Your Lying Eyes

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15 August 2012

Poverty of Ideas

The upcoming NY Times Magazine features a long piece on poverty whose main point appears to be that Barack Obama has been really good for the poor because there's so many more of them now than when he took office.
And so in 2009 and 2010, the Obama administration put a tremendous amount of money, very quickly, into the hands of low-income Americans. As part of the Recovery Act, the administration extended the eligibility rules for existing programs like food stamps and unemployment insurance, and the combination of the collapsing economy and the more generous rules meant the programs grew quickly. The number of individuals receiving food stamps rose to 45.1 million in 2011 from 27.4 million in 2007. From 2008 to 2010, an additional 6.8 million people, mostly children, began receiving Medicaid. Temporary changes in the eligibility criteria for various tax credits, including the earned-income tax credit and the child tax credit, produced tax refunds for millions of low-income workers, often totaling thousands of dollars a year.
That's all good news, by the way, in case it wasn't clear.

Still, the article does a decent job of at least touching on the pathological nature of today's poverty - except that it's racial component is never acknowledged. But went I reached the lengthy article's penultimate paragraph, I was completely dumbstruck by the author's blindness. After profiling a burly male social worker - a "good guy" clearly - and his interventions with a young man named Damien whose getting D's and F's in school, the author provides what he apparently feels is an upbeat outlook for the kid:
On a Friday night, he invited me to a YAP graduation celebration held in the basement of a Baptist church. Damien received a plaque, and he gave a little speech to his peers and mentors. He has two babies now, he said, and it’s hard, but he also has a high-school degree and a job at a shoe store. [Emphasis added]
That's the 18 year old - he has two babies! No problemo! Actually, there is a problem, as the author explains earlier - but it's not Damien's!
“From a child-development point of view,” Shonkoff told me, “we know that being a child in a family at the bottom end of the disadvantage scale means that you’re going to be less likely to get the kind of parenting or other care-giving that will lead to good outcomes and more likely to face the kind of adversity that leads to bad outcomes.”...a critical factor perpetuating poverty from one generation to the next is family dynamics and their effects on child development. This means that if we want to improve social mobility, we need to find a better way to help disadvantaged parents and their children. [EA]
Yes, that's right, "we" need to find a better way.

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