Monday, July 06, 2009

The cycle of poverty

The Sunday Washington Post magazine had a feature article titled "Family Man" about a young father who is "determined to be a loving dad and strong breadwinner." The piece has plenty of criticism for the young couple but I couldn't get past the generally laudatory theme that brave Bobby decided to take care of his family. Well, to evoke Chris Rock, that's what he's supposed to do.

Just to recap: Bobby got involved with Lori who had already had two children from two separate men. The "condom slipped" and she then had Bobby's son, Junior. The car got wrecked by a friend. They're living with the girl's father. Lori needs medication for her bipolar disorder and Bobby has rotting teeth; there's no money for either. (The kids get healthcare through the state of Maryland.) By the end of the story, we find Lori waiting tables at a restaurant while Bobby studies for his GED while working at a car wash.

But no matter what Bobby & Lori's good intentions, their poor decision-making dooms them to be forever dependent on family and then the state. First Bobby had a good construction job until:

Last September, slightly less than a year after he started working at the site (and after a conversation in which he told his boss to "stop f-in' with me"), Bobby was fired.
No unemployment compensation for you, wiseguy. Later a tax refund arrives:

His spirits pick up a few weeks later when he receives a tax refund check for $7,000. About $3,300 of that goes to pay back a loan from his grandfather and to Pete for rent. He takes Lori to Wal-Mart at 11 one night for a shopping spree. With no assurance that things are going to improve any time soon, why not splurge a little?

Lori plows through the racks of Faded Glory short sets and Hanes tees that night to find several pastel outfits for Faith and Hope and something more rugged-looking for Junior. She talks Bobby into buying a Nintendo Wii. They end up spending $800 on various items, and when they get home, Lori insists on learning how to play games on the Wii immediately. They stay up until 3 a.m. in front of the TV screen, laughing and shoving each other like small kids.
More irresponsible purchases:

Bobby tells her that earlier that day he stopped by Circuit City, which is going out of business, to pick up snacks for the kids and two DVDs for them to watch, including "Dude, Where's My Car?"
Apparently, this is not a good time to kick old habits:
Lori says she's going out more often to bars with her girlfriends after work.

He [Bobby] excuses himself to go outside and have a Marlboro Menthol.

He directs her eyes to a gold crucifix that he wears around his neck.

He stops by Applebee's for chicken tenders, and no sooner is he seated than Lori texts asking the time of his interview at the carwash.
And now the coup de grace where Bobby dreams of spending money he doesn't have for things he doesn't need and can't afford:

At 3 p.m., he drives to the carwash. He is back at the house in a half-hour, saying he got the job. One of the first things he thinks of, when he realizes he'll be bringing home a paycheck again, is buying something he saw earlier at Costco, an outdoor playset with a playhouse, slide and swings -- three swings, he points out.

The playset is called the Rainbow All-American Double Decker, and it could be his for $1,299. For that sum, he could get his rotting wisdom teeth removed. Or Lori could buy a year's supply of pills. Or Hope could start seeing a speech therapist. Still, wouldn't it be great to teach Junior to scale the climbing wall and make sand castles?

"Me and him are gonna grow up together," Bobby says.
I want to sympathize, I do, but when you give kids money they go out and buy candy. When you give money to kids who have kids, they spend it on Olive Garden and Nintendo Wii games. They're children, one and the same. Simply put, Lori's father should take 100% of their income and parcel it out to them like an allowance.


Bram said...

Funny stuff. My wife and I are breaking through Obama's magic tax-hike income figure this year. I might even trade in my 10+ year-old Nissan or buy a surround-sound speaker system - maybe. After 10% goes to the 401k and more to the college funds.

I'm convinced that several real-world financial responsibility classes should be required before a High-School diploma is awarded.

Anonymous said...

A word from the trenches. I see this every day. Every Day. I work with young people. I put my money where my mouth to speak. No, I don't get paid for it. I pay for it. I have four teenagers living with me. They are not my children. They are my responsibility. They range from 16 to 20. They are young people discarded by their parents, as too much trouble. They have no idea what family is. No idea what to do about anything. Anything at all.... Getting the drugs out of their lives was the EASY part. Now they must be taught the value of values, believe it or not. They've had no role models. Young people actually desire to interact with older adult men, who have clear values, and are available to them. They don't listen to what you say, they watch what you do, how you live your life. No matter whether you have kids or or not, be a parent to young people and be a mentor. Live your life as an example to them. If you do not, you will get the society of adult children as your legacy, self absorbed, thoughtless and cruel. So, if you lament the sad condition of youth, look into yourself and ask what YOU have done to make this society a better place. It's not the responsibility of the schools, or the government, even the religious institutions, it is your personal responsibility. Stand up like an adult and DEAL with it ! Personally.

ELC said...

Don't worry. Since neither the New Deal nor the Great Society prevented these situations (let's leave aside for the moment whether they contributed to causing these situations), the New New Deal or the Even Greater Society will just have to take this kind of difficult decision-making out of the hands of individuals and leave it all up to the government.

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