Raising kids is never easy, but a recession only makes the job tougher. As more parents struggle to make ends meet, an increasing number of grandparents are stepping in to fill the void. One out of 10 U.S. kids lives with a grandparent, according to new research released by the Pew Charitable Trust, Katti Gray reports for ColorLines. About 40% of these children are being raised primarily by their grandparent(s).
Dawn Humphrey, a 51-year-old grandmother who is raising her 4-year-old grandson, describes her new role as challenging but deeply rewarding. Humphrey and her partner are making the best of a bad situation. Humphrey herself was laid off and her unemployment benefits ran out 3 weeks ago:
“Our situation would be ideal if I had a job,” Avion’s grandmother said. “We’re not materialistic people but this boy has needs. He looks to us for comfort and for love, when he’s hurt and needs help going to the bathroom. Just hearing him calling be ‘Grandma,’ I don’t know how to explain it. It’s just pure joy.”
Humphrey’s partner, Vernon Isaac, agrees:
“Yes, but, wow, grandparents like us could use some help.This recession, with things as tough as they are … I would love to give him the things I never got. But what I do give him is love. And that’s the most important thing.”
The magical thinking in free market ideology
When it comes to fingering culprits behind our economy’s current malaise, one could do worse than note just how poisonous so-called “free-market” ideology has been. That’s the diagnosis of financier Yves Smith, author of ECONned: How Unenlightened Self Interest Undermined Democracy and Corrupted Capitalism, who recently spoke to the Real News Network.
Smith argues that magical thinking about markets has wrecked the United States’ economy. The old view was that the economy needed to be managed so that businesses could thrive. The new dogma is that “free markets are good” and therefore whatever happens as a result of “market processes” must be better than what would have happened if the government had intervened. By definition, everything that happens in a market is the result of market processes. So, all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds! (It’s all fun and games until somebody needs a bailout.)
As Smith says:
[W]e then went to a model where everything that–anything that came out of, quote, “free markets”, even though free markets is–conveniently means something different, depending what context it’s in. But we have this kind of nebulous, flexible, free markets concept. But the idea is that anything that happens out of market activity is deemed to be virtuous, so if we go to less regulation, which–corporate interests took this free markets mantra and used it to justify deregulation–if we as a result of deregulated activity suddenly have a big trade deficit, well, we shouldn’t worry: that’s really the result of free markets, and somehow it will correct [itself].
Geico Gecko and Flo
What does it say about our economy that two of the most recognizable fictional characters on TV are insurance company mascots? For David Sirota of In These Times, the GEICO Gecko and Flo from Progressive Auto Insurance are chipper harbingers of economic death.
For Sirota, these ads epitomize everything that’s wrong with contemporary capitalism: Drivers are legally obliged to buy auto insurance. Instead of innovating or providing better service, GEICO and Progressive spend millions of dollars to poach each other’s customers with catchy TV ads.
Who can afford to retire?
There has been a lot of talk lately about the prospect of raising the retirement age from 65 to 69 to shore up Social Security. This proposed change has been vehemently opposed by progressives. Why raise the retirement age when we could just as easily raise the payroll tax ceiling? In Ms. Magazine, former Harvard sociology professor Mariko Lin Chang argues that the inequalities of raising the retirement age pale beside the inequities that are already built into the system because of preexisting income differences.
The lower your wages, the longer you have to work to retire at a given level of Social Security benefits. The average American works for 40 years to collect full Social Security benefits. However, the average female worker earns only 77 cents per dollar earned by the average male. So, the average woman already has to work for 50 years to retire with the benefits the average man earns after 40 years.
Similar statistics apply to workers of color, who earn less on average than white workers.
Defending the official retirement age of 65 is a worthy endeavor, but we shouldn’t forget that the official criteria already obscure the brutal financial realities facing large segments of the workforce.
Southern anti-poverty programs at risk
Big Republican gains in state legislatures in the deep south may put poverty programs in jeopardy, Monica Potts of The American Prospect reports. In the midterm elections, Republicans took control of state legislatures in North Carolina and Alabama for the first time in a century. The GOP swept to power on a tide of anti-tax, anti-government-spending sentiment. According to Potts:
Anti-poverty programs are among the most vulnerable because states have flexibility over how they spend federal money they receive for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and food stamps. Rules for TANF, the program once known as welfare, require states to maintain a certain level of spending to keep their block grants, but how and on what they spend the money is largely up to them.
States are ordering off a menu of programs, for which they must provide matching funds if they choose to participate. Chris Kromm of the Institute for Southern Studies predicts that states will try to save money by cutting programs like prescription drug and dental care for the poor, rather than come up with their share of matching funds.