What Does This Sad Story Say to You?

In today’s Washington Post, there’s an incredibly affecting long article about a down-and-out family in Indiana. It’s called “Nowhere to Go But Down.” Husband and wife have both lost their jobs; there’s a teenage son and a very young daughter, and it looks like they’re all going to have to move back to Michigan to live in the basement of the wife’s mother. I urge you all to read it, and to look at the photo gallery too.

The thing is, I wonder in which direction most of you will be affected when you read it. There are a variety of options. Some readers will see the family as innocent victims of a brutal economy. Others will see them as entirely responsible for, or at least deeply complicit in, their economic failure. I have a feeling that many readers of this blog will lean toward the latter — in the photo gallery, we learn that the husband buys $20 worth of lottery tickets a week, e.g. — but I may be wrong.

Here’s a passage that is hard to ignore. The wife has just returned from her first job interview in months:

He doesn’t look up from the wall he’s touching up with white paint. The landlord is due soon.

“It’s 28 hours, eight bucks an hour,” she says. No benefits, she adds.

“You say, ‘Thank you, but –’ ?”

“Yup,” she says. “I make more on unemployment.”

The article is also a great piece of fly-on-the-wall journalism. The writer is Paul Schwartzman. He must have spent a huge amount of time with the family to come away with a story this deep and rich. Judging from his archive page, it looks like he’s been working on this article for the better part of a few months. If so, it really shows.

I couldn’t help but think about how much money the Post spent to generate this article. Tens of thousands of dollars, I am guessing, once you account for the salaries for the writer, editor/s, etc., and travel expenses. I also couldn’t help but wonder how the family in the article would have spent that money if the Post, instead of using it to generate this article, had simply given it to them in a paper bag.

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  1. Conor - ireland says:

    They probably would have spent the money on lottery tickets…

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  2. EJ says:

    Any economy built on endless growth and resource extraction will eventually fail. Why do we not understand this?

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  3. Craig says:

    Since you are including salaries for the reporter and editor(s) in your estimate of how much the article cost, wouldn’t your “solution” require firing or at least laying off the reporter and editor(s)?

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  4. Charlie says:

    You are forgetting that the Post probably hasn’t spent any money at all on this piece yet. You get paid after publication – regardless of the story. So this journalist is probably a few grand out of pocket and now badgering the Post to pay him and they are probably dragging their heels on doing so.

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  5. Michael says:

    Helping one of the unfortunate families in this country doesn’t help as much as calling for attention to the whole country. Americans need to wake up and understand what responsible really means.

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  6. Daniel says:

    Lets see, $20 multiplied by 52 weeks is 1040 dollars on lotto tickets.

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  7. Jon says:

    This is a classic example of the consumerism in our society. There is nothing in this article that suggest that they would do anything with $10k but spend spend, spend, spend.

    It also goes to show how ineffective our unemployment System is. When you’re on unemployment, there is very little incentive to work if you are not going to make more than the allotted unemployment check.

    f you receive $300/ wk from unemployment and end up finding a part time job that pays you $275 a week you keep your $275 and receive the remaining $25 from the government and an additional $25. What is the incentive to work 20 hours for an extra $50 when you can make $275 doing nothing? If the Government let you keep a bigger percentage of your check for taking a part time job perhaps it would motivate people to at least work part time.

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  8. Zoltan says:

    I am in the “complicit” camp – at the top of the article it’s noted that the father never bothered with savings, he was always what my mother would call a “Good Time Charlie” – spending the money on fun. Even now, on welfare, he’s still spending money on beer and cigarettes.

    It’s a sad story, but I’d feel more sympathetic if the family had truly had “bad luck” – rather, they hit a bump that happens: people lose jobs. They should have known it could happen to them, and have prepared for the possibility.

    As a side note, it also drives me crazy that the welfare rules are set up so that someone can prefer to be on welfare to taking a job. Where I live if you take a job that pays less than you receive in welfare, the welfare “tops you up” so that you still receive the same monthly amount. Sure, too many people prefer not working to working when receiving the same amount, but the hope is that people will choose to get back into the workforce, and then proceed upwards from there.

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