Monday, September 01, 2008

Economic Schizophrenia

In yesterday's post we explored the market forces at work molding the habits and values of children to spend, spend, spend.

Today we explore the paradoxical reality of family economics in America. he International Herald Tribune reports in Hard times hitting American students and schools in double blow by Sam Dillon:
In interviews, educators in many states said they were seeing more needy families than at any time in memory. Two charities in suburban Detroit announced in August that they would hand out student backpacks, attracting hundreds of families.

"They went through all 300 backpacks in three hours, boom, and that was that," said Kathleen Kropf, an official in the Macomb Intermediate School District. "We're seeing a lot of desperate people."

There were no giveaways for Jacci Murray, 28, a single mother in West Palm Beach, Florida, who said she lost her job six months ago. Murray bought pencils and crayons for her son, Cameron, who is in the second grade, from a discount bin at Office Depot. Saying she felt "cheap and broke," she pored fretfully over her school supplies list, afraid to waste gas by making more than one shopping trip.

"It's been tough this year," Murray said. "I'm depressed about school."

And so are many educators.

West Virginia officials issued a memorandum recently to local districts titled "Tips to Deal With the Skyrocketing Cost of Fuel." Last week, David Pauley, the transportation supervisor for the Kanawha County school system, based in Charleston, met with drivers of the district's 196 buses to outline those policies. Pauley told them to stay 5 miles per hour below the limit, to check the tire pressure every day and to avoid jackrabbit starts.

The Caldwell Parish School District, in northern Louisiana, took a more sweeping approach to saving fuel by eliminating Monday classes. The district joined about 100 systems nationwide, most of them rural, that in recent years have adopted a four-day schedule.

The district's superintendent, John Sartin, said the move should save $145,000 in a $15 million budget. The decision, made in June, came after crude oil prices had risen for 29 consecutive days, Sartin said.

"People here worry that they won't have enough money to last through the month," he said.

-snip-

Nationally, 14.9 million students qualified for free lunches last year, according to data from the Agriculture Department; the Bush administration's budget estimates that an additional 283,000 students will be eligible this year.

A department spokeswoman, Jean Daniel, said that subsidized meals were an entitlement and that no students would be turned away if participation exceeded estimates.

The office here where parents fill out forms to qualify for subsidized meals has seen a stream of anxious parents this year, often in tears, pleading for the free meals for their children because they do not have 70 cents a day to pay for the reduced-price meals, Owens said.

"We've had a lot of daddies coming in to say their check doesn't cover like it used to," she said.
All of this puts children whose expectations for consumption are non-stop suddenly in situations that most surely will trigger bouts of depression and resentment toward their parents.

This will not end well.

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