January 4, 2010 by Katie.
I can’t decide whether to be sympathetic or critical of the people featured in and the angle of this NYT article.
Yes, I get its overall point(s): 1) The recession has hit a lot of people really hard and 2) the food stamp program needs to be overhauled (along with 239408230948 other government benefit programs, but I digress). The three pages of prose are relatively skimpy on the food stamp program’s history, which leads me to believe they aren’t really aiming to educate us on its finer points. The statistics on food stamp usage highlight areas particularly hit by the recession, which reminds us that it is still very much going on despite new media’s relentless efforts to tell us that things are looking up.
While the latter is a worthwhile endeavor, the statistics aren’t the meat of the article. Most of it is eaten up (no pun intended) with heart-wrenching stories about people whose “only reported income” is food stamps. Here is where my loyalties become confused. Do I stay in touch with my “bleeding heart liberal” side that feels bad for these people (just like the article wants me to) and hence champions food stamp program change and continues to chide the asshole executives who got us into this recessive mess (admittedly, not terrible goals)? Or, do I look in between the lines at the lives of the people discussed in the article and stick to my logical (though still bleeding heart) side that tells me most of them are kind of suckers, made poor choices, and don’t really have it that badly when compared to the people in this country who are homeless and outside of society, recession or not; the people who can’t get food stamps because of bureaucracy even though they desperately need them.
Particularly obnoxious is Isabel Bermudez, our rags to riches and back to rags story, who made $180,000 a year and now is on food stamps. We’re supposed to feel shocked, feel how the mighty have fallen (even those involved with the villain: real estate), but all I really feel is annoyance. Okay, you’ve been out of full time work for three years; that’s a long time to live off savings. But, I’m sorry, the article says you were still living in your giant house when you woke up and realized you couldn’t feed your kids. Does this not drive anyone else crazy?! WTF are you doing in your giant house?!??!! I understand you loved it, and maybe even couldn’t’ve sold it. But, I don’t see any mention of you *trying* to sell it. A two bedroom apartment eats up savings a lot more slowly than a giant-fucking-house. Oh, and your other giant-fucking-investment-property-house.
Then there’s grandma. She lives with her children and is roomies with her grandkid. Granted, not an ideal situation. But, let’s review: Are the children on welfare/food stamps? No, they have jobs. Oh, so you’re saying that grandma’s $320 a month in food stamps his *her* only income, but not the household’s? And, she still has a decent roof over her head? Gee, yeah. That must suck. I’m sure all the elderly homeless people out there would love to listen to your sob story.
I could go on. But, I won’t. Mainly because I feel like an asshole for criticizing these people. But, I can’t help it. The recession is bad, true. The government should probably try to do more about it in ways that help the average person and not just continue to dump trillions of dollars into keeping companies afloat. We all know this and we all wonder what is taking them so long given that they have a pretty good precedent in FDR’s programs (American historians feel free to shoot that down).
BUT, I also think that true poverty is a genuinely ignored issue in this country and now we have even more reason to shove it under the rug.
And, shame on your NYT for catering to emotional journalism. I thought you were better than that.