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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  • GarandFan

    Hint: BEFORE you quit your job………….make sure you have an equally financially secure NEW job.

  • herddog505

    Pathologies on display:

    1. The belief that one is owed a good-paying job under the terms and conditions one wants. She QUIT her job after “disputes”. Unless said disputes involved something patently immoral / unethical / illegal, then she’s a damned fool, a spoiled brat;

    2. Broken home. I don’t know why she and Dad couldn’t / wouldn’t make it work; it’s possible that he was an abusive b*stard and both she and her daughter were better as far away from him as possible. Then again, it could be that she and Dad were too immature to make it work. Given the divorce rate in the country, the odds are that it’s the latter;

    3. People have to move – and move to upscale neighborhoods – in a desperate attempt to find a good school for their kids. In my own city here in North Carolina, there are some excellent public schools. There are also some real stinkers. You’ll be shocked – SHOCKED – to know that there’s a pretty good correlations between property values and good school districts… This, of course, is not her fault, but rather the fault of broader society that is too damned accepting of sh*tty schools (hence the rise in homeschooling and private schools).

    I’m very sorry that she’s in such straits, but much of it is her own fault. If CNBC wants to hold her up as an example, then it might be one of the failure of our society to uphold the importance of marriage (and, conversely, the evil of divorce where children are involved), the importance of a good work ethic, and the importance of demanding that ALL public schools provide a good education.

    • Commander_Chico

      I’ve been to West Hartford, it’s one of your nice leafy SWPL boutique suburbs. It’s the kind of place, you walk along the main street there, you can have 23 different varieties of coffee.

      The rug trade is a shady business, note all of the “liquidation sales” going on, she might have actually faced something immoral / unethical / illegal.

      Another pathology on display: the inability of media to relate to anybody outside of certain social classes who live in certain neighborhoods and do certain jobs.

      Thus we regularly have stories on “trends” which are really confined to a small minority of the population among those who live in places like West Hartford, Marin County, or Brooklyn Heights.

      These stories skirt the line with parody. She can’t pay the lacrosse fees!!

      The truth is, $14 an hour is above US median wage, there are a lot more people facing real poverty among rural and exurban white people and in the ghettos. But reporters can’t relate to or even loathe those people.

      • herddog505

        Commander_ChicoAnother pathology on display: the inability of media to relate to anybody outside of certain social classes who live in certain neighborhoods and do certain jobs.

        Agreed. It’s like a parody of rich people on hard times: “We had to let Rosa, our second downstairs maid, go. Oh, we’ve truly fallen on hard times.”

  • Oysteria

    Yeah, that was pretty much a fluff piece. Not enough information to draw any real conclusions. All I think after reading this is great, more food stamps and more handouts to help someone maintain LaCrosse dues.
    I think back to how we could have afforded a much nicer home in a more updscale neighborhood when we bought the one we have, but we were prudent and took into consideration that prosperity can far too easily be yanked out from under one’s feet. So we planned and spent accordingly. Yet others ran out to buy the most they could possibly afford at the time (and in many cases, more than they could afford) and still refuse to hold themselves accountable for their decisions.
    And I always love the way these journalists regularly use statistics going all the way back to the beginning of the Bush Admin leaving one to infer that “Bush started this”. They don’t like to inform you that there are so many graphs out there showing the sharpest increases in poverty and government handouts are since 2009: “when the recession ended”. Otherwise you might come to the conclusion that Obama has made it worse.

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