necessities for her progeny. She helps care for her mother. She has worked, when she could, in the formal economy, and may again. With luck, with removal of impediments. And with help.

    The other thing is that communities, like other biological systems, grow – or they die. Communities grow as people move in, or as residents raise children. Communities have a vested interest in assimilating newcomers, they often bring fresh assets. And, assimilated, the odds of retaining newcomers are better. Children raised in a community that cares about thriving, are indoctrinated and assimilated as well. A community that only knows about the formal economy – corrupt, that is – dies. The money structure may be intact, or even grow, but the community itself will rot as communities abandon segments of their (usually un-assimilated) residents.

    Eva’s community, one of a very great many, is deliberately choosing to abandon – within it’s borders and among it’s residents – children and residents alike. This is a community in the act of committing social suicide, or perhaps inept or negligent genocide. Rather than assuring the children in the community each receive what they need to be citizens and members of the community, they focus on what brings the best $dollar return.

    I don’t think Eva needs more cash assistance; I do think she needs a better life, and her community seems hell-bent on ignoring Eva and many like her.

  40. #40 Adrienne
    February 22, 2010

    As far as Eva’s children, I think the best solution for her and them would be to put them in foster care or even up for adoption. Yes, again, I’m sure I sound heartless, but it’s obvious Eva cannot adequately provide for them under current circumstances.

  41. #41 Adrienne
    February 22, 2010

    Sharon wrote:

    But let’s talk about what we can do in this world, where Eva doesn’t have health insurance, where employers are allowed to fire her because her kid had to go to the hospital, where she’s already got her kids, and they are really the point of the discussion.

    As I just said in the previous comment, the best “this world” solution for Eva would be to start doing all she could to find someone to permanently adopt her children and care for them properly. Someone who would still allow Eva some degree of involvement in her children’s lives.

    Second “best world” solution would be to surrender her children to foster care. Then Eva would only have to worry about taking care of herself and her mother.

  42. #42 Adrienne
    February 22, 2010

    Brad K wrote:
    First, I think you have bought into the great corporate/big government lie – that human worth is measured in taxable income. This is the formal economy, the Gross National Product calculation. And Eva doesn’t contribute to the GNP, she is a drain.

    No, rather I have seen the very real-world statistics that show the children of the Evas of this country, brought up by poor unwed mothers who can’t really support them and with no fathers, tend to perpetuate their mothers’ mistakes. They also are much more likely to become gang members and teen mothers and to require government assistance than the general population.

  43. #43 Sharon Astyk
    February 22, 2010

    Adrienne, actually I don’t think you sound heartless so much as ignorant of what foster care and adoption are like. Do you know what the odds of being able to place a 12 year old hispanic child are? Virtually nil. Do you know what percentage of foster children are sexually or physically abused during the course of their fostering? More than half. So if you wanted to complete the process of making more Evas, that would be a great suggestion. And of course, the overloaded foster care and social work systems would need to be vastly expanded to handle the millions of children of Evas out there. Plus we’d be handing the government the right to take away the children of people whose primary failure is poverty. Oh, and there’s the enormous trauma of taking children away from the only stable figure in their lives.

    So yes, lack of compassion – but also deeply poor reasoning.

    Sharon

  44. #44 Sonrisa
    February 22, 2010

    I think Robyn hit the nail on the head. Most people don’t realize how good they have it. In the comments of another post Sharon did about “the poor” I talked about my mother and how she was able to make a good life for us while on welfare. I think a story or two from the “dark” side might be more appropriate to this conversation. First I want to tell a story that gives an example of starting out 500 yard behind. Then a few experiences I had with the foster care system.

    I was 3 and my older sister was 6 when my mom left my dad for constant cheating and emotional abuse. The court ordered my dad to pay 100 dollars a month child support for me and my sister, which he never paid out of spite. We spent the next four years on welfare, living a humble but happy life. When I was seven and my sister was ten my mother remarried. Not long after that the beatings started. My sister had confided in a friend, who told her parents. The child protective services showed up and questioned my mom and the rest of us. When they left instead of taking responsibility for her mistake and leaving our abuser, she told my 11 year old sister that if our family was split up it would be her fault. That night we gathered what we could and ran(including my stepfather). Over the next seven years we moved a lot, and were beaten regularly, more children were born. At twelve my sister ran away for the first time, and by fourteen she was gone most of the time. She lived in parks and pan handled, occasionally she would stay with our dad or come home. At 16 she and her 33 year old(slimy leach) boyfriend came to stay for a while. He asked my mom and step dad if he could marry her, they agreed. I guess they figured that she would be his responsibility and they wouldn’t have to deal with her anymore. My sister didn’t want to get married. The day they got married my mom was pulling her by the arms as my stepfather pushed from behind. She wasn’t pregnant, in fact she didn’t have a child till she was 20. A few years later my mom left her husband. We were back on welfare (though most of the time my mom was married we got foodstamps), but life was somewhat sane again. This husband also didn’t pay child support. I dropped out of school in the ninth grade to help support the family. When I was eighteen I got into an argument with my mom (strangely enough) about the bad choices she made in life and the way they have affected her children. She kicked me out and left the continent (Hawaii is home to us, but we were on the mainland at the time). I lived in the woods for three months, but as winter approached (stupid winter:D) and I ran out of cash I needed to find a place to be. Eventually my sister and I ended up in the same place. So we shared an apartment. She and I worked while her husband stayed at home playing video games. Even though he threatened to disappear with their son she finally left him and ended up on welfare while she got her GED and took classes to be a home health aid. I was holding my own till I (stupidly) got pregnant. Three months into my pregnancy I got very sick and was hauled to the hospital, the nurse kindly suggested I get medical assistance. With my head hung low and my tail tucked in shame I filled out the paperwork. When I had my appointment I was shocked at how compassionate my caseworker was. She set me up with medical, but she also talked me into financial (which would pay for day care) and food stamps. This would allow me to be part of a program that would help me get my GED and take classes to “better myself”. I guess it was just a state program. What a shame. I got my GED. I was on assistance for about two years. Then didn’t need it anymore. Same with my sister. We were both very LUCKY. One, that we had been considered “gifted” in school as apposed to being born with a disability. Two, that we did have some family to lean on till we got it together. Three, that we knew how to work hard. Four(and most importantly) that we happened to be in a state that has a program that “teaches you to fish”. Eva is not that lucky.

    Would we have been better off in foster care. Maybe. Maybe not. Once when my sister ran away she managed to hitch hike to a town a couple of days drive away. They put her in a foster home till we could pick her up. She loved the place and the people, but she had only been there a few days. Another time when I was a teen I was hanging out with some friends. They decided to go buy some drugs (luckily I never did drugs). We walked into the house late at night, there were kids everywhere doing drugs, making out, etc. There were a few kids trying to sleep that kept screaming “shut up I gotta go to school in the morning”. The kids I was with explained to me that the woman that they were buying drugs from was a foster parent. Even as a teen I was appalled. My half brother who was in foster care most of his life could tell you much worse stories, but I have also known very wonderful people who were foster parents.

  45. #45 Kelsy
    February 22, 2010

    The real world statics show that 95% of foster kids end up on drugs, in jail or on the welfare rolls. Now the kids that the parents are helped to keep out of foster care and given some real job training is more like 40%. Gee, foster care really works huh?

    My mother was a single mom back in the 1970s. My dad whom she was married to walked out on us. Yes she took government assistance so she could get an education and take care of my sister and myself without him. She had child support ordered, but he never paid a cent. As soon as she managed to track him down he would quit his job and move to another part of the country. My mom finally gave up trying to get him to pay for the two little girls he helped to create. So single moms aren’t to be fully blamed. The fathers helped create the children, but are not held accountable in our society. A woman is a whore. A man a Stud. Until that double standard is changed males will walk.

    My husband is a truck driver. He has been partially employed by companies for years. They work him as they feel like it and if they feel like it. He is trying to support his family, but there are times we need the assistance. I had a lady at WIC actually break his pay check down to what he would get hourly if he worked all the hours that he had to sit on standby. It was less than 1.85 an hour. He could be “on call” for days and never get called. No call means no pay.

    He drove over the road for years, but after he worked for 3 different companies that just up and closed their doors over night. The office staff knew and nobody ever told the drivers. Drivers were often left stranded far from family or friends. He came off the road since it was breaking us to pay for him to get back home.

    And I hope all the people that are looking down their noses and judging others have at least 2 or 3 years or money stashed away. When you are without a job and can’t get unemployment or find another job in a few days or weeks, don’t go running to the government with your hand out. Oh and when you retire turn down the Social Security check.

  46. #46 Sonrisa
    February 22, 2010

    I just want to add one thing. I never felt that I deserved the help that I received, but I am very grateful.

  47. #47 Greenpa
    February 22, 2010

    Sonrisa-

    Thank you.

  48. #48 Adrienne
    February 22, 2010

    OK, Sharon, you and Sonrisa have made some excellent points. Yes, perhaps my reasoning about foster care was off, as you suggest. Then I will say I don’t know what the answer is. Or rather, Eva’s best answer is probably to look for help through private charitable organizations.

    Sonrisa @45:

    So single moms aren’t to be fully blamed. The fathers helped create the children, but are not held accountable in our society.

    Note that I criticized freely chosen or consented to single motherhood, not situations such as your mother’s, Sonrisa. And yes, fathers should be held accountable, but so should women like Eva who conceive, have, and raise children with no husband/partner and no expectation of paternal involvement. Having a child and then having the father walk out on you later is one thing. But it is selfish and irresponsible to deliberately choose to be a single mother.

    But back to Sharon’s original post, I do not support raising government subsidies for the Evas of the world. I also think the “teaching to fish” programs are great…if states and the federal gov’t can afford them. But right now, I don’t think they can. This is where churches and other private charities can and should step in. It is those organizations who should teach the Evas of the world how to fish.

    And I hope all the people that are looking down their noses and judging others have at least 2 or 3 years or money stashed away.

    Excellent suggestion. My husband and I actually do have such a stash. My father was unemployed for several years when I was growing up. That taught me to never take plenty for granted.

  49. #49 Rebekka
    February 22, 2010

    “If a man is untrustworthy and abusive and not good father material, then it’s a really, really bad idea to have sex with him, much less to conceive a child with him. Eva presumably made that choice at least once. ”

    Because no woman’s ever had sex forced on her without consent… particularly not women with learning or other disabilities.

    Honestly, your attitude is so smug it’s not even funny. And you know what, even if her situation was her own fault, it’s not her children’s fault. For you to suggest society should just leave them to starve and struggle is morally repugnant, and suggesting churches and private charitable organisations should take care of the problem is essentially just saying “let someone else deal with it”, and turning away like as long as you’re comfortable, everyone else can go to hell.

    Geez Americans just amaze me sometimes. It just wouldn’t be acceptable in Australia to suggest that children of single mothers should be left to starve, no matter how much people blame their mothers, and thank goodness for that. I’d hate to live in the sort of society where people think it’s ok to let little children suffer for the supposed sins of their parents.

    I’d also like to point out that no woman ever got pregnant on her own. There’s a man involved somewhere in the process, and he’s not taking responsibility.

  50. #50 Sonrisa
    February 23, 2010

    Adrienne- I didn’t write 45. I was 44 and 46.

    Greenpa- I really like your buddy system idea. A little town I lived in a few years ago actually hired a person to work with low income women. I guess this person would teach them how to shop to get the most out of their money/food stamps and how to cook from scratch. I don’t know how well it worked, but it was a great idea.

  51. #51 Sharon Astyk
    February 23, 2010

    Sonrisa, thanks for that.

    Adrienne, we know what happens when you leave people only to private charities – we know precisely what happens, because that’s why these social programs were created – because the private charities can’t support them. Take a look at the history of American poverty and remediation – at some point people decided that having elderly folks starve to death and children suffer malnutrition wasn’t just bad for them (although that’s reason enough) it was bad for society.

    Social welfare programs are a comparatively small part of our tax dollars – there are plenty of ways to increase support for people like Eva without doing any harm. Cutting corporate subsidies, reupping capital gains taxes, reducing our imperialist adventures… there’s a lot of good options.

    The present situation is going to leave a lot of people behind – and the price we pay as a society for that is pretty high – the intellectual stunting and health consequences of hunger are well known, so are the psychological and social consequences. It is in our interest to be compassionate.

    Sharon

  52. #52 Sonrisa
    February 23, 2010

    You know Sharon, when I first started to read the comments from this post I told myself to walk away and forget about it. Unfortunately my husband had to suffer through my rant about the neighbor kids who ate at our house because their parents didn’t feed them. And about racism friends and cousins have endured. Horror stories about my mentally disabled brother in foster care. My family had it real easy compared to some. It makes me mad when people don’t take seriously the physical and emotional hardships people have to overcome. I don’t know if I should thank you for bringing this topic up or stop reading your blog to maintain my sanity (and marriage);D.

  53. #53 Tree
    February 24, 2010

    “The philosopher Theodor Adorno wrote that the exclusive preoccupation with personal concerns and indifference to the suffering of others beyond the self-identified group is what ultimately made fascism and the Holocaust possible: “The inability to identify with others was unquestionably the most important psychological condition for the fact that something like Auschwitz could have occurred in the midst of more or less civilized and innocent people.”

    The indifference to the plight of others and the supreme elevation of the self is what the corporate state seeks to instill in us. It uses fear, as well as hedonism, to thwart human compassion. We will have to continue to battle the mechanisms of the dominant culture, if for no other reason than to preserve through small, even tiny acts, our common humanity. We will have to resist the temptation to fold in on ourselves and to ignore the cruelty outside our door. Hope endures in these often imperceptible acts of defiance. This defiance, this capacity to say no, is what the psychopathic forces in control of our power systems seek to eradicate. As long as we are willing to defy these forces we have a chance, if not for ourselves, then at least for those who follow. As long as we defy these forces we remain alive. And for now this is the only victory possible.”

    Chris Hedges: Zero Point of Systemic Collapse

    https://www.adbusters.org/magazine/88/chris-hedges.html

  54. #54 Greenpa
    February 25, 2010

    Sonrisa- ” I don’t know if I should thank you for bringing this topic up or stop reading your blog to maintain my sanity (and marriage);D.”

    :-) oh, yeah, that!

    Look at it this way; it DOES usually help to have someplace to vent- rather than on your spouse. And I think your reception here shows that folks appreciate you.

    And I like your “buddy system” name- that could help lower some hackles, I think.

  55. #55 jj
    June 3, 2010

    The United States of America is the best country in the world. Everyone has the opportunity to change their circumstances if they work hard enough. The problem is that we now have a population that wants free income, health care, housing…! If that is what you want, move somewhere that provides that. Leave this great country for those who understand that success is available to those who work hard. There are no guarentees in life, get over it and become someone your kids can be proud of.

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