CNBC’s Version of Suburban Poverty

If CNBC wanted to present a case of poverty in suburban America, then the network could chose to feature one of countless Americans who ended up in poverty because of a job layoff or an unexpected disability. The network could tell the story of someone who is trying to get by with the bare minimum necessities of life.

Instead, the network chose to talk about someone else.

Here is the beginning of a CNBC.com story titled “Sprawling and Struggling: Poverty Hits America’s Suburbs”.

Like many Americans who move to the suburbs, Tara Simons came to West Hartford, Conn., because she wanted her daughter to grow up in a nice, safe place with good schools.

Her fall from a more financially secure suburban life to one among the working poor also happened for the same reason it’s happened to so many others. She had a bout of unemployment and couldn’t find a new job that paid very well.

As a single mother, that’s made it hard to hold on to the suburban life that is, in her mind, key to making sure her daughter gets off to the right start.

“I’m basically paying to say I live in West Hartford,” she said. “It is worth it.”

It’s a struggle that many Americans bruised by the weak economy can relate to.

Further into the story, we read the following:

Simons and her daughter Alexis moved from Massachusetts to West Hartford eight years ago because Simons had a job with a local rug retailer.

Alexis, now 14, made friends, became an avid lacrosse player and is now a high school freshman.

The picturesque suburb, with its well-kept homes and an upscale town center, has a median household income of $80,061, more than double that of Hartford itself, which is $29,107 according to the Census Bureau.

Later in the story, we read this:

Simons expected to work for the rug retailer until retirement, but about a year ago she quit after disputes with one of the two owners. She had never had trouble finding a new job and was unprepared for how hard it would be.

“I know that part of it is my fault and I absolutely take responsibility for that, but I never in a million years thought that I would (be in this position),” she said.

Simons went without work or unemployment benefits for five months before she got her current job about six months ago. The position, as a customer service representative for a local health products company, pays $14 an hour. That leaves her with take-home pay of about $460 to $480 a week, plus about $127 a week in child support. Simons has full custody of her daughter.

She is behind on her electric and gas bills and owes nearly $400 to her daughter’s club lacrosse team, which has her worried that her daughter won’t be able to play this spring.

So, did CNBC select someone who truly represents poverty in suburban America?

Let’s examine the details.

Her fall from a more financially secure suburban life to one among the working poor also happened for the same reason it’s happened to so many others. She had a bout of unemployment . . .

Correction: She quit her job. It is one thing to find yourself in poverty because the factory that you worked in was shut down or because you became too physically disabled to work. It is another thing to find yourself in poverty because you quit your job. Simons didn’t fall from financial stability “for the same reason it’s happened to so many others.” Instead, her fall was self-inflicted.

. . . and couldn’t find a new job that paid very well.

As a single mother, that’s made it hard to hold on to the suburban life that is, in her mind, key to making sure her daughter gets off to the right start.

“I’m basically paying to say I live in West Hartford,” she said. “It is worth it.”

It’s a struggle that many Americans bruised by the weak economy can relate to.

Yeah, right. Many Americans can relate to struggling to maintain a home in an upscale neighborhood while paying for a child’s ability to play lacrosse.

[ /sarc ]

Simons may be living in poverty from her perspective, but is she really suitable to be the poster child for poverty in suburban America? When did poverty become defined as not being able to keep up with the Joneses?

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