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  • “Two American Families” – and their Legacy

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on July 15th, 2013 (All posts by )

    I recently watched the excellent “Frontline” documentary “Two American Families” which followed two families from 1992 onward in Milwaukee as they struggled to stay middle class. The movie started with the main breadwinners in each family losing solid middle class union jobs and then starting an odyssey of lower wage jobs with no benefits, often during non-standard hours (the night shift).

    While the families struggled, I actually was more interested in their children than the parents who were ostensibly the “stars” of the film. As the parents worked (both parents had to join the work force to make up for the lost wages) the children (three from one family, five from the second family) had to look after themselves since they were often left home alone after school.

    While in New York City on the subway I came across these billboards which warned (potential?) single mothers very directly that if they had a child out of wedlock they faced a high chance of being a single mother and in poverty. The sign I saw had the quote:

    If you finish high school, get a job, and get married before having children, you have a 98 percent chance of not being in poverty

    From the results of the documentary, one of the children finished a four year college, and he appeared to be the most successful of the 8 kids they followed up on. Earlier in the documentary they showed him (his name was Keith) in college, struggling to get by and pay tuition bills on a credit card. Keith was not married and did not have children and in interviews stated pretty flatly that he didn’t want to get married and have a child until he was ready to support them. A second child went into the navy and was there for many years, before leaving and then re-enlisting as a private contractor in Afghanistan since he couldn’t find work in Milwaukee. A third kid (a woman) got an associates degree and (miraculously) did not get pregnant, and she was doing OK as a medical biller at a hospital in Milwaukee.

    The other children didn’t seem to graduate high school or did and then didn’t go to college. Many of them had multiple children themselves (without getting married) from a variety of different partners. One of them was married (the girl who got an associates’ degree) but she was married to a guy who was out of work.

    Each of these children, who were the real legacy of the troubles cited in the documentary, fell right into that concept that if you finish high school, get a job, and get married, you won’t live in poverty. One slight “tweak” to this rule might be to marry a spouse who works themselves or has some capacity to be a positive parent; some of the partners were obviously sulking or already disgruntled at an early age. Nowhere in the documentary did they directly point this out, although it was the central lesson from the film.

    Cross posted at LITGM


    9 Responses to ““Two American Families” – and their Legacy”

    1. stuhlmann Says:

      ” A second child went into the navy and was there for many years”

      Did the documentary say anything about the state of the child when he left the Navy? I mean what did he do with his years in the Navy? What rank was he? Did he save up part of his salary? Did he use his educational benefits to at least get an associated degree? What trade(s) did he learn? Joining the military provides a great opportunity to develop professional and personal life skills, but it is only an opportunity. As an aside, this second child quite likely earned a 6-figure income in Afghanistan. I hope he saved the bulk of it.

    2. carl from chicago Says:

      The documentary didn’t say anything else than that he joined the navy. He likely made the most money by far of all of them if he was a contractor in Afghanistan. It seemed like it worked out well for him; I believe that his twin brother was still looking for work.

      They may have more follow up at the PBS site.

    3. Mrs. Davis Says:

      If you finish high school, get a job, and get married before having children, you have a 98 percent chance of not being in poverty

      In which direction runs the causality? If someone who would not otherwise finish high school, get a job, or marry before having children instead does those things do they have a 98% chance of escaping poverty if they change nothing else in their life? Or is it that the people who will escape poverty do those things as part of a lifestyle that itself precludes poverty? Certainly failing to do one of those things, particularly get a job, makes it very difficult to escape poverty. But some do. How many?

      This is particularly important given that close to half of all children are now delivered by unwed mothers. This is a huge crisis, particularly in light of the Emmanuel Todd post. What is the government’s interest in dealing with this situation?

    4. Veryretired Says:

      The blue social model is rapidly unravelling, and the enormous damage resulting from the progressive attacks on the underpinnings of western culture is now being seen, and occasionally understood.

      The major task facing people who cherish individual rights and liberties is to prevent the progs from using their usual scapegoating techniques to avoid responsibility for the failure of their policies.

      Given the complete complicity of the traditional media in the progs agenda, this will be a formidable task that will require enormous commitment and diligence.

    5. Jonathan Says:

      What is the government’s interest in dealing with this situation?

      A conflict of interest.

    6. Michael Kennedy Says:

      “Or is it that the people who will escape poverty do those things as part of a lifestyle that itself precludes poverty? ”

      This was the fallacy of trying to get poor people to buy homes they could not afford. Buying a house doesn’t make you middle class. It’s the pother way round. I doubt the ruling class has learned this yet.

    7. carl from chicago Says:

      The sad reality is that these children’s fates were pre ordained due to their low level of education and the fact that they saw no value in getting married to a solid partner. In the movie their parents were married but for some reason this wasn’t seen as important.

      Not getting married and then having children, which is generally very highly tied with not going back for education and thus having a low level job in perpetuity, is a terrible idea in today’s economy.

      The age of no skill highly paid jobs has ended. To their credit many of them seemed to be trying to get additional education and realized this but it is much harder to do it later than in sequence after high school.

      And most likely their children will end up unmarried and having children out of wedlock with low skills to perpetuate the cycle.

    8. Mrs. Davis Says:

      The age of no skill highly paid jobs has ended.

      But far more dangerous is that the age of highly skilled job holders having significant numbers of children has also ended.

    9. Tim Says:

      One of the biggest problems for the poor is marginal tax rate often over 100%. You end up worse off if you work harder or longer. The joys of Obamaism.

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