Grandparents Take on the Recession

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.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint.

Photo credit: mil8 via flickr
By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger


Martha Eberle
Martha Eberle7 years ago

It's a rough world we're living in -- and it's not the fault of the poor and the middle class, who have tried to do the right thing, and WORK. The way the system is structured against people, and for corporations, it's almost impossible to stay even, much less, get ahead.

Repub state governments who will "balance the books" on the backs of the poor, should be ashamed. They receive federal funds for the purpose of helping the poor, yet they use them for other purposes. (I live in Texas)

Back to the grandparents -- I know they love their grandchildren, but just keeping up with a young, energetic child, is why people have children when they're young. It's HARD. One's body doesn't have the resilience that one had, when young. I help out with my girlfriend's daughter, and I love her dearly, but I couldn't, or wouldn't, want to do it full-time. For those who have no choice, and must, my heart is with you. You are good people, good parents, to take on this load.

Sharon Beth L.
Sharon Beth Long7 years ago

I am with a group that tries to help our New York City Administration of Children's Services We provide funds for grandparents who raise their children although it is not sufficient and encourage grandparents to take in their grandchildren before we put them with strangers in the foster care system. Extended families make a lot of sense in this economy and also psychologically although they are really not part of American culture and have their own problems. It may be o.k. for the 55 year old grandparent to be the sole caretaker of 5 year old but can a 75 year old grandparent handle the stresses of raising a teenager alone?

jane richmond
jane richmond7 years ago

Me too. Have my grandson here three days a week. Looking to get a place so we can all live together so it will be easier for everyone.

Norm C.
Norm C7 years ago

Recent studies have shown that young children thrive and become "better" adults if they grow up within extended families. For that reason, moving the kids to Grandma and Grandpa's house may be good. But the kids need Mom and Dad there as well.

No question that economic forces are killing us. Why? Why do we sit passively and accept the deliberate acts of humans as though they were laws of nature? People created our economic system and its institutions. They are killing our recent pasts, our presents and our futures.

If you look up a recent news article here on Care2 about why Germans (and most other Europeans, etc.) think we Americans have gone insane, you cannot help but come to the conclusion that America is killing Americans, not with guns but with absurd policies.

When specific policies do not work as advertised, why do we not have the courage to get rid of them? Why do we keep hoping that someday they will magically perform the tricks promised?

Oh yeah, I forgot. It's because conservatives keep screaming that they will work and the media keep repeating the hogwash day and night.

Rosella Decker
Rosella Decker7 years ago

I"m pretty conservative...I"m retiring at 66 as far as I know...I"m 61 now.. I've been paying for a little house for 30 yrs...Its paid off a yr before I retire its a very cheap little house...I don't expect to work forever but I have worked for over 40 yrs right now.

Danuta W.
Danuta Watola7 years ago


Julie Woodman
Julie W7 years ago

Well, I see some good in this. Not the economic side of the argument, but the fact that more grandparents are raising children.

They usually have the wisdom and experience to be better 'parents' than younger people. I know that, as a grandparent, I am feel more unconditional love than I did as a parent. When my children were growing, I had little idea of what I was doing, and didn't have the information that is available today on child development.

Now, I don't 'sweat the small stuff', knowing this or that phase will pass. I am much more relaxed and confident, and grandchildren respond accordingly.

Marie W.
Marie W7 years ago

Part of of the Right Wing family friendly policies...everyone will work forever.

Marilyn L.
Marilyn L7 years ago

THanks for the article.

Kay L.
KayL NOFORWARDS7 years ago

What do Geico Gecko and Flo have to do with grandparents' taking on the recession? Same for the southern anti-poverty program?