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.