September 28, 2000
12:31 PM   Subscribe

Find out if you would survive as a poor, single mother.
posted by sudama (59 comments total)
For some context, check out this article about an American University professor who assigns this exercise to his students: "we can all agree that poverty is bad; that’s not controversial. I want them to think hard about what specific policies would end child poverty, how much they would cost, and how to get a bill to pass."
posted by sudama at 12:32 PM on September 28, 2000

Cool--I know that guy. Small world.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:04 PM on September 28, 2000

What in the world is someone who can only get $6.50 an hour job, and has no other means of support, doing with 2 young children? There is no reason to believe from the article and its applet exercise that she had been a skilled worker who suffered some disability or displacement from her trade...

If she had a husband / boyfriend whom she reasonably believed was able to support children, where is he? The solution to her problems is not a public subsidy (through welfare or through a "minimum" wage so astronomical that it has no relationship to the value of the labor) but to apply whatever legal and social mechanisms are required to enforce that father's obligations to support.

If the case is that there NEVER WAS a father with the ability to support children, then the blame for this situation lies wholly on the mother's shoulders. Her behavior is criminally irresponsible and subsidizing it only encourages her teenage relatives and neighbors to emulate it.

Any solution to extend compassion to these children and assure their health and nutrition, must NOT have the effect failing to express society's unequivocal condemnation of their mother's profoundly antisocial behavior. Additional benefits for such mother's should be explored only from this premise...

In the case of true social accidents -- i.e., mother or father had resources adequate to their children and reasonably believed they would continue to have them, but suffered disabilities, death, or economic-change displacement outside of their control, there is a fairly substantial network of transition, survivor, and disability support assistance which should contribute to the kid's welfare. When that support network falls short, a case by case analysis should support generous and compassionate subsidies.
posted by MattD at 1:14 PM on September 28, 2000

Any solution to extend compassion to these children and assure their health and nutrition, must NOT have the effect failing to express society's unequivocal condemnation of their mother's profoundly antisocial behavior.

I'm curious--what solution would you suggest?
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:19 PM on September 28, 2000

I suppose in a strictly rational economist's world mattd's opinion is correct. However I would prefer to live in a society where we have a humane floor that no one will fall beneath. There is also self interest at work here, since I derive many benefits from living in a country where children can grow up healthy and happy. The idea that we should try to be more like this and less like mattd's sink or swim "you should have thought of that before you got pregnat" world is sometimes called progress.
posted by chrismc at 1:26 PM on September 28, 2000

The numbers are skewed, and there is no way to win. If this hypothetical poor woman is spending her money the way it is shown here, it explains how she ended up with 2 kids she cannot afford.
Would it be greater progress if more people had children they could not afford?
posted by thirteen at 1:46 PM on September 28, 2000

"There is no reason to believe from the article...that she had been a skilled worker..."

On the internet, no one knows you're an ant.

"Any solution to extend compassion to these children and assure their health and nutrition, must NOT have the effect [of] failing to express society's unequivocal condemnation of their mother's profoundly antisocial behavior."

What do you want to do? Throw her in jail? Or maybe we'll take away her food stamps. After all, that would be UNEQUIVOCAL.

In short, you're not going to "extend compassion" to these or any children by actively condemning and further alienating their mother. You'd be extending something else, possibly something of value, but not compassion.

In a world of overflowing grain elevators and slow starvation there's more to being healthy than nutrition.
posted by ajh at 1:53 PM on September 28, 2000

The numbers are skewed, and there is no way to win.

Obviously a discussion of the numbers would require far more research than any of us (with the possible exception of johnb) are likely to do, but if you read the article I linked in the first comment you'll find that quite a few presumably intelligent college students had a hard time making ANY set of numbers work out, given real-world salaries and real-world expenses. In fact, the more research they did the more likely they were to come to the conclusion that, among other things, the minimum wage is nowhere near a livable wage.
posted by sudama at 2:03 PM on September 28, 2000

I meant badly skewed. Poor people do not pay the median, they pay the bottom end of the curve. I grew up with a single mother on Chicago's south side. We never would have paid $688 for an apartment. My last apartment before I bought my house 3 years ago was $300 a month, and I know people further south who were paying less than that Why is the mother paying $50 for shoes when there are hundreds of thrift stores in the city. I am not saying she does not deserve nice things, but when you are poor somethings are more important than others. If the game allowed more realistic choices you could finish without being in the hole.
posted by thirteen at 2:12 PM on September 28, 2000

It must be great to be a spoiled little brat with no compassion whatsoever. Life would be so EASY, man. Your philosophy is almost zen in its complete lack of human emotion.
"Her behavior is criminally irresponsible" Are you insane? I dunno, I'm just wondering, cause that sounds, ya know, like you're an evil crazy guy. Or like a guy who's read a few too many economics text books while listening to Rush Limbaugh, I'd guess.

posted by Doug at 2:13 PM on September 28, 2000

Argh! I am so very very tempted to turn this into a New Regime post, but I'm not going to. This is taking a hell of a lot of self-control....

First, people are wholly irrational when it comes to children, and also unbelievably irresponsible. By way of example: A friend of mine teaches elementary school -- one of her students was named (and I am not kidding) "Shitler". No, really.
Her parents also treated her with complete contempt (lots of name-calling based on her being overweight). Her parents are monsters and I'd like to have them arrested or killed just on general principle. That kid is only nine, and she's basically doomed already.

So, given a world were parents like that exist in large numbers (oh, they do), it doesn't make a lot of sense to talk about parental penalties -- a penalization system tends to assume that the person being penalized is able to think rationally (when it comes to having kids, you can't go for negative feedback, because the feedback will happen after it's too late). A better response, IMHO, is damage-control. Just try to minimize the disaster. I think that's what most social-support programs are aiming for. Minimizing the damage, and that's all.
posted by aramaic at 2:18 PM on September 28, 2000

That's why it's called minimum wage and not livable wage. In the current economic condition it is unbelievable to think that anyone willing to put forth effort can make no more than $6.65 a hour.

Affordable childcare. It would allow the mother to perhaps work 50-60 hours a week increasing her income to $16,612.50-19,935. After 6 months to one year there is almost always a raise that is greater than the increase in the cpi.

A few very tough years of hard work and EXTREME sacrifice, along with the decrease in childcare once the children reach school age, would eventually lead to a much improved situation.
posted by Mick at 2:22 PM on September 28, 2000

>In the current economic condition it is unbelievable to think that anyone willing to put forth effort can make no more than $6.65 a hour.<

unbelievable or not, this wage may reflect the current prosperity: it is, after all, above minimum wage. in any case, this prosperity is a glitch and won't last forever. the point being that even if, in the year 2000, most people can make more than this (I have no idea what the going wage is for unskilled labor), it usually isn't so and it won't be so again.

in any case, even if better jobs are out there, looking for work takes time, and with two jobs she may not be able to take the time to go out and get one of them.

>Affordable childcare. It would allow the mother to perhaps work 50-60 hours a week increasing her income to $16,612.50-19,935. After 6 months to one year there is almost always a raise that is greater than the increase in the cpi.<

affordable childcare would be a help, but what about the opportunity for the mother to see her children once in a while? help them with homework, listen to their day?

admittedly, when one has to make hard choices, these are the things that fall aside, but it's still not ideal or even desirable.

as for the raise: I've never had a low-wage job that ever gave me a raise. I've had lots of those, I've held them for years, and I've never, ever been offered a raise in any of them.

posted by rebeccablood at 2:46 PM on September 28, 2000

MattD: Having two kids out of wedlock when you earn $6.50 an hour is criminally irresponsible? Is that one of the thousand points of light President Bush used to tout -- jailing single mothers to serve as a lesson to the others?
posted by rcade at 3:02 PM on September 28, 2000

Never ever offered a raise? Even part time highschool kids pretty much expect $.25 every six months. I've worked in no-skill jobs and put forth little to no effort and always got a raise

Wanting to see your kids is a strong desire, 60 hours a week still leaves time for that. If I could work 50 hours and go to school full time then she can help with her kids' homework.

Life is tough but there is no reason why anyone can not succeed in life (with the exception of the disabled, who should be taken care of by society). They will go through tough times and suffer but that's pretty much what life's about.

I experienced poverty as a child first hand, life was not always easy but I overcame it. It wasn't easy(mostly do to mistakes I made and still pay for today) but it is far from impossible.
posted by Mick at 3:21 PM on September 28, 2000

It used to be that there were lots of jobs for people with relatively little education that paid a decent wage. A lot of these were manufacturing jobs, steel mills, auto plants. But then all the jobs were sent to places were companies could pay people $1.00 per day. So now we are left with $6.50 an hour at Arby's intstead of $18.00 an hour at Ford. It is not so simple as MattD would like it to be and I'm starting to wonder who is really criminal. And of course the minimal wage is worth a lot less than it used to be.

If we had a decent safety net of health care and child care, kids would be better prepared for school, would go longer, maybe get a better job, maybe break the cycle. Then at least if you had a low wage job you could feel some dignity from the fact that society says, "we need manual labor, there is a place for you here, you deserve health care too, etc." Then maybe the parents wouldn't become bitter resentful monsters, which sometimes happens, as aramaic says, and it wouldn't rub off on the kids. Maybe I sound utopian, but we gotta start somewhere, progress is nice.
posted by chrismc at 3:28 PM on September 28, 2000

>Never ever offered a raise? Even part time highschool kids pretty much expect $.25 every six months. I've worked in no-skill jobs and put forth little to no effort and always got a raise.<

admittedly, most of those were waitress jobs (standard boss reply: "give yourself a raise!"), but, no, I never got one that I can think of.

I think it makes a big difference whether you are working for a large company or a tiny company, as I was. again, this was many years ago, so maybe with the present economy raises are more prevalent.

I've experienced extreme poverty, too, as an adult. the thing I rarely hear discussed is the demoralizing effect it has over time. I began to believe that I'd never make more than I was at the time. it was nonsense, of course, but after struggling and struggling to make ends meet it began to seem as if that's all there was and ever would be.

of course, nonsense for me and nonsense for anyone else are two different things. I had a lot of advantages: an education, a prosperous background, the ability to learn quickly.... and it still ground me down.

I can't imagine what it would be like with no education, few or no skills, and children.

posted by rebeccablood at 3:44 PM on September 28, 2000

OK, a few responses.

First, of course, I was intending to be provacative without being a troll, so I won't defend myself (nor take offense) at the provoked tone of the reactions :)

Second, a few responses.

MrMoonPie (and others) wonder what means to require that the subsidy to the children of grossly irresponsible parents would carry the right social sanctions against the parents ... with Aramaic observing that the parents are likely to be highly insenstive to such sanctions.

Answer: I don't really know for sure which solutions might work ... however I DO KNOW that virtually EVERYONE responds to incentives.

I stand by "criminally irresponsible." You get put in the slam for stealing $100 from a liquor store ... what is the right way to describe someone who willfully imposes upon society the vast costs of children for whom she cannot provide and whom she will bring up in an environment of deprivation extraordinarily correlated to producing adults who cannot make a signficant contribution, or who are out-and-out predators?

We can -- and should be -- humane and passionate towards children who are innocent of their parents' offenses, but that does not require the same tolerance or leniency to their parents. Kids are usually pretty savvy -- they know when their parents are unworthy, and they sure as HELL don't learn the right things about what society rewards (and punishes) when the mixed messages start in their living room.

It is probably not going to far that all the accomplishments of the human race flow from the imperative to provide for your children and the knowledge that they will suffer (and you will suffer doubly seeing it) if you fail to do so. We simply cannot engineer that dynamic out of our society out of some misbegotten sense of compassion.

And, finally, I agree -- and should have made the claims myself -- that the budget is out of whack. I lived for 3 years on the South Side of Chicago and it was a tremendous splurge to spend $650 on an apartment (which bought a _huge_ place close to mass transit in a very safe corner of the neighborhood) ... I make 6 figures now and I almost never pay as much as $50 for a pair of shoes...

Also, no one is entitled to a 40 hour week. Virtually everyone I know works 50, 60 and 70 hours weeks, and we do because it is necessary to provide the future we feel must provide ourselves and our families. No way that there should be an exception to that principal, or, at least, an exception that society is obliged to pay for.

posted by MattD at 3:51 PM on September 28, 2000

I could give a detailed explanation of why policies that provide financial aid to the poor are effective, but looking over some of the posts on this thread, I'm not sure that would be very helpful. People like MattD are *not* arguing that such policies fail to improve the lives of poor women; rather, he has a different goal entirely: to *degrade* their lives in a dubious attempt to deter alleged future transgression (as MattD apparently regards the practice of having children, unless you are sufficiently well-off, preferably with a six figure salary).

But why stop there, MattD? Why not take it to the next level and simply put to death all single mothers? After all, by not executing them, you create an incentive to be a single mother, right?

The answer is, in civilized countries, you just don't treat people like that. It's called "caring about people other than yourself"; you should try it, MattD.

Indeed, this country is more than wealthy enough to provide the rudiments of equal opportunity: equal access to health care, to food, to reasonably safe working conditions -- and equal opportunity to have children, independent of tax bracket. We can argue about the ideal extent and strength of the social safety net, but there's really not much one can say in response to naked callousness (except to express moral repulsion, as in Doug's post).
posted by johnb at 4:24 PM on September 28, 2000

>Virtually everyone I know works 50, 60 and 70 hours weeks, and we do because it is necessary to provide the future we feel must provide ourselves and our families.<

MattD: who is raising your children? someone has to do that.

>she will bring up in an environment of deprivation extraordinarily correlated to producing adults who cannot make a signficant contribution, or who are out-and-out predators?<

economic deprivation is hard and has consequences, but it seems to me that much of that can be ameliorated by a loving, present parent. this emotional deprivation is the worst, I think, and the most dangerous, particularly since once the children are barely able to fend for themselves she will probably choose to leave them alone while she's at work so that she can pay for some of the other things she needs.

it seems to me that creating a situation that enabled the mother (or father) to spend a modicum of time with their children would go a long way toward breaking the cycle you speak of.

posted by rebeccablood at 4:27 PM on September 28, 2000

As much logical sense as your arguments may make, MattD, I can't accept your conclusions. There is a point under which you are well and truly fucked no matter how hard you work. The less money you have, the harder it is to make more, and it says nothing about your moral character if you can't make it over the wall.

Don't you think that if getting out of poverty were as easy as working more hours, finding a better job, living in a cheaper house, and cutting corners just a little tighter, more people would manage to do it?

Having children is part of the human experience; to many people, it's an essential part. Who are you to decide who should and shouldn't be allowed to partake in it? If the instinct to take care of one's children is as deeply rooted as you claim, doesn't that imply that parents will do the absolute best they can to take care of their kids? And if it's not quite the universal truth you make it out to be, what on earth do you hope to accomplish by punishing people who've gotten themselves in over their heads?

posted by Mars Saxman at 4:32 PM on September 28, 2000

Where is the 'Heroin' button on this Poverty Calculator?
posted by internook at 4:34 PM on September 28, 2000

Profoundly anti-social behavior. Hmmm. Raging at the existence of the problem is fine, Matt, but a little context might make things a bit clearer...
The society the kid lived in did little to prevent the sort of behavior she has perpetrated against it. From well before the time of her birth society has encouraged young males to be competitive, aggressive and sexually active. All the while instilling a "just a girl" self image in females. Her role models were likely all just like her. Poor, doing thier best in the face of a lifetime of shitty options and bad choices. To confront ignorant kids equipped with shit for information in an adult situation and then lay it all on thier shoulders when they act out of ignorance is a bit too cut and dried for me.
posted by quonsar at 4:35 PM on September 28, 2000

someone who willfully imposes upon society the vast costs of children for whom she cannot provide

Every mother should have the right to have as many children as she pleases, regardless of how much money she owns or makes. This, among other things, is what taxes are for. Those who are more fortunate, have more money, assist those who have less money so both can lead fulfilling lives.

Each political meal should be spiced with a little socialism.
posted by geir at 4:55 PM on September 28, 2000

We're so screwed up in this country it's amazing. I work at a job doing basically monkey work. Two chimps with 15 minutes of computer training can do what I do with pretty acceptable results. Yet, I make far more than the national per capita income. Do I do any more work than those making less money? Hell no. Does what I do contribute at all to society? Only in that it keeps me busy for lots of hours each week, I guess.
So the fact that a slacker like myself, with about as much ambition as I have wings, can make a decent living, yet a person working 40 hours a week at a difficult job can't provide for her children is sickening. But then we have Matt, who thinks that it's criminal to be poor and pregnant in this country. I'm sure he also thinks the poor shouldnt use interstate highways, because they don't contribute to their upkeep. That kind of insane, sick shit.
posted by Doug at 4:57 PM on September 28, 2000

1) Wondering if this close tag will fix the odd formatting I'm seeing.

2) I was going to make a stupid joke about the single mother getting saving money by getting a free TiVo, but I won't.
posted by gluechunk at 5:34 PM on September 28, 2000

I have to say that I think MattD's response to the single mother example came not from being " an evil crazy guy" but because he genuinely gives a damn. I get angry too when I see people making stupid, irresponsible parenting choices. MattD's tone was a hard, but he should be able to post what he thinks, without having bullshit like " I'm sure he also thinks the poor shouldnt use interstate highways" " a spoiled little brat with no compassion whatsoever." thrown at him. And I think that choice and responsibility are too often ignored when discussing problems like this, people prefer to make a public display of their pity and social idealism than to face individual problems straightforwardly. As for claiming that "The society the kid lived in" took some of those choices from them, I say bollocks. For as many examples of people who abandoned responsibility for their actions, made the wrong choices, whatever, in any society you will find those who've managed to do the right thing by themselves and others.
posted by Catch at 5:42 PM on September 28, 2000

There's a new study of poverty in Canada from the CD Howe Institute, available in pdf.
posted by todd at 5:44 PM on September 28, 2000

arguing why no one should ever work 70 hours a week is a whole other debate. however accepting it in stride in pursuit of "6 figures" is certainly an insight into a mindset. stop and smell the roses. all this breathing in never breathing out makes a person tense.
posted by chrismc at 5:52 PM on September 28, 2000

Yeah, Catch, the caring was just dripping from Matt's post. Especially the part about it being criminally irresponsible to have a child when poor.

And I do think that Matt would agree that the poor shouldn't use interstate highways. His outrage at the poor having children isnt because of what becomes of the child, which might have been somewhat reasonable, but that they are taking or "stealing" from society. Ya know, by doing things like asking for medicine for their kids, and food. So, using the reasoning that assistance to the working poor is stealing, why isnt a person using public services like roads and police stealing when that person isn't paying the taxes that pay for them?
posted by Doug at 6:03 PM on September 28, 2000

>Every mother should have the right to have as many children as she pleases, regardless of how much money she owns or makes?
We all do have that right. But is it right? I personally have not had children yet (and maybe never will) because I have not felt that I can afford it. I wouldn't consider doing so with the intention of having others take financial responsibility. That said, circumstances beyond our control sometimes force us into less than ideal conditions. Virtually any woman could find herself in a single mother situation....let's not assume she's evil.
posted by bwanabetty at 6:38 PM on September 28, 2000

hail marxism, geir!

i didn't get that mattd thinks it's criminal to be poor and pregnant...what i get out of his argument is that it's criminal for someone who can barely take care of herself to CHOOSE not once, but twice to have a child.

a lot of the arguments here are about what SHOULD be done to make it better for poor single mothers and that's honorable. they aren't about the current state of affairs, however, that this case study exists in. there was an element of "feeling sorry" for the make believe woman and i just don't. birth control is available and it's cheap.

yeah, it's her right to bring as many children into the world as she wants to, but it's her responsiblity to deal with the consequences of her actions. it would be great if our resources were more evenly distributed, but they're not.
posted by centrs at 6:44 PM on September 28, 2000

Would it be greater progress if more people had children they could not afford?

Yes, because then we'd be forced to contemplate a solution to the problem of child poverty which doesn't involve branding parents as "criminally irresponsible". After all, MattD doesn't want some compassionate government claiming more of his six bloody figures in tax.

After all, wasn't Clinton's mother (or Lincoln's parents) criminally irresponsible, given such a definition?
posted by holgate at 6:48 PM on September 28, 2000

Okay, the elitist is back.

First off, I don't think we're understanding this person's probable worldview, even those of us who have been poor. The average IQ is 100 (no, I don't want to get into a "Mismeasure of Man" argument, it's the measurement we have). Those currently in poverty are often raised in poverty, and the majority do not have the cognitive skills to realize there is another way. Their world is the only world.

If you told an average person (there are always exceptions) in the situation described that she was being criminally irresponsible, she would have no idea what you were talking about.

In a utopian society, everyone is smart, funny, motivated, and responsible. In our world, the majority are dull, myopic, and narcissistic. Consequences are an impossible concept, as is social responsibility.

Is there a cure? Hard to say. It would be nice to think we could put tremendous effort into education for all ages, and into making certain that children are well-fed and cared for. Maybe things will get better, and there is certainly hope. On the other hand, there have always been stupid people. Often, those people settle to the bottom, because they can't think their way out. Then, they breed.

PS: To MattD on incentives: women have to go through an uncomfortable exam every year anyway. How about she be able to get a certificate from her doctor stating that she has never had children, and each year she gets a $1000 for it. I would be so there.
posted by frykitty at 7:41 PM on September 28, 2000

A utopian society aspires towards sterility: Huxley and Orwell got that one right.

And "breed" is such a loaded word, frykitty. Try "bring lovely little children into the world" and see how the sentence reads. And take a look at that "them and us" attitude while you're doing it, and see whether "they" include your friends, your family, the people you care about.
posted by holgate at 8:54 PM on September 28, 2000

I'm fully aware of my use of the word "they". I use it to separate myself from my siblings, and from the endless parade of probation clients at the office where I work. I'm not exactly speaking about the subject from a distance. I don't want to be a part of that segment of society, any more than I want to be a skinhead (though certainly there is more choice involved there). The "they" is moveable. We could become Them. They could become Us. I should hope we're all striving for the latter.

I also used the word "breed" intentionally. Having children without an awareness of the consequences is not "bringing lovely little children into the world." It's merely adding more humans that will grow up in the same ignorance as their parents did. That's breeding.

I'm sorry, what was your point again, other than nitpicking my semantics?
posted by frykitty at 9:06 PM on September 28, 2000

If you honestly believe that poor should be pitied and cut slack and allowed to live to a lesser expectations of dignity, self-respect, and common sense than do we, than it is natural (and, following your logic, proper) to reach conclusions very different from mine.

My basic view is that the those who don't know the rules of responsible living intuitively or have not learned them by example of those in their environment, need those rules enforced by social policy, rather than undermined by subsidies for behavior that be condemned if engaged in by those with education or other resources.

If two 22-year old kids in love graduating from Northwestern with a $32,000 a year job each would never DREAM of having a kid until until they were far more secure in their relationship and in the economony, and would face social sanctions from friends, family and colleagues if they didn't, the degree of social sanction and restraint needs to be 10 times higher for a 20-year old kid without a committed partner who has a GED and a $6 an hour job ...

Please also note that in using the phrase "criminally irresponsible," rather than the word "criminal," I really did mean to suggest that the former was not, literally, a criminal act nor should become one. No jail time for women who have kids without partners, money or a decent job or education, don't worry.
posted by MattD at 9:31 PM on September 28, 2000

Oh, and also, stupid thing for me to throw in that 6-figure-income crack. I'm a no-stock-option-having wage slave for the Man and I shouldn't put on airs ... and, looking at my grad school loan statements, I'd most happily swap net worths with pretty much any welfare mom .... but I stand by the cheapness of my shoes!
posted by MattD at 9:35 PM on September 28, 2000

"So the sins of my mother should be visited upon me." (Jessica, Merchant of Venice, Act III Scene 5)

It is one thing to demand that poor single parents be held responsible for their choices. It is quite another to demand the same of their children. Surely, if the impoverished elderly and disabled are entitled to support in our civilized society, surely children too young to support themselves should also be.
posted by shylock at 9:44 PM on September 28, 2000

I'm sorry, what was your point again, other than nitpicking my semantics?

Oh, nothing: but when can you start at the Ministry of Love? I think they'd be glad to have you.
posted by holgate at 9:48 PM on September 28, 2000

Matt: where do you start?

The kid in the $6/hour job is socialized to do exactly what s/he is doing.

I'm assuming we have the same goal: to lift those at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. There are lots of ways to do this, and I'd like to hear your ideas. Here are the things at the front of my mind at the moment:

--Easily-accessed adult education and opportunities to see other segments of society (another country would be especially great) to expand the world-view beyond the narrow focus of low-income housing and McDonald's.

--Media conspiracy depicting the discouragement of large families in entertainment that appeals to the average joe (or joan). More movies about poor people struggling their way to the middle-class.

--Massive, targeted advertising covering the consequences of having children one can't support (I particularly like this one).

More? Anyone?
posted by frykitty at 9:49 PM on September 28, 2000

Those who are more fortunate, have more money, assist those who have less money so both
can lead fulfilling lives.

MY SWEET SATAN! How is it people come up with this stuff. My mother was 17 when she gave
birth to me, and I can state for a fact she never took a penny from anyone to raise me. I am 33
and she is now 50. Up until I was 9 years old she worked in a department store in the
gift wrapping dept., you can imagine she was bringing in tall green. In the evenings she worked the
register in a friends liquor store. I have worked since I was 14, and had 2 jobs since I was 17
(with the exception of a few months in 1990 when the world fell apart). She got a job at At&t
and has been there ever since. She works one job now and dreams of opening an Italian beef
stand (I don't get it). A few years back she was able to move to the suburbs, and it was one of
the only times I ever saw her cry. You all hate the suburbs because they are fake and all that
other garbage, and I cannot say that I like them much either, but it was a real achievement in her
life. We lived all over Chicago, some of the worst neighborhoods in the city. She is getting
comfortable for the first time in her life and she does not owe anyone a goddamn thing. In her
position I would have terminated the pregnancy and had a much better life. My mother made a
stupid mistake, and paid for it herself. I paid for it too, I'm not crying about it. There is much talk
about "criminally irresponsible" so take away the criminal, and you still have irresponsible. It is
irresponsible to have children you cannot provide for. You cannot turn it around. You cannot
make an argument that it IS responsible to have kids that will suffer. I knew kids from poor large
families and unless that family was all, and I mean all, about love, those kids were hard and mean.
You cannot save people from themselves if they can't even realize how they are poisoning their
futures with kids they cannot afford.
I did not wanna get in this thread again, it has all been said in previous discussions, but damn.
Maybe poor people don't need 20 something 2nd generation socialist college kids to give them
hand outs, ever think of that? Some of you would forcibly rob people of their pride. All people
need is to not be held back. I never would have taken help, and I don't wanna be forced to give it.
Someone wanna accuse me of writing a "Kampf" again, go ahead, you will still be wrong. We have a
right to as many children as we can raise properly. The mother in the example? She will get
through, she will get a 1 bedroom and the kids will sleep on a second hand pull out couch in the
living room. She might find a nice man to help. She will buy cheap and save what she can. She
might make her kids study and work hard and maybe go to college, and they won't make the same
mistakes. Or maybe she won't. Ultimately it is her problem, and she might not be so happy to see
you coming at her telling her she could not possibly improve her life without the villages help.

posted by thirteen at 9:56 PM on September 28, 2000

[If you use words a certain way, expect to have to justify them in relation to their common meaning.]

From personal experience: I've done the academic thing, I've got the degrees, I'm probably not going to do badly out of life. My sister failed her exams at 16, messed things up badly, but has managed to pull her life together.

The moment her daughter was born, I realised that the mantle of "responsible sibling" had passed on to her. And while she isn't raising my niece alone, her partner works away from home, and she struggles to make ends meet. And yes, she gets state benefits. And the kid may not grow up with every new toy, but she's loved, and she deserves the chance to flourish.

I just see the "irresponsibility" mindset leading to a situation where you have a bunch of anodyne hyper-educated overworked thirtysomething professionals checking the thermometer while ringing the broker, trying to work out if the current state of the college fund will allow them to breed. And that seems like a perfect way to turn kids into a fucking liability on the tax return. And reminds me too much of the middle-class kids around me at Oxford who grew up feeling the resentment of their responsible middle-class parents.

There's never a right time, there's never a responsible time, because we're not trained for parenthood until it happens. There's no financial test, there's no aptitude test, there's no interview. And if you don't believe that the state should take an interest in its future, don't expect me to send a Christmas card to your shack in the mountains.
posted by holgate at 10:01 PM on September 28, 2000

Getting back to the original comments that MattD made, I don't think scorn (i.e. "society's unequivocal condemnation") serves any purpose whatsoever in reducing the number of children living in poverty. Politicians have run against the stereotypical "welfare mother" since Reagan was elected -- is a concentrated effort to be more scornful going to accomplish anything?

I think the real difference makers are better quality public schools in poor neighborhoods, a shift from large public housing projects to much smaller, more dispersed public housing throughout a community, and more job-training programs that teach real skills.
posted by rcade at 11:20 PM on September 28, 2000

In my city, they blew up the projects to disperse the residents and reduce the concentration of poverty. To the bureaucrats' astonishment, many of the residents - mostly immigrants from cultures wildly divergent from America - didn't want to be dispersed. This was the only community they had.

As for the example in this exercise: people make mistakes. People fall in love with the wrong, wrong person. But I myself have a new daughter, and the amount of attention, work, love (and expense) required is enormous. Enormous. It's one thing to have a kid when you don't have money, prospects or a partner. But it's inexcusable to do it a second time. That's almost premeditated child abuse.
posted by lileks at 11:36 PM on September 28, 2000

Thirteen's response to frykitty hits the nail on the head: "we" cannot lift the poor from poverty. They have to do it themselves.

They need to work hard, economize, study, not have children they can't support, build and maintain churches and other institutions which foster and encourage self-sufficiency and ambition.

In other words, they should hold themselves to the same standards we do, and if they don't, there's very little anyone can do except tinker at the margins.

Our actions should be to model proper behavior, discourage improper behavior, and provide resources which amplify and/or enable the effects of proper behavior.

posted by MattD at 7:05 AM on September 29, 2000

This whole "they/we" thing is ridiculous, MattD. Do you honestly believe that the solution to poverty is to tell "them" to work hard?

As for the "resources that amplify and/or enable the effects of proper behavior," you're talking about a decent place to live in a safe neighborhood with a good school. Many poor people in the U.S. don't have any of the three, so some of the kids growing up there could be the next Horatio Alger Jr. and it might not make a bit of difference.
posted by rcade at 8:37 AM on September 29, 2000

MattD: They need to work hard, economize, study, not have children they can't support, build and maintain churches and other institutions which foster and encourage self-sufficiency and ambition.

These are by their nature long-term plans, the sort of thing that would take generations to take effect. If they work, wonderful-- but while you're building you're churches and developing your media campaigns and, hey, redesigning the basic framework of American society, we've got the problem of a generation of poor citizens who are here now and are having a hard time of it.

It's fine if you want to criticize the state of public assistance programs. But if you want to just scrap them and replace them unilaterally with your solutions, you let all sorts of people who legitimately deserve public assistance fall through the cracks. Unfortunately, all the high-minded idealism in the world doesn't fill any bellies.
posted by shylock at 9:52 AM on September 29, 2000

>It's one thing to have a kid when you don't have money, prospects or a partner. But it's inexcusable to do it a second time. That's almost premeditated child abuse.<

leaving that for a second: why are we assuming that the woman in our story has had her children out of wedlock? she may be divorced or widowed, or abandoned.

the father may not be paying any child support (I know there are laws: and there are fathers that sell off their assets and go underground--I have a close friend whose partner did this; only by chance did a friend of *mine* see his name somewhere, which got us an address, which got her some money...until he disappeared again.)

why assume that this woman did anything "wrong"? lots of people play by the rules and then find that no one else is....

posted by rebeccablood at 11:09 AM on September 29, 2000

I agree Rebecca. It's pretty damned presumptuous of any of us to make ANY judgements whatsoever about situations like this. People are oh-so-quick to judge - but really look at it. To those who are making these snap judgements - you want someone to be responsible for deciding who does and doesn't have the right to have kids?

Maybe you should have to apply to a government department. Provide proof of lineage (for you have to show blood relations exist to take care of the child should anything happen). Provide genetic tests to ensure that you're not bringing disadvantaged children into the world. If bringing poor kids into the world is criminal, after all, how can it not be abuse to have a second downs kid (like, say, neil young) - that's GOTTA be abusive right? And while we're at it we'll store up the DNA so we have a record should anything bad ever happen to the kid. Good idea.

And kids born outside that system - well I think we should mulch them up and feed them to the poor. Then we can solve both problems at once - malnourishment AND overpopulation.

Of course eventually we'll grow the kids in factories, duly licensed by the state.
posted by mikel at 11:34 AM on September 29, 2000

RebeccaBlood -- having the kids out of wedlock was just one of the scenarios -- but it was the scenario I chose to analyze, without either discounting that other scenarios exist nor asserting that the solutions I proposed for the uneducated unwed mother scenarios would apply to the impoverished widow or other scenarios.

The difficulty of compelling support from fathers is one of the hardest problems as far as underclass social policy goes, and a hard problem in the middle and working class scenarios, too.

I would support some fairly intrusive policies (much more intrusive than I would in many other situations) to address this, so long as they were part of package which remove the anti-father bias from custody laws and the courts' application of the same.

posted by MattD at 12:16 PM on September 29, 2000

We can talk endlessly among ourselves, questining the motives and responsibility of a woman who would (supposedly) choose to bring another person into a difficult world, one in which few among us in this thread would know much about (with exceptions to thirteen and others).

There will always exist people who "make it" despite all of the hurdles that they must overcome, and we do well to lift them as shining examples of what it is that hard work and human spirit can accomplish.

However, the fact remains that we live and, through our implicit actions, create a society where we make it even more difficult for people who are in troubled circumstances to lift themselves out of the world in which they have been placed. I oftentimes think of Forster's characterization of those beneath Leonard Bast and his circumstances, briefly beginning, "We are not concerned with the very poor. They are unthinkable, and only to be approached by the statistician or the poet."

I also remember an editorial piece written not too long ago, saying that in the past it was the very wealthy that were removed from the rest of the world, and that today, it is the very poor that are segregated from society (when was the last time that you have spent much time in poor neighborhoods, with poor people?)

Through our policies concerning the poor that require work but leave few viable options requiring child care (while at the same time bemoaning the irresposibility of parents to raise their children), to land use practices that segregate decent-paying jobs out in the suburbs away from the majority of the poor, to a lack of controls requiring employers to pay a living wage, to the inability of such a properous country to provide preventative care that is affordable and accessible, we have made the poor an "other", and as such, created a wall that makes it impossible for all but a fortunate few to climb.

I live, work, and worship among the poor, but I know that I am apart because of the lot given to me in life. But I will be damned if I am to allow our society to continue to build walls around them while at the same time taunting them with epithets of laziness or irresposibility. And yet, we further distance themselves from us by wanting them to live to human standards not anywhere near our own ("How dare you have a child?!").

And as long as we create physical, economic, educational, and societal barriers between "us" and "them", then we cannot poor people living in poor neighborhoods in the midst of plenty to gain meet our terms for how it is that we think they ought to live their lives.

::leaving two cents on table::
posted by Avogadro at 12:46 PM on September 29, 2000

then we cannot poor people living in poor neighborhoods in the midst of plenty to gain meet our terms for how it is that we think they ought to live their lives

this makes my head hurt. the rest of your post makes my heart happy.
posted by sudama at 2:15 PM on September 29, 2000

Just want to note that I believe I've completed my thoughts for this thread -- I think that my contrarian views received a (by and large) intelligent hearing, for which I'm appreciative.

I think it is intersting that this is one of the very longest threads in recent MeFi history, and augers well for possible symposia along a number of social issues de jour.
posted by MattD at 6:18 PM on September 29, 2000

I assume that Mikel has read Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal

posted by Catch at 8:09 PM on September 29, 2000


let me be a bit clearer. When anybody starts deciding who may and may not have children, we're on the slippery slope to fascism. It's so easy to go at an easy target like "the poor" and assume they're irresponsible. Screw that. Anecdotal evidence may support that some are irresponsible - but I venture that no more so than in the more wealthy population. People are irresponsible all over.

So blaming the poor - IMO there must be something more to the views of someone who takes such a stance. I see oppression, wilful oppression at the root, whether conscious or not. It's sick, it's mean, it's ahistorical, and it's intellectually lazy.

posted by mikel at 8:25 PM on September 29, 2000

then we cannot poor people living in poor neighborhoods in the midst of plenty to gain meet our terms for how it is that we think they ought to live their lives

this makes my head hurt.

Yes, that thought emerged strangely. I was in bed sick. I think I mean to say that we cannot expect people in rotten situations to meet our terms.
Proof-read, proof-read, proof-read!
posted by Avogadro at 11:06 AM on September 30, 2000

The only reason poverty is even a mildly tractable problem in the Western world is that the nearly pure capitalism of a century ago has been lightly spiced with socialism. Without welfare programs, the bottom of the ladder would be a lot lower.

Which is better - a dependency-inspiring safety net many people never leave, or a bottomless pit from which escape is inconceivable?

Capitalism is a system where money gets more money. Like it or not, poverty is inevitable. Let's not make it any worse than we have to.

posted by Mars Saxman at 1:22 PM on September 30, 2000

None of us know what circumstances led this woman to be a single mom with two kids. For all we know she could have been a victim of domestic violence and that is why there is no responsible father providing child support. I personally would never have two children if I was struggling to support one, however when a person grows up poor, uneducated and without family support sometimes this is the end result: one more uneducated woman who thinks her only option is to get pregnant. Its easy for all of us to sit here with our computers, and gadgets and upper middle class incomes, incomes that for some of us would not have been possible if we didn't have families who supported us and took interest in our education; and judge this woman. I am the single mother of a two year old son, I am not poor nor "criminally irresponsible" I made the best of an impossible situation. I am lucky, I can provide for my son, he can have all the silly little status items that are so disgustingly important in today's society, but I may never be able to return to school for I made a choice to spend the three hours a night that my son is still awake after we get home with him. Does this make me "criminally irresponsible" because I choose not to juggle work, school , children? I don't think so, it makes me a little better than least my son wont grow up neglected. Another hilarious commentary on today's sad state of affairs is this: child care. Subsidized child care for most metropolitan cities has a waiting list of a year to a year and half..some are longer than that. Private day care can cost up to $300 dollars per week per child. That's $1200 per month folks..
And being married is no guarantee of a father's involvement after the relationship ends, I have known just as many children born in wedlock as out of wedlock who's custodial parent struggled to make ends meet after the marriage ended. But I guess that's their fault too..after all they must not have married the right person.
So Matt, if you are so pure and perfect..then find me a magic solution..I need a good laugh today.
posted by Reeny at 2:13 PM on November 2, 2000

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