SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL

Occasionally I'll use this space to offer book suggestions in case you find yourself in need of reading material. This is less a suggestion than an assignment. This will be on the test.

Mike Konczal gave me a heads-up on Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, a non-fiction tale of people in Milwaukee living on the bottom rung of the housing market: black families in the north side ghetto and white families in a trailer park that sits literally atop a biohazard. For a casual reader this book is a Rorschach Test, a study in confirmation bias; whatever your existing beliefs about the root causes of poverty and the underclass, you will find ample evidence to support it here. The most remarkable achievement is the ability of these stories to make the reader sympathize with everyone involved. You feel for the poor single parent living in a house with no refrigerator; then you feel for the landlord who stopped putting in refrigerators after six of them were destroyed or sold for beer money. You feel for the people who have to clean up foreclosed, abandoned, or evicted houses that resemble landfills. For a few pages I even felt bad for the cops – Milwaukee cops.

I've never read anything that had me teetering back and forth quite like this. You understand why people feel less than human living in an apartment with no appliances and no front door; a paragraph later, you understand the frustration of replacing the front door 17 times in 5 years for tenants who pay rent a few times annually at best and will end up destroying anything you put in the apartment. The tenants give up. The landlords give up. The agencies intended to deal with these social problems give up. And eviction, which used to be about as common as a solar eclipse fifty years ago, becomes so common and frequent as to be routine. If you believe the system is the problem, this book will reinforce that. If you believe individual responsibility is the problem, this book will do the same for you.

The obvious poverty red flags are well represented: joblessness, the paltry income afforded by what jobs are found (either fast food, nursing home cleanup, or cash-in-hand day labor are about it), the drugs – alcohol – cigarettes troika that eats up so much money, bad personal decisions, and lack of education. Rather than beat those dead horses, there are two things that have been on my mind since reading this.

One, and there's no way to say this without sounding like a judgmental asshole, is the role of family planning in exacerbating the already dire situations in which these people find themselves. You practically want to scream at the pages, please stop having more kids. There are numerous tales of people living on something like $650/month in total income…and they have three kids, and they have more kids as the story unfolds. There are a lot of issues balled up here: lack of effective sex education (in or out of school), lack of sufficient access to methods of birth control, and using children to fill an emotional void or try to hold onto a relationship partner. I can't put myself in the position of anyone in this book, and I have no idea what I'd do if I were. But if there's one thing the people described here are good at, it's figuring out how to survive. In many ways they are highly rational and they make decisions that eliminate anything that isn't absolutely essential. In that light, it's confusing to try to understand why "I shouldn't pay this month's rent because I'm about to be evicted anyway" makes sense (and it does) but "I shouldn't have a fifth child" does not.

The second is another foreign concept to me because I have an extremely small family. I have one sibling, no living grandparents, one aunt, and no cousins. In many of these (often enormous) poor families, there is a moral dilemma facing the one or two people who become financially stable. I can see how compassion fatigue would set in. How many times do you pay the past-due rent for your brother, knowing that in three months he'll be back asking for it again? You'd either become a hard-hearted bastard, telling your own immediate family members to piss off, or you'd help out until inevitably your relatives pulled you right back down into poverty with them. You can only hand over $500 for emergencies so many times before you have your own emergencies and find yourself without a safety net. These stories made me very thankful to never be put in that situation, and even more empathetic toward friends who regularly are in it. How many times can you hand over what ends up being beer money? And how do you sleep at night after you stop doing it?

It's not a fun read, but it's an excellent one. Most people do not realize – and here I do have a tiny bit of insight, having spent three years working in debt collection – that there is an entire Poverty Industry built up around extracting money from people in desperate situations. You need $100 in the next hour to keep your house? Payday loan at 25%. You've been evicted? Your stuff will be taken to storage and it'll run you $500 to get it back. You're at the end of your rope? Don't worry, there's a liquor store on every corner; sometimes two. You finally have some work? Well since you live in squalor and around constant violence, here are some expensive medical problems.

It is a machine, and nobody who gets caught in the gears ever gets out. You might be fooling yourself if you think you have any idea how to begin fixing this.

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90 thoughts on “SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL”

  • Sounds interesting, like many of your previous suggestions have. If you find yourself bored some night (not clu(r)bin' or whatever), perhaps you could re-categorize these posts into an "Ed's book clu(r)b" tag, or something along those lines. Then the rest of us can have quick access to your previous suggestions. (Especially if, as you say, this is going to be on the test.)

  • HoosierPoli says:

    There's been a lot of work in international aid studies to underline the effectiveness of 'direct cash payments' in getting people out of the poverty trap.

    Basically, my idea for this is the same as my idea for everything. Tax the rich, give the poor cash money, and see what problems are left over to be fixed with increased financial counselling or education reform or whatever hobby horse you happen to be riding.

    Homelessness in general has a very, VERY simple solution: build houses and let people live there without paying.

    It's not that these problems have no solution. It's that the solution would force us to do things we don't want to do: we, as a society, prefer ignoring the problem to solving it.

    Meanwhile, over here in Germany, it's pretty shocking the amount of humane efforts a government can take part in while still leading an industrial economy that is literally the envy of the world. German steelworkers have no fear of Chinese competition because they make the best goddamn steel on the planet and everyone knows it. Their workers get unlimited sick leave, six weeks paid vacation, health and pension insurance and an unemployment system that will ensure they can live a life in dignity indefinitely if they lose their jobs (which they won't). Workers reps sit on every board in the country. Strikes are not frequent but not uncommon either. Yet the country has the same unemployment rate as the US, long and short-term growth rates are basically at parity with the US, and the lower nominal GDP is largely attributable to the fact that the US's bloated healthcare spending is tallied by its sticker price, wheras the cost-efficient German healthcare spending is tallied by its cost of production.

    The point is, solutions exist. They are uncomplicated to design and straightforward to administer. AMERICANS DON'T WANT THEM. This horrific poverty trap, like the unvarnished shame of mass incarceration, is part of the fucking plan.

  • Needs more than money,a change of heart would be required. We would need to tolerate people being damn fools, and help them pick up the pieces as often as necessary, a reduction of despair would reduce that. The really hard part for some would be the reduction in social distance between working and middle class with the amelioration of the worst of poverty. Hard to see how we even begin, between those that make bad situations worse and those who need the personal affirmation of knowing they're better off than "those people".

  • I have even less experience of poverty than Ed, but the high birth rate doesn't seem mysterious to me.

    Sex feels good and it's free, at least in the moment. Birth control is not free. You have $10 to last you the next three days; spending it on food or condoms is no contest. At night, it's cold and dark and the cable TV (or electricity) has been cut off for non-payment. The temptation to do it without protection "just this once" would be overwhelming.

    A more modest policy change than those suggested by @HoosierPoli would be to make birth control free and plentiful. Unfortunately, the Republican Party imagines this will encourage recreational screwing by the lower orders, which would make baby Jesus cry. Evidently they are meant to sing hymns all evening, and then go to bed with a bolster placed between them to prevent any fornication. It's a foolproof plan and I'm sure it will start working any day now.

  • On a related note, last night on the PBS Newshour, there was a story about the long-term effects of growing up in unsafe and very-poor neighborhoods. There are lifelong consequences to a child growing up hungry, being regularly assaulted, and seeing others getting assaulted and/or murdered, both in health (heart disease, diabetes, chronic lung issues) and in mental state (genetic predisposition to schizophrenia and bipolar disorder can be brought out by environment).

    I suspect some of the seemingly-intractable problems brought about by bad decisions can't be fixed with counseling. Por ejemplo; my spouse grew up the youngest in a large family that was very poor. They hunted for food, kept chickens and pigs, and grew vegetables because a trip to the grocery store was a rare event. The only new clothes they had came from thrift shops. Etc. However, his upbringing was rural at the fringes of a very small town in a very loving, supportive family, so violence wasn't part of his experience. It took many years before we were able to buy food economically; if I bought a family-sized bag of potato chips planning to portion them out into lunchtime snacks for the week, he would eat the entire bag in one sitting because his upbringing had taught him that such a rare prize would be instantly gone and he'd better get while the getting was good. He also had to learn the value of going to the dentist for regular checkups to avoid huge emergencies because he'd never seen a dentist (or had health insurance) before he joined the military. Along similar lines, his family couldn't believe we got braces for the children's teeth because "it's cheaper just to pull them when they go bad". Having straight teeth that are easier to keep clean, and regular dental visits to catch any small problems before they explode, means not having to get teeth pulled. The concept is foreign to them.

  • "How many times can you hand over what ends up being beer money? And how do you sleep at night after you stop doing it?"

    After the second time they use it for a lost weekend, I'd sleep just fine after saying "no way".

  • @jimcat: If it's just your wastrel brother, fine. If it's your sister and her three kids about to end up on the street, it would be a little harder to refuse. Particularly if your whole extended family takes her side and threatens to ostracise you.

    Personally, I don't know what I would do in that situation, and I wouldn't judge anyone for choosing family over money.

  • H.M.S. Blankenship says:

    I almost left a comment mentioning this book in the thread after your last post about McJobs. I wanted the slumlords to be the villains of the piece, but they really aren't; Matthew Desmond seems to be pretty even-handed & all you can do, at the end, is once again Blame the System. I have no idea what to do about the overall problem, but it seems as if the tenants are already acting out something that would be called a strike or a work stoppage or slowdown, if it occurred in an industrial setting. It often looks like their only option, self-destructive as it may be, is to make things as difficult as possible for the landlords. But that doesn't work either; The System is tilted against them. Back when I was renting apartments for 50% of my income, I sometimes told landlords that they were asking too much, but then again, I was not desperately poor & almost homeless, with children to take care of.

  • @Talisker and his link; yeah, exactly. I grew up in the "soshulist" US military as a military brat, and while we weren't rich, we certainly weren't poor (and the free housing, utilities, gym, medical and dental care plus the discounted shopping went a long way, too!). After college, I joined the military myself. It was a real culture shock to meet someone who had never been to a dentist his whole life until he joined the military. It was a culture shock to go grocery shopping with his mother who automatically checked the "dent and expired" bin first, and to learn later that she was just thrilled to be able to walk into a grocery store.

    I think the biggest thing I learned was that poor people aren't just randomly half-assed; some things (like dental care) are just so far out of their realm of experience. In contrast, they had some (good-natured because they're nice people) fun at my expense when my FIL asked my spouse to help him fix something and I asked why they didn't just call Maintenance. They owned their own house; I'd never experienced that.

  • anotherbozo says:

    Nothing like a little escapist reading. When I worked for the Social Services Department (welfare) my first shock was discovering that my "cases" weren't stupid or even slow, they seemed at least as quick as I, just without money or prospects. But saddled with babies. The government began providing a way out by subsidizing vocational programs for some of the young mothers. This was decades ago in New York City. One of my young single mothers was a couple of weeks away from graduating from a rudimentary nursing program when Clinton's welfare "reforms" took effect. Stopped her cold. No daycare, no funding, no degree. Back to square one. I left the department a few weeks later.

    Wonder what a Dane or a Dutch or German reader would think when reading "Evicted." Or Jacob Riis, via time machine, for that matter.

  • Do unwed women receive payments for their children? Do they get more payments for n+1 children?Do we ask the father's to help(technology is there to id) to support them? Do we ask the absent fathers to restrict their sperm? Are their incentives for women not to have more children out of wedlock? Are there incentives or disincentives for men to quit fathering children out of wedlock?

    Sounds like a great book. Thanks Ed.

  • "How many times can you hand over what ends up being beer money? And how do you sleep at night after you stop doing it?"

    The more important and interesting question to me is why do working and middle class Americans begrudge and despise the poor for the meager living they get from the "social safety net" while uttering nary a peep about executives in big business and high finance who rake in billions for engaging in behavior that, in any other circumstance, would be considered criminal?

  • GunstarGreen says:

    @ronzie:

    Because most non-desperate Americans like to fantasize that, one day, they too will be high-rolling executives. And they couldn't very well begrudge the upper crust their excesses when their own dreams involve partaking of those very excesses, now can they?

    The key primary difference between the United States and other first-world nations that handle their poor and homeless in better ways is one of attitude. In other countries, the general zeitgeist is "How do we make things better for people in general", while in the US it is "Screw you, I got mine".

  • I've read the book and I had similar thoughts. One of the most frustrating things about reading anything concerning poverty in this country is the way that having children is depicted as something that just happens. Like the kids are falling out of the sky or something.

  • "if you think you have any idea how to begin fixing this"—
    Plunder the rich. Guaranteed minimum income nationwide.

  • Sorry to go all meta for a moment, but I've been meaning to post for a while now about how grateful I am for the comment section on this site. This is one place where the normal "never read the comments" wisdom doesn't apply, and I'm thankful for that.

  • "if you think you have any idea how to begin fixing this"—

    My plan would start by giving them money, health insurance, and a better education. Free birth control for Mom. And then clean up the fucking trash they live around.

  • "One of the most frustrating things about reading anything concerning poverty in this country is the way that having children is depicted as something that just happens. Like the kids are falling out of the sky or something."

    As another poster pointed out above, birth control costs money and is often not near the top of the priority list. The rhythm method is not 100 percent effective. And anyone who suggests "just don't have sex then" gets a free punch in the face from me.

  • Now imagine a country where 75% or more of the population live under similar conditions.

    At holiday gatherings my well-to-do side of the family ask my wife, “So are your parents coming to visit you soon?” No. People in the Philippines don't just go to the USA on tourist visas. (Well, the 1% of the Philippines do, but they don't come to Spokane.) My father-in-law is a carpenter, makes a few hundred dollars in a difficult month and then is laid off. My mother-in-law is a preschool/kindergarten teacher, makes about $50 per month, sometimes not seeing her pay for two or three months at a time (Corruption, you know. One administrator last year absconded with the district's payroll, not sure if they caught him yet). And every year, without fail, it rains so hard that half the town floods. The Philippines is also ground zero for global warming, with some of the highest observed and predicted effects from sea level rise. Haven't read the book (just added it to my Amazon wishlist), but it sounds like it describes the average global human experience, which is one of stress, crisis, and suffering. But you know what? In the Philippines, healthcare is cheaper and more accessible to all. Wait, not just that, they have Universal Health Care. Really. But we can't do that. Nah. We need competition and shit to foster the best among us.

  • @Doug and the question about child support; my first thought is if the father of the children has no money, there's no way for the state to collect it. More anecdata time; I have any number of middle-class female friends with kids whose middle-class ex-husbands choose not to pay child support, and you wouldn't believe how hard it is for educated, motivated people to try to get the system to collect the money. What I mean to say is that these are people who are not working six jobs and wondering if they're going to eat that day because they'll have something–even if it's only spaghetti. These are people who have jobs that offer leave that allows them to go to court repeatedly in hopes of impressing the judge that yes, their children actually do need the support that the ex can absolutely afford to pay but chooses not to.

    So, if it's darned-near impossible to crack down on people with fixed addresses and fixed jobs, how much harder is it to extract money out of people constantly being evicted/living with friends/working under the table?

    A guaranteed child maintenance would go a long way to providing basic support for children, but the people of the USA have decided that's not important to them. Free lunch to all school children regardless of their ability to pay for it would take away the stigma of the reduced- and free-lunch requests, but again, the people of the USA have decided that's not important to them. Instead, we need to pay for luxury stadiums with luxury skyboxes for multi-millionaire sports team owners.

  • And we also get asked, by my never-been-hungry family, “So why don't they just move to an area that doesn't flood?”

  • terraformer says:

    The politics of this in the US is so entrenched. Adding to the long, long list of "it'd be nice if…" items, it'd be nice if we in the US had some sort of mandatory (government funded!) term-of-service, like they do in some European and Eastern countries, wherein teenagers select from, I don't know, soup kitchens, habitat for humanity, or Goodwill-type collection work so that at least some level of cognizance, and dare I say understanding, that can bud and (hopefully) flourish in young minds about the lives of the less-well-off. Or a world-view that exists beyond their own. It's usually only those who already have a good sense of empathy who partake in such activities, and of course anything mandatory like this would immediately be vilified and excoriated. I also like Unicorns.

  • Having watched the hoops my white, college-educated daughter has had to jump through to get access to birth control (the pill), it doesn't surprise me at all that poor women often have more children than they can afford. The Right's attack on Planned Parenthood and easy access to contraception (not to mention abortion ffs) has been so fierce you almost have to wonder if perpetuating poverty is not the plan.

  • @Isaac; I was a kid when the Billy Joel song Allentown ("we're living here in Allentown, and they're closing all the factories down") and I asked the very same question–why don't they just move, for pete's sake. I'm sure you've told your family the same thing my parents told me; the reality that if you're living on crumbs, you can't afford to pick up and move who-knows-where with no job prospects or support system.

  • One of our mechanics was commuting from Wilmington Ohio to Laredo Texas to work. He'd ride the jumpseat from Dayton to Memphis and then another from Memphis to Laredo.

    He had been a mechanic for Airborne Express, which was based out of Wilmington. When they shut down operations in Wilmington, the whole town pretty much dried up.

    He was fortunate enough to get a job with us, but he's stuck with a house in Wilmington he can't get rid of since nobody wants to move there.

  • @HoosierPoli

    Germany exported their way to prosperity by exploiting the Euro countries. There is almost no internal demand, i.e. their inflation rate is extremely low.
    Or do you think it's a coincidence their exports more than tripled in the 10 years after the Euro was launched?

  • @Katydid, re sports stadiums (stadia?)– yep, my fair city has built TWO over the last 25 years. When they were building the most recent one, for an NBA team from Vancouver (?) we were told that the previous b-ball palace (now a Bass Pro Shop– seriously!!) was inadequate, although it had been built less than 15 years earlier specifically to attract… an NBA team! When the newer one was being proposed/ planned at a cost to the city of $250 million, we were told there was insufficient money to air-condition several of our public schools. And it's fucking hot here.

  • The troika you mentioned was convincingly dissected by Dr. Carl Hart in his book "High Price." From what I can remember, the basic premise confirmed that all misery and no opportunity makes Jack a high boy.

    On the reproduction conundrum, I'd suspect that life-affirming instincts are operating in tandem with a subconscious validation of existence by having more copies of yourself around (i.e., if I don't matter, maybe my kids will).

  • I spent some time performing lead (Pb) sampling in several of the Baltimore government subsidized housing districts. Some were much better managed than others, but on the whole not terrible, at least that I ever saw. About 1/3 of the people I met lived here because their jobs were mercurial, like construction, or they were single mothers, etc. Another 1/3 were retirees/ disability or other fixed income situations. The final 1/3 were the sell-the-fridge-for-drug money types.

    One of the maintenance workers told me a story about how he once saw some guys drag a couch to an empty lot and dismantled it for scrap iron. He pointed out to them that with the price of scrap and the amount of time it took them to break it down, they were clearing something like 50 cents an hour and probably could have just sold it and cleared more money. Guys weren't dumb, just nobody had ever taught them to break down their costs like that. I had another black gentleman tell me that he learned a lot of how he managed his construction outfit from a partner he had that was a white guy. The guy had his own business, but he had never had a mentor to introduce him to a network of contacts. Tl;Dr I met a lot of people who were never given a chance to develop their potential.

  • ronzie –

    Dead on. It might be a radar problem – we peasants just don't encounter our corporate overlords on a frequent enough basis to pay attention to their spiffy suits, shiny shoes, styled hair, tasteful accessories… Whereas for us simply taking an evening stroll downtown to a restaurant it's the Night of the Fucking Living Dead. What we see is us, and the less-fortunate us. We're the 99%. So that's who we think about.

    I remember my brother in law's account of when the New York financiers flew into town and visited his government agency. "It was like the Lords visiting the Burghers – we had to resist the urge to bow at the waist. The crisp bespoke suits were such a contrast to what we were all wearing, we were like deer in the headlights."

    Let's not talk about The Poors anymore. Let's talk about "serving" The Rich, if you know what I mean and I think you do.

  • Chicagojon2016 says:

    Ooooh – good timing.

    I just ordered some Amazon stuff and didn't pull the trigger on a wish list item I had: When Work Disappears : The World of the New Urban Poor by William Julius Wilson. Yours sounds better than the recommendation I had for that.

    "You might be fooling yourself if you think you have any idea how to begin fixing this."
    Well of course, but I can still try! Just not today and in this comment section.

  • @ safetyman

    Sounds like we have a similar background. I think pb work let's you understand how fucking rough poor people have it. I did my time on the Southside of Chicago, Kankakee, when it was the worst city in America and Petersburg Virginia. I think I lost most of my soul doing that work.

  • I can't imagine the compassion fatigue. I recently got control of my mother's estate, and have had a few relatives hit me up for loans to solve their middle-class issues, and that got me damn angsty. And they weren't looking at getting evicted.

  • I finally cut my moron step-sister off after $38k over a decade. What really ended it for me was her idiot daughter, who sister had at 17, was raised by a tv, reads 3 years behind grade level, *barely* graduated from high school, and is discovering that the world is not kind to people for whom high school wasn't their thing… and I've had to help pay her rent a couple times. My niece is shacking with a guy who dropped out of high school after sophomore year, who can't keep a fast food job, and who has a two-and-a-half year old (and primary custody! Some fucking judge looked at *HIM* and said you're the better bet!) Fortunately the rent is under $500.

    And yeah, there's been some family drama. But my sister is a black hole that money disappears into. And I told my mother / step-father that if they helped her out again I'd get a judge to let me take over their finances. They're ruining their tenuous retirement to continuously bail her out. I think they've cut her off too but I guess I'll figure out if/when they need money from me.

    I make good money, but that $38k is over a year's worth of every penny I save after taxes and living expenses.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    Universal livable wages -whether you work or not – is something that might help.

    And yeah, good luck having the uber-rich agree to THAT!

  • So, Ed, taking your last two posts as a syllabus; the question really becomes what we as a society are going to do when the majority of the jobs pay less than $25k/year and poor people can't afford a place to live?

  • Mandatory minimum income would help a lot. Read an article recently that pointed to studies where it was quite successful. An idea once floated in the US by Dick Nixon, FFS…

  • Chicagojon2016 says:

    "You might be fooling yourself if you think you have any idea how to begin fixing this."

    How about:
    1. Universal wage paid out to everyone (IDK, $7777 per person, 18+)
    2. Birth control in the water and you have to have 'safe sex' if you want to get pregnant

    Wait a couple of years for those to splosh around and then go back in to try to work on other issues.

  • Some sort of change such that pregnancy is not the default result for sex would make the world a better place for everyone. Unfortunately that would most likely prove to be medically and politically impossible.

  • ChicagoJon

    The WJ Wilson book is a groundbreaking description of what happened to inner city Chicago once the blue collar jobs left for the South and then China. It is on my Kindle and I've chewed through a few "pages" at a time. While done in the 80s, it correctly predicted what has happened in the areas of the country where coal and other industries have left, that is, poverty, joblessness, and, most importantly, single-parent households and a breakdown in the family unit. The lack of work and the poverty it creates causes the rise of unmarried women having children in poverty, not the other way around. It's not a *moral* issue, which the Bible bangers would have you believe, but a result of crushing poverty.

    Also, to note, a couple examples of my time working in "the hood" for Large Chain Drug Store. I had an employee who married his girlfriend about 2 years after they had a child. He was pretty upset a couple months later because all of the additional expenses his family suddenly has because his wife was no longer a single mom and while they were still barely scraping by, it was harder because most of the government help went away. The only reason they could afford daycare was because she worked at a daycare and their son went for free. I had another employee quit because her mom stopped being able to watch her daughter and she was further ahead staying home and being on welfare. She made 8 something an hour, above starting rate.

    One if the solutions to the "can't afford daycare so don't work" problems has been tried in Canada. Quebec has very inexpensive, subsidized daycare. It has added billions to the economy of the province because more people are able to work. But free market, yo!

  • @ sluggo

    The Pb work for me was basically a dead-end career-wise, but looking back, I will never, ever, sit and wonder if my life made the world a better place. I suspect it's the same for you.

    Second, by the time I left my group had pretty much salvaged the city's records, so I'm proud of that too.

    I'll fully admit that part of my rose tint is owed to never getting mugged/ shot at, with only a handful of close calls, not all of us were so lucky :-/

  • The Palace Cat says:

    @Jimcat: good words, though, and several important points.

    Regarding birth control, the pill is fussy to take, and expensive if you don't have insurance. I recently lost my job and paid over $100 for a 3 months' supply of happy-no-baby pills. Even when I had insurance, sometimes they were free, sometimes they weren't, depending on how buggy the system was that day. It wasn't like I could do without, so it was always a crapshoot.

    Many poor women trade sex for a place to sleep. Their ability to control the use of condoms goes way down, and unintended pregnancies go up.

  • Regarding children – my husband and I adopted our two sons from foster care. Over the years, we have received a variety of services from local government intended to assist parents, usually parents very different from us. As college educated professionals, one of whom took early retirement, we have a variety of advantages that those parents lack. The idea of how frustrating and enervating dealing with the social service bureaucracy would be for someone trying to keep two jobs and the lights on is very disturbing to me. I get the impression that the workers who deal with us find it to be less disheartening.

    Contrariwise, when I see articles about Brad and Gerard, who paid a surrogate US$60K for their healthy white infant, or Rose and Jonquil who adopted their precious daughter in China, I detect certain economic, social and cultural issues in play. According to my younger son's therapist, very few of the children adopted in the USA are from foster care.

    As it happens, we are receiving a stipend to assist with household expenses – child support payments from a government agency. We are able to provide them with a comfortable home environment as a result.

    I've also noticed that, of me and my six siblings, the four who attended college have not procreated; the three who did not have five children between them. Although I probably wouldn't have done so even without college.

  • Just today a friend with serious PTSD posted a piece about new developmental psych theories that trauma as a child can lead to earlier sexual activity as a kind of "reproduce now, you could die any minute" biological goad. Sounds plausible enough.

  • @Robert

    One of my assistant managers was a foster parent and the bullshit he went through was incredible. His wife was a social worker but otherwise, I have no idea how anyone would willingly put up with the system. They adopted two of the girls that they had in foster care because the mom was completely incapable of taking care of children. Most of the kids they fostered survived conditions and abuse that would break almost anyone. And to think, other people we worked with were convinced he was a foster parent for the "money".

  • Khaled, you had some excellent comments regarding daycare and how safe, affordable daycare has been implemented in Canada with great results and a better quality of life. However, just like affordable, single-payer healthcare in Canada, it's something we could never have here, also mostly for moral reasons.

    In the USA, there's still a huge, huge stigma against women working, and one way to hobble women is to limit the daycare options to unsafe, unaffordable, or both. As an Old, I grew up in a world with full-day kindergarten and after-school free play on the playground (often supervised by teachers or parents)…and a majority of the mothers not working. My own kids went to a kindergarten that was 2 hours and 15 minutes a day, and recent comments on a popular website indicate that there are still many, many schools with half-day kindergarten. The school day is only 6 hours in a world where the average work day is 8 hours, and the school year itself is only 180 days. Not only that, but the time the kids are actually in school is erratic–they're on 3 days, off 2 days (not contiguous days), have late starts and early dismissals sprinkled throughout the year, random holidays nobody's ever heard of, but go on many federal holidays. It's a nightmare.

    Any talk of regularizing the school schedule to fit with reality meets with a haughty disclaimer that if Mommy just *stayed home where she belonged*, this would not be at all troublesome.

  • @Robert; it's good to hear you adopted! My spouse and I considered fostering children after ours were in college, but for various reasons came to the conclusion that we just weren't cut out for it and didn't pursue it. As a tax-payer, I am thrilled that I can contribute to your children's well-being.

    @Khaled; it's so frustrating when Mor(m)ons like Tarp-man freely admit they take in oodles of foster boys to do all their work for them. The foster parents I have met all say openly that having the children costs them far more than they receive for their care, because raising a child right requires support and enrichment that goes beyond basic subsistence.

  • We've all read Linda Tirado's work, yes?

    Now can we stop the obsessing about the sex and reproduction lives of The Poors?

    How about obsessing about the obscenely rich? And how to make them less rich? And the 99% rest of us less poor? And The Poors less desperate?

    This ain't the fucking 17th century

  • @Katydid

    My old assistant manager had three kids of his own and they took in three foster kids. He would tell me that they would go to the grocery store basically three times a week and drop between $150$-200 each time to feed everyone with two working adults. They almost never ate out, in part because one of his boys has celiac disease, and in part because they couldn't afford to. The "money" they got was a few hundred in food stamps (EBT or now SNAP) and a small stipend for other expenses. Anyone who is "making money" on foster children doesn't feed them correctly and/or doesn't clothe them acceptably. Throw in the time and energy it takes to deal with the agencies (supervised visits with parents, therapy for the children, extra help with school, etc.) and they are deeply in the hole when it comes to finances.

    The people that take in foster kids to work for them are a result of lack of meaningful regulation by the state agencies or knowing corruption upon the part of those agencies. Don't we have laws against child labor? I know farm kids help with "chores" (my mom grew up on a farm) but for those parents to make a "profit" by having foster kids means that something is seriously broken in how the kids are schooled or the care they receive.

  • Hello there, Ed; long-time reader, first-time poster. (I first noticed you through your education-related posts like "VALEDICTION" and "MAGIC BULLET".) I really like your posts, definitely your writing style too.

    There are so many things I want to say here, and you encapsulate it all pretty well. The hard-to-escape situation, the compassion fatigue, etc.

    Your thoughts about people having more kids when they really can't or shouldn't reminded me of something else I've seen before. Scroll down to the last entry in this article: "Daddy's job in video games was no longer a cool thing they liked to brag about" http://kotaku.com/the-pizza-party-where-everyone-got-fired-1685455125
    Like you said in this post, there's real no way to say this without sounding like a judgmental asshole: "I feel sorry for your plight, really I do, but seriously, how could you have more kids in this situation?" Even in the comments section for this article, people were saying it like that.
    But what I see as a big irony here? You and others here at G&T have been saying how hard it is for the poor folks to move because of how they can't afford it. Ironically, the family in the article which I just shared seems to have had the extreme opposite problem: they're forced to move around way too much and way too often. It's like that family from "The Grapes of Wrath," hopping from one "opportunity" to the next.

    Maybe I'll share more thoughts later…

    Sincerely,
    X-RWU

  • So my plan for adopting a bunch of foster kids and forcing them to work in a Dickensian sweatshop in my basement won't pay off?

    Sigh. Back to the drawing board.

  • @Khaled; from piano lessons to school field trips to soccer teams to braces to prom, there are so many things foster care doesn't pay for. When you have jury duty in my state, someone from the state stands up and makes a little speech about it and asks for donations that goes into a fund to help foster parents pay for these things, because the money paid to foster parents isn't enough to cover them.

  • Michael Furlan says:

    I don't share the feeling of helplessness.

    We have ways of addressing disasters.

    Accept the concept of triage. Find those who can be helped and ignore those who won't or don't need it.

  • X-RWU, that's article was heartbreaking. I was a witness to the dot-com boom/bust here in the San Francisco Bay Area back in the late '90s. A good friend had what he thought was a good job. After the wreckage settled, it took him five years of work elsewhere to get out from under the mountain of debt that that good job resulted in. He's now cutting hair in a state far away, and seems much happier.

    And he was single with no kids.

  • Robert, hi there and thanks for sharing that story. I'm glad to hear that your good friend eventually got his life back together and was able to move on.
    Still, if you want to read more stories like that (and maybe have an excuse to take a swipe at a notable Right-wing jerk too), take a look at the last story in this particular article: http://kotaku.com/video-game-layoff-stories-1593420342
    (See: Big Huge Games; Curt Schilling)

  • I say this as someone who really wanted to work in games, but engineers who work on games are deeply stupid.

    They almost all have the skills to get good, reliable, well paying (100-300% raise. seriously.) but probably boring work elsewhere. Is writing database apps to optimize an ecommerce site not as interesting? Definitely. But you're treated well, paid well, and the work is steady.

    People who sign up to write games and keep coming back for the abuse are just stupid.

    The moron in the above link who dragged his family through 20 years of incessant instability while he and his wife decided to pump out 5 kids is guilty of child abuse and his wife should leave if he can't grow up enough to do right by his family. It would be one thing if there weren't much better work easily available, but there is.

  • I wasn't trying to shift this blog post and its conversation from heartless evictions to the wretched conditions of working in the video game industry (I have never worked in that field and most likely never will), but FWIW, I suppose you can add "inability to get a better job and escape a worse job" as another reason some people are stuck in this mess which Ed is talking about.

    And yes, it's a lot worse when you've got a spouse and kids to worry about too.

  • Knox Harrington says:

    @katydid Is the social stigma really "huge?" I know it exists and persists, but with women making up around 47% of the work force I'm not sure it gets the blame you give it. To some extent, I think all the school times are a fight between parents who think it's crazy to start class at 7:30am and there's research to show performance drops from earlier start times. That and we can't even figure out how to test kids without breaking into partisan blocks. Too many tests, not enough to keep teachers accountable, common core, etc., etc. Just pinning this on a social stigma simplifies a rather complex problems in education.

  • @Knox: are you a working woman? Do you read any of the many, many blogs that working women write/comment on? There is absolutely a lot of shaming and stigma against women who work, particularly from the right wing.

    Your post is not very clear. Early school times are a result parents who think it's too early fighting? Really? Interesting. Testing kids in partisan blocks? What does that even mean? "Not enough" *what* to keep teachers accountable? Not enough tests? Common core? You object to a standard basis to measure learning? What exactly is your point?

  • Knox Harrington says:

    @katydid I agree my post was poorly composed. Also agree about the stigma. But having lived in a place women can't wait very drive legally, huge isn't the word I'd use. I think there are a lot of reasons for our education system being fucked. I'm not seeing the line between the stigma of working women and all the problems that contribute to 1) making school times and dates align with parents obligations; and, 2) an education system that is fragmented in design, execution and outcomes. I mean this sincerely: was my post a little more clear? I'm trying to type on a phone with sweaty hands and it's giving me hell.

  • Knox Harrington says:

    @katydid, I canna figure out how to edit so here's a follow up: the stigma is real, but if we eliminated it, we'd still have huge problems left to solve. That's all I mean.

  • I just read Kevin D. Williamson's heartfelt plea to the lazy, ignorant poors to Move Somewhere Else.

    Haven't wanted to punch somebody in the face so much since the last time I saw a picture of Rafael Eduardo. The undertones of 'well, I did it – why can't YOU?' reminded me of Dickens, specifically "Hard Times". The idea that there is somewhere else where Joe Sikspak, wife and kids could live in dignity and security if they'd only just uproot themselves from Methhead Estates is understandably appealing, especially when it insulates you from giving a good goddamn about a system that benefits you and harms others.

    I have taught my sons this truth – everyone who succeeds, tried. Not everyone who tries, succeeds. The second half of this truth is anathema to those who subscribe to the Just World fallacy.

  • Also, curious how the Republican base were the salt of the Earth when they supported Shrub, McCain and Romney, but are addled Gamma Minus proles when they support Trump. A subtle pattern begins to emerge.

  • @Knox; a bit more clear, but I think you're missing the point. Instead of adressing the real problems (which will follow in the next sentence), the solution is to demonize people: middle-class women who work (cuz if dem uppity bitches would just stay home, life would be perfect), and poor women who don't work (cuz if dem lazy bitches would get off their butts and go to the no-doubt six-figure-salary jobs that await them, life would be pefect).

    My opinion, as someone who started pre-school in Japan at the age of 3 and spent most of her school career in countries other than the USA, and who put 2 kids through the USA school system from k to high school, is this: the school schedule is completely and utterly hosed and quite frankly the complete opposite of what children need to learn.

    Many schools start for the year before Labor Day…but only partial days, and only a couple of days a week until after Labor Day. For older kids, this is frustrating because they're not-quite-in but not-quite-out of school, making regulating their circadian clock difficult–older kids stay up later and wake up later, and having to get up super-early and then able to sleep in see-saws their schedules. For the little kids, it's a disaster as they try to adjust to "Hurry, hurry to get on the bus so you cna turn around and come home again 2 hours later". Throughout the year they'll get stupid, no-point half-days for no apparent reason. Children thrive on predictability, and there's zero predictability in the school schedule.

    This stupid randomness continues through the fall, with a week- or two-week-long Christmas break coming…just before the snow season hits in January. So they're off school, then they're back on, then they get walloped with snow days. By the time the snows are gone, it's time for Easter Break! Yay! Then it's Mandatory Testing Sweepstakes, followed by half-days for end-of-year testing. The high school seniors have test days? Instead of having a 2-hour block to test, a 2-hour block to eat/rest, and another 2-hour block to test, the kids all have half-days–except the kindergartners, who can't attend school at all.

    Because the school is never prepared for the snow days even though it snows every single year, the end-of-year date is a mystery up until the very last minute, every year. Will they have to go extra days to make up? Get out earlier than predicted? Who the heck knows? That won't be announced until a couple of days before.

    What all this uncertainty and unpredictability leads to is hyper, unfocused children. This is not the fault of working/not working mothers. This could easily be fixed…but nobody wants to fix it.

  • Very tangential, but Ed your family is a lot like mine. My mother is an only child and my dad only has one sibling-a sister. My aunt is divorced and never had kids. So I've only fleetingly had an uncle and never had any first cousins. My grandparents all came from huge families but they're scattered all over the place. And I never had much interest in tracking down extended family. I get on ok with second cousins but they're getting older and their kids are just too attenuated in relation to me.

  • Knox Harrington says:

    @katy Yeah, you make some great points. Not being a parent and being a white, educated man, I don't think about these things. It's nice to hear a different perspective on it.

  • @Drew; to circle back to Ed's original point, there are many, many reasons why people fall behind on their bills that have absolutely nothing to do with them being feckless and wantonly disregarding the rules of society. Once they get evicted, their lives go to the next level in hard.

  • I'm old, pretty much unable to work, many K in debt, all short term, and living in a house that would prolly get condemed if the Inspection Services folks got in for a look.

    I'm fine, the dog's fine–of course, I'm white so MY neighbors don't immediately identify me as a shiftless layabout–not until they get to know me a little better.

    Being born black and poor is just not a path to success for most folks.

  • About halfway through evicted. Some thoughts:

    Most people fuck up, but poor people don't have a margin for error in their fuck ups. That is, people who can rescue you from either your own mistakes or bad luck. And people who can rescue you are a rare resouce like gold, and have to be resorted to sparingly.

    The eviction economy is like a feudal kingdom, where the lord has a lot of leeway to call shots (rather than the formal legal system) and knowing how to work him/her and the courtiers can be the difference between making it or not. It's like the difference between the schoolbook view of how laws are made and how it really happens.

    I did indeed have some sympathy for Sherrrena the landlady, until I read the part about her paying low and hustling high-priced homes to the mentally handicapped, leaving them in tons of debt for a place they would probably lose to finance her lifestyle. Fuck her up the ass sideways with a pineapple.

  • PhoenixRising says:

    @Robert, you're welcome–I worked hard for 25 years to get you & your husband the right to marry and adopt from the public system. (And so did "Jonquil".)

    "or Rose and Jonquil who adopted their precious daughter in China…"

    Relatedly, fuck you very much. And again, I worked for your equality; sorry I decided not to put parenting on hold until we won. Sincerely, you're welcome to the results of my efforts; please check your judgments while you enjoy them.

    @katydid: precisely! The one public system that should be helping families (poor and otherwise) is a tool making moms unable to work FT.

    @Ed: So now that long-acting contraception is covered by all medical plans, including Medicaid under Title X, we will find out what happens when the urge to have sex is decoupled from the requirement to reproduce…even for the poor!

    Early returns from a project funded by Guttmacher in Colorado indicate that it's unbelievably cheap and effective to hand out IUDs to any girl who will cooperate with placement of the device, and get her to the age of 21-23 (they work for 5 years) without the first child.

    What appears to be happening is that girls from families/ZIP codes where early parenthood is common seem to be able to choose and space childbearing over the decade following IUD placement in a way that…this is the key…lets them complete education and get some work experience before they have the first one. And they tend to want to complete the family with a 2nd child vs a 5th, and also tend to go back to work. Win/win/win.

    Except for the godbotherers. They don't win when young couples from poor and working-class families can have consequence-free sex. Because Jesus.

  • Knox Harrington says:

    @PhoenixRising. You might need a hobby. Or maybe some meds to take the edge off. You sound angry. And bitter. You should know that these people aren't staying up nights trying to figure out how to please you. Your anger, however justified, only hurts you. Regarding your fight for equality where marriage is concerned: maybe the gays will name their holiday after you. Like "Phoenix Day," in recognition that none of it would happen without you out there screaching angrily into Internet forums. "That we gays highly resolve that Jim and Fred couldn't have been lawfully wed but for the effort of Phoenix. That further, we resolve that it wasn't through a generational shift in attitudes, nor our tireless and often dangerous activism that got us gays further acceptance in 200 years than the fair sex has achieved in 400,000. Adopted this day, _____, Signed, The Gays"

    Chill out. Nobody wants to read that spleen.

  • Ooh, posting on a dead thread! But if anyone reads this far another book that fits here and is compelling is Less than $2.00 a Day by Kathryn Eden and Luke Schaefer.

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