BBC on Child Poverty in the US

One of the ongoing frustrations in being (of necessity) a heavy consumer of what passes for media in the US is how insistent and disconnected the official narrative is with conditions on the ground. The crushing effects of protracted unemployment are hard to understand unless you’ve been there. It’s a form of hot state v. cold state cognitive bias. People who are in a “hot” state (enraged, romantically obsessed) can’t get themselves into a more sober state of mind, and people who aren’t currently possessed by these moods (cold state) find it hard to relate to them. It’s frustrating to hear economists, finance touts, and the hackocracy natter on about how the economy is getting better, just not as quickly as we’d like. And then you see the occasional toad hopping out of an official mouth. From Bloomberg (hat tip Michael Thomas):

Rising stock prices, rebounding profits, restored dividends and a growing economy are signaling to U.S. banks it’s time for more job cuts.

What is conveniently omitted by the people who interact with the world mainly through data are the real, lasting costs of unemployment and low wages. This BBC documentary gives a much-needed counterpoint. Hat tip furzy mouse:

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


    1. Ignacio

      Agnreed. It’s a shame that some people count and other simply do not count as if they didn’t exist.

    1. dSquib

      Not a safe environment for “that”? The tending to children? What is it safe for? Also, the homeless people “got kids down there”? They are not in fact homeless children?

      If only all the homeless people at the camp were kids, and thus become The Children, Who Are The Future, In The War Against The Sino Menace, then people might actually give a shit.

      1. bluntobj

        Children belong to the Community, not their parents; especially not if they are homeless.

        Don’t you know that?

        1. AbyNormal

          if they survive after being fleeced an kicked to the curb they become adults of the community…blojob

  1. hondje

    This reminds me, I haven’t heard a thing about increasing the minimum wage since the SOTU. Figures.

  2. AbyNormal

    According to UNICEF, 23.1% of American children under the age of seventeen live in poverty, which makes the United States rank second out of thirty-five economically advanced countries ranked in that category. Romania ranks first, with 25.5% of children living in poverty.

    ***Even more important is the argument in principle. Because
    children have only one opportunity to develop normally in mind and body, the commitment to protection from poverty must be upheld in good times and in bad. A society that fails to maintain that commitment, even in difficult economic times, is a society that is failing its most vulnerable citizens and storing up intractable social and economic problems for the years immediately ahead.***

    What a weary time those years were — to have the desire and the need to live but not the ability. Charles Bukowski

  3. AbyNormal

    The government should focus less on how to measure child poverty and more on how to eradicate it.

    Nearly 16 million children in the United States – 22% of all children – live in families with incomes below the federal poverty level – $23,021 a year for a family of four. Research shows that, on average, families need an income of about twice that level to cover basic expenses. Using this standard, 45% of children live in low-income families.

    There’s no way that Michael Jackson or whoever Jackson should have a million thousand droople billion dollars and then there’s people starving. There’s no way! There’s no way that these people should own planes and there people don’t have houses. Apartments. Shacks. Drawers. Pants! I know you’re rich. I know you got 40 billion dollars, but can you just keep it to one house? You only need ONE house. And if you only got two kids, can you just keep it to two rooms? I mean why have 52 rooms and you know there’s somebody with no room?! It just don’t make sense to me. It don’t. Tupac

    1. CS

      “Since when were people entitled to pants, or underpants for that matter. The Constitution doesn’t contain the word “pants”. a Scalia

      1. AbyNormal

        all you got is Huey with an agenda??

        let me guess…your momma reared you on the American Fairytale…

        ‘oooooo babydoll don’t speak of the man’s drooper wealth, someday you too can be drooper wealthy…its free to anyone that works hard enuff’

        it’s in your face

  4. Moneta

    Let’s say you are in an industry that skims the market, like banking, and you make millions by misallocating capital, should you pay taxes that would redistribute that excess income? Of course not, because you deserve every penny and the others should have made better choices when choosing a career..

    Let’s say you are a plastic surgeon who raked in millions thanks to the credit/real estate bubble and people living above their means using the fake equity in their homes to pay you, should you pay taxes to redistribute? Of course not, you worked hard and deserve to keep every penny.

    I could go on and on as every sector of the economy has been impacted by this misallocation of capital. No one wants to pay taxes or redistribute because everyone feels they deserve their money when the reality is that the true value of work has been lost in the process.

    1. Moneta

      Maybe one of the solutions is to have corporate taxes that are based on the difference between CEO pay and the lowest paid employees.

          1. Hayek's Heelbiter

            I actually do think it’s an excellent idea, and one that should be of medium difficulty to set metrics to. I hope it does stick.

        1. Moneta

          I know it drives a lot of people nuts because everyone wants proof or citations, but right now I’m in the phase of shooting all kinds of ideas and seeing what sticks.

          I just find that everyone keeps on rehashing past failed formulas and unproven new ideas instantly get slammed down because they are unproven.

          I’m not saying that my idea is wonderful, I’m just trying to start a conversation.

          Research is important but you’ve got to find a hypothesis first.

        2. Andrea

          In Switz. we will vote on the 1/12 initiative. The highest salary in a biz / entity etc. would be limited to 12x that of the lowest paid employees. It looks very popular in the polls right now (70+ % favorable) but I’m not sure it will pass as this time the opposition will be very stiff. (They gave up on the Minder initiative after a half-assed campaign.) One of the repercussions would be a necessary and possibly complete taxation overhaul, which hasn’t even been mentioned yet. This will frighten people, as many are happy or accepting of the tax they pay.

          1. JeffC

            Won’t this just “force” firms to contract out their low-paid jobs?
            Maybe spin off the low-paid 3/4 of Big Firm AG into Cheap Labor AG
            or whatever? The CLAG CEO is a former BFAG mid-level manager
            making only 12x as much as the wage slaves. Alternatively, BFAG
            splits upper management off into a holding company. Or if a “holding”
            relationship is too close for weaseling purposes, perhaps it goes the other
            way: BFAG upper management is spun off into Super-Duper Management
            Consultants which is then hired for big francs by BFAG, none of whose
            remaining employees make enough to trigger the law. Aren’t there
            endless possibilities here? I’d love to see management looting reined
            in—here in the US also—but how does one do it without simply diverting
            top management’s attention even further from running the company
            as they obsess over finding ways around the pay restrictions, even
            if the only way for some firms is to simply move the firm abroad?

          2. JeffC

            I didn’t put that link to “thee companyy” in that last post
            and neither know what robot did so nor appreciate it
            making me look like a sneaky advertiser. If this is the doing of the
            hosting site, Yves may have been conned into picking the wrong
            hosting site. If I were her, I’d be livid.

    2. from Mexico

      The antithesis of the examples you cite, as Reinhold Nieburh explains, is expressed by the the secular idealists (the Marxists probably being the best known of these), the Modern liberal Protestants and the Catholic universalists. And since the US has become a much more religously diverse place since when Niebuhr lived, I’m sure there are now other religions which figure prominently on the American religous landscape which have a similar moral code. Here is how Nieburh describes it:

      [W]e may well designate the moral cynics, who know no law beyond their will and interest, with a scriptural designation of “children of this world” or “children of darnkeness.” Those who believe that self-interest should be brought under the discipline of a higher law could then be termed “the children of light.” This is no mere arbitrary device; for evil is always the assertion of some self-interest without regard to the whole, whether the whole be conceived as the immediate community, or the total community of mankind, or the total order of the world. The good is, on the other hand, always the harmony of the whole on various levels. Devotion to a subordinate and premature “whole” such as the nation, may of course become evil, viewed from the perspective of a larger whole, such as the community of mankind. The “children of light” may thus be defined as those who seek to bring self-interest under the discipline of a more universal law and in harmony with a more universal good.

      — Reinhold Niebuhr, “The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness”

      But, as Nieburh goes on to explain:

      Moral cynicism had a provisional advantage over moral sentemtality. Its advantage lay not merely in its own lack of moral scruple but also in its shrewd assessment of the power of self-interest, indiviual and national, among the children of light, despite their moral protestations.

      While our modern children of light, the secularized idealists, were particularly foolish and blind, the more “Christian” chilcren of light have been almost equally guilty of this error. Modern liberal Protestantism was probably even more sentimental in its appraisal of the moral realities in our political life than secular idealism, and Catholicism could see nothing but cynical rebellion in the modern secular revolt against Catholic universalism and a Catholic “Christian” civilization. In Catholic thought medieval political universalism is always accepted at face value. Rebellion against medieval culture is therefore invariably regarded as the fruit of moral cynicsm. Actually the middle-class revolt against the feudal order was partially prompted by a genrous idealism, not unmixed of course with peculiar middle-class interests. The feudal order was not so simply a Christian civilization as Catholic defenders of it aver. It compounded its devotion to a universal order with the special interests of the priestly and aristocratic bearers of effective social power. The rationalization of their unique position in the feudal order may not have been more marked than the subsequent rationalization of bourgeois interests in the liberal world. But is idle to deny this “ideological taint” in the feudal order and to pretend that rebels against the order were merely rebels against order as such. They were rebels against a particular order which gave an undue advantage to the aristocratic opponents of the middle classes. The blindness of Catholicism to its own ideological taint is typical of the blindness of the children of light.

      If we look at the true believers on both sides of the moral divide — the liberals (neoliberals in today’s vernacular) on one side and the secular idealists, Protestant liberals and Catholic universalists on the other — what is “so remarkable in all these theories and doctrines,” to put it in Hannah Arendt’s words, “is their implicit monism, the claim that behind the obvious multiplicity of the world’s appearances and, even more pertinently for our context, behind the obvious pluraility of man’s faculties and abilities, there must exist a oneness — the old hen pan, “the all is one” — either a single source or a single ruler.”

      The moral cynics have done a much better job of enlisting science to their cause, in making moral cynicsm look scientific. But I think that could change. For instance, Einstein argued that morality has been one of the principle areas around which religion has organized:

      The social impulses are another source of the crystallization of religion. Fathers and mothers and the leaders of larger human communities are mortal and fallible. The desire for guidance, love, and support prompts men to form the social or moral conception of God. This is the God of Providence, who protects, disposes, rewards, and punishes; the God who, according to the limits of the believer’s outlook, loves and cherishes the life of the tribe or of the human race, or even or life itself; the comforter in sorrow and unsatisfied longing; he who preserves the souls of the dead. This is the social or moral conception of God.

      But Einstein also argued that there is a higher stage of religious experience, what he called “cosmic religious feeling,” that transcends social or moral religion, and that a sound morality can be formulated without this highest stage of religous experience. Therefore, science and religion are not incompatible as is generally believed by many of the children of light and children of darkness:

      We thus arrive at a conception of the relation of science to religion very different from the usual one… Science has…been charged with undermining morality, but the charge is unjust. A man’s ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary.

      1. Moneta

        When a system gets too big and complex, morality is pushed out of the equation because it becomes impossible for an individual to differentiate what is right from wrong.

        Depending on where you fit in the system, evil is different.

        In fact, every choice I make in my own personal life can be viewed as good and bad depending on where those around me fit in the system.

        1. from Mexico

          Moneta says:

          When a system gets too big and complex, morality is pushed out of the equation…

          I’m not sure I agree completely with that.

          Morality, as the Russian scientist Peter Turchin has asserted, “is the glue that holds society together.” He notes that the dawning of the Axial Age and the rise of extremely large societies correlates with the advent of more sophisticated religions.

          Humans, regardless of what liberal doctrine decrees, are hyper-social aniamals, and cultural evolution allowed what Einstein called “social and moral” religion (which remember he argued requires “no religous basis”) to evolve to unprecedented levels.

          I would rephrase your claim as follows:

          When a system gets too old, corrupted and obsolete, morality is pushed out of the equation…

          1. Moneta

            I agree that humans need morality but if the moral code makes people work against eachother, the system will implode.

            And when I look around me, here in Canada, it is pretty clear that the moral code pertaining to many areas of life, makes no sense anymore.

            When I hear people complain about the lack of morality in today’s world, I can’t help but cringe because very often they do not realize that their moral code is crushing a large number of people. They seem to think or want to believe that the moral code is set in stone.

            There are a few basic principles that all humans adhere to but there are an incredible number of rules that make no sense in today’s social construct.

          2. AbyNormal

            whenever i hear ‘morals’ debated i can’t help but remember the Pedophiles creed: it’s not immoral just illegal

            The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.

          3. from Mexico

            @ Moneta

            I see our current moral order, which has been regnant for almost 500 years, as being in advanced old age and quite feeble. Truly, it is well beyond its expiration date. It’s been on life support for a century now. I suppose Immanuel Wallerstein would say it is in structural crisis.

            But this does not mean that a new moral order will not evolve to take its place. The new moral order could be more egalitarian, or less egalitarian. And the stakes have never been higher, for man has the power now to completely destroy his species and take the entire planet along with it if he fails at this task.

            Nevertheless, this presents great opportunity for the coming generations, for they have the opportunity to shape a new moral order. Opportunities like this for freedom and the exercise of free will haven’t been around since the 16th and first half of the 17th centuries, when the old feudal moral order became dysfunctional and fell away.

    1. Fïrëan

      With regards to child poverty in the UK., have you seen the BBC documentary made back in 2011, “Poor Kids” ?
      Part one here:

      The BBC documentary at the beginning of this thread seems quite tame compared with many of the videos on youtube and the like, of homeless people in the USA. Families with children living in automobiles, RVs and tents. This is not a recent occurance.
      Even Time magazine has done an article.

  5. Banger

    Let’s cut to the chase here. The fact is that the majority of the American people simply don’t care if there are so many poor kids–they really don’t. Most Americans see poor people not as fellow Americans but as distant people living in some third world country. Many resent that they don’t just die. We’ve become a country of ogres who pretend to be concerned. Something right out of Dickens.

    1. McMike

      When you look down to lower rungs on the ladder, all you see are bad potentialities.

      – A place for you to fall.
      – A reminder of where you could be.
      – Someone who could reach up and pull you down.
      – The person who’s shoulders you are standing on.
      – etc

    2. Klassy!

      The disadvantage of these Americans is the scaffolding that others’ advantages are built on. Maybe they know that at some gut level, but who wants to admit it.

  6. roots

    I agree about the media’s (purposeful) disconnect from the social breakdown, growing dispair and ever increasing poverty I see here in my economically depressed state. (Unemployment went down here because people gave up looking for work or left the area!) I notice this each time I force myself to watch network news, which I do mainly to educate myself on how the MSM disseminates propaganda.

  7. Andrea

    Measures of child poverty vary and of course they don’t tell the whole story.

    One point is that the ‘rate’, such as it is, as compared to poverty in the society as a whole, is not mentioned.

    In the UK and the US child poverty is higher than the global measure, as in several other countries, in opposition to, e.g. to Australia, Germany, Slovenia, and many others. (OECD countries.) In some countries, dire poverty is found amongst the elderly, not children.

    This is the mark of more unequal societies, and that in itself can hit children hard, outside of amount or quality of the food, education, med. care they get. The necessary submissiveness and perception of those in authority molds them.

    Note the BBC film presented very smart, savy, photogenic and rather conventional children who had at least one functioning parent on their side, struggling to do their best. The usual – job loss, eviction, Medicare not working, bad food, schooling difficulties – were well illustrated, but the doc never mentioned:

    violence – abuse – sexual abuse – drugs – alcoholism (the parents were all great) – parent or child prostitution – bullying (it was mentioned lightly by the teen as a social stigma) – real starvation – foster care – deportation – orphans – runaways – child crime …..and more.

    I’m not trying here to paint a dark picture even blacker, just saying that the whole way the measures are done and handled by the mainstream is superficial and hypocritical.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      There is a long-standing Anglo Saxon tendency to differentiate the “deserving poor” from the underserving poor. The deserving poor (people who are druggies, lazy, engaged/engaged in criminal activity) are seen as getting their comeuppance and hence not deserving of sympathy. That probably accounts for the skew of the film, to show that “undeserving” people are poor, and in large numbers too.

  8. from Mexico

    Yves said:

    …how insistent and disconnected the official narrative is with conditions on the ground.

    This is very much by design. Speaking of the way things are in Mexico, which has been struggling with the neoliberal monster in its full incarnation far longer than the US has, Carlos Fuentes wrote:

    The country was threatened with an acute case of schizophrenia. A minority centered their lives on the New York Stock Exchange, and a majority on the price of beans. One economy was all gilded wrapping paper, the other all huts and untilled land. The former was the minority’s, the latter the majority’s.

  9. HotFlash

    Watched it (well part, so far, computer stalled, waiting for rest to dl) and wept. JHFC on a pogo stick, there are people who want stuff, there are people who want to do stuff, and I was taught that this constitutes a ‘market’. So why does it not happen? No money. So, why don’t we just *make that money* so it all can happen.

    Yeah, I hear Bernard Lietaer this past Sat, on complementary currencies. (Fantasy: posting to NC “Well, I was having a beer the other night with Bernard Lietaer …” *true!*)

    If we wait for the govt, or biz, or whoever to fix it, we will just die. But the good news is that we can do it ourselves.

    1. from Mexico

      HotFlash says:

      If we wait for the govt, or biz, or whoever to fix it, we will just die. But the good news is that we can do it ourselves.

      Ah yes! The anti-politics of rugged individualism.

        1. from Mexico

          The conflict is that the liberals, known as neoliberals in today’s rubric, will not leave you alone to pursue some “friend-and-neighbor level” existence. In the entire 225 year existence of liberalism, with its “Democracy of Proery Rights” as Thorstein Veblen put it, this has never happened, not in the long run at least.

          Just look at what happend to Emiliano Zapata, who wanted to preserve the comunitarian lifestyle of Mexico’s indigenous peoples. Just look at what is happening now to the same sorts of indigenous communities in India:

          The Operation —which incidentally, is what wars are called these days—is scheduled to begin in October, when the monsoon rains come to an end and the rivers are less angry and the terrain more accessible. The people who live in these forests, including the Maoists who see themselves as waging war against the Indian state, are tribal people, the poorest people in the country. They have lived on these lands for centuries with no schools, no hospitals, no roads, no running water. Their crime is an old one —they live on the land…desired by major…corporations…


          An unacknowledged, low-grade civil war has been under way for a few years now. Hundreds of thousands of people have had their villages destroyed, their food stocks burned. Many have migrated to cities where they work as manual laborers on starvation wages. The rest are hiding in the forests, surviving on grass and wild fruit, many are slowly starving.

          But now preparation for the formal war in which ground forces will be assisted by helicopter gunships and satellite mapping, has begun. Brigade headquarters are being set up in Raipur, the capital of Chhattisgarh. The forest is being barricaded and cordoned off. Restrictions on journalists have been put in place. A slew of laws that criminalize every kind of dissent including peaceful dissent have been passed. Scores are being arrested and imprisoned without bail.

          The October war, if it takes place, if we don’t manage to stop it, will mark the converging, the marriage, if you like, of two separate kinds of wars that have been raging in India for decades now – the war on “terror’ that the Indian army has waged against people of Kashmir, Nagaland, Manipur and the war to corner and control natural resources, a process that is otherwise known as ‘Progress’.

          1. HotFlash

            “The October war, if it takes place, if we don’t manage to stop it,”

            Wonder how that might happen, if ‘individuals”, rugged or not, do nothing. As for me, I most emphatically am not rugged, need lots of help from friends and neighbours, if they are so inclined (o-oh, would this be democracy?)

            We work small. We share what we have. View from Mexico may be different, we value your view.

          2. from Mexico

            @ HotFlash

            I’m sure that the view from Mexico, and almost anywhere outside the United States, is different, and very much so. There are very good reasons for this, explained in part here by Lawrence Goodwyn:

            As objects of study, the Populists themselves were to fall victim to the inability of twentieth-century humanists of various ideological persuasions to conceive that authentic intellectual substance might originate outside such acceptable intellectual sources as the progressive, capitalist, middle classes or the European socialist heritage…

            By this process, the relatively expansive pre-industrial sensibilities that had animated Thomas Jefferson, George Mason, and the original Anti-Federalists gradually lost that strand of democratic continutiy and legitimacy which, in fact, connected their time and their possibility to our own… The egalitarian current that was part of the nation’s wellspring became not a constantly active source of ideas, but a curious backwater…

            The result is self-insulation: the popular aspirations of the people of the “third world” in the twentieth century have easily become as threatening to modern Americans as the revolt of their own farmers was to goldbugs eight years ago. Though American foreign policy and American weapons have defended anachronistic feudal and military hierarchies in South America, Africa, and Asia, such actions being justified at home as necessary to the defense of “democracy,” neither the policy nor the justification has proved notably persuasive to the non-Americans who are the mass victims of such hierarchies. The resulting unpopularity of America puzzles Americans. The policies themselves, however, are not debatable within the limits of public dialogue sancitoned in modern America. Under such constraints, the ultimate political price that Americans may be forced to pay for their narrowed cultural range in the twentieth century has emerged as a quesiton of sobering dimension.

            — LAWRENCE GOODWYN, The Populist Moment

            Since the GFC began and what has happened since, however, I think many Americans are now beginning to take note of the enormous price they are being “forced to pay for their narrowed cultural range.”

  10. Christina Marlowe

    It seems to me that it is the the wealthy who are the absolute SCOURGE of the entire world; In fact, they are the TRUE DREGS of all society and they should ALL be LYNCHED.

        1. Klassy!

          Conservatives would watch this and say “Why did they spend their money on those big tv’s”. Certain liberals would watch this and say “Mom is yelling. We must get her parenting classes.”

  11. kevinearick

    clueless breeding with clueless….resulting in no breeding…and a monetary accounting system completely disassociated from nature that hides all the bad news in the pension system, paying interest on interest. what could possibly go wrong? Can we open another university, to extend best-business-automation-practice a little bit further?

  12. Klassy!

    Thanks for sharing this documentary. It is a shame that it was the BBC and not an American outlet. They did do an excellent job putting a human face to the story– but more than that they showed the strengths of these families in the face of everything they have to confront. They showed these are interesting people too with something to offer. The NPR set needs to watch this.

  13. Ray Phenicie

    This was a very difficult video to watch; I was torn apart by feelings of sympathy for the children and their parents.

    This kind of suffering need not be; trillions in Treasury funds are used to prop up a cancerous financial sector. The benefits of that are a negative force on the economy as the services provided are sometimes frivoulous, often criminal and always delitorious to the overall well-being of the nation. Yet, Our Fearless Leaders says we can’t ‘afford’ to extend unemployment benefits or subsidize medical care, food and housing for those in dire straits. What he and his followers or any of us can’t afford is the permanent damage done to this society and its children. Damage that is caused by adhering to an outlandish ideology whose dictates call for more so called auterity. What is being hoarded is the feelings of love and care and concern as if those qualities were in limited supply.

  14. Rufus T. Firefly, Jr.

    That’s sad for these kids. But most of their parents were shouting “USA! USA! USA!” when Bush Jr. started dropping bombs on Iraqi children.

    So, this is Karma at work.

    1. steve jennings

      yes, it is easy to thik of the plight of these families as “karma”, but in reality they are the victims of the Bush-type rulling elite as much as the Iraqi children were, except of course that they are not dead.

      1. Rufus T. Firefly, Jr.

        I used the term “Karma” ironically.
        However, it is not just the Bush-type ruling elite. It is an entire history and ethos built around plunder and theft. It is the history of the West, which fortunately is now coming to an end.

        1. Klassy!

          And so it is all good. Yes, we may state that this theft and plunder is coming to an end because somewhere (actually everywhere) a child is living in a motel. Or on a 6 month waiting list for a place in a shelter.
          But maybe it is not quite over yet? After all, there is still some SPAM to be had.

  15. dbk

    Thank you Yves for this link. I was especially moved by the Iowa story, as an Illinoisan who has seen small, once-prosperous light manufacturing towns in west central Illinois decimated by unemployment and the ensuing ills of long-term poverty; just about every small town within an hour of the Mississippi that I’ve passed through looks like Stockton. The way a country (especially a rich one) chooses to treat its children, its future really, reveals a lot about the country itself. What does it reveal about the U.S. with the second-highest child poverty rate among developed nations after Romania?

  16. Demythify

    “what passes for media in the US is how insistent and disconnected the official narrative is with conditions on the ground.”

    I did see this same story featured on PBS’s Frontline last fall, with Will Lyman narrating. We should take some notice that at least one network (public broadcaster) bothered bringing these stories to the American public. But by the same token we should be ashamed almost nobody watched it.

Comments are closed.