Spreadin’ Love 555

Why a tenured professor is poor. 

West Side Story flash mob. 

Joe Paterno's tears. Response from a child abuse victim

A home-schooled kid from the 1970s tells her tale. 

46 thoughts on “Spreadin’ Love 555

  1. Single mothers are poor. They are poor because of bad choices they make. I don’t object to other people living as they choose, but I do object when they expect me (i) to feel sorry for them or (ii) to support them financially.

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  2. Is today just that kind of Monday, or do you react similarly to any individual in distress? From the economic point of view, her financially bad choice was to continue her pregnancy. Without the public supports in place, that might have been her only financially sound choice — is that where we want to go?

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  3. BJ, it’s every single mother. Even those whose husbands die in a car wreck are to blame. They should have picked a spouse with quicker reflexes so they don’t lose financial support at a vulnerable time.

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  4. Another thing I object to is the amalgamation of widows with women who choose to have children out of wedlock.
    The market operates very efficiently to protect mothers from the financial pain of widowhood, by means of a system called “life insurance.” Single mothers, in contrast, throw an immense burden on the rest of society, just as do polluters, people who don’t wear seat belts, people who don’t carry health insurance, etc. So I wish someone would explain why some of these irresponsible groups are excoriated and criminalized, while others are valorized.

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  5. So I wish someone would explain why some of these irresponsible groups are excoriated and criminalized, while others are valorized.
    If there’s one thing I learned from the 2008 crash, it’s not to buy real estate in warm states.
    If there are two things that I learned from the 2008 crash, the second is that anybody who thinks every problem can be traced to some type of personal failing on the part of the person suffering from the problem is deluded in the worst way or actively cruel.
    If there are three things that I learned from the 2008 crash, the third is that playing cautiously just means you pay for the mistakes of wealthier people who gambled like a mongoose on cocaine.

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  6. The fourth is that avoiding debt while maintaining wine/beer/booze consumption is vastly more important to happiness than keeping two passable cars.

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  7. From the tenured single mom story:
    “Most friends were now buying homes with assistance from their parents.”
    My husband is 38 years old, he’s had tenure track jobs for 10 years and tenure for something like 5 years, our oldest kid is 9 and we are not yet homeowners (but will be soon, after half a decade of paying off debt and saving money). There have been noises from one set of grandparents about how they’d like to help us buy a house, but cash money has not yet materialized, probably because that set of grandparents, no matter how warm-hearted or high-earning, does not in fact have big (or small) piles of cash lying around. There was also a small downpayment-sized inheritance that we got chiseled out of (long, boring story involving a legally unsatisfactory will and somebody’s grandma’s crooked third husband), but that’s all water under the bridge. We’re going to own a house soon, but it’s been done the slow, boring way, a few hundred dollars of savings at a time.
    I think it’s an optical illusion to think that everybody else is better off than you are. In this woman’s case, she may have half the income of a married two-income family with two kids, but she also has only half the number of people to support with the money, substantially less need for shelter, and her kid is just about launched.
    “When we go out to dinner, I become anxious, knowing that with so little in my checking account, I must order a cheap entree. When everyone orders bottles of wine and appetizers and then decides to split the bill evenly, my heart sinks.”
    The only time my husband sets foot in this class of establishment is when somebody else is picking up the tab (a speaker, a job interview, etc.). Otherwise, our family restaurant dining is usually limited to places where you stand up to order. Read the frugality and personal finances blogs (they deal with exactly this situation) and try to exert some peer pressure on your peers. Trust me, they can’t afford to do this either.
    “Should I have e-mailed my publisher a third time to complain that I had not yet received the book advance?”
    Heck yeah. Academic publishers move like snails–you have to prod them a bit.
    “To kill those supports is to kill the dream entirely for some people, and to be another voice telling smart young women to just give up and accept the limitations their backgrounds imposed upon them.”
    Some dreams just need killing. With the effort she put into grad school, she could have been making the same income 5-10 years earlier. In her particular case, the risk seems to have paid off, but I wouldn’t advise anybody I cared about to follow in her footsteps. You don’t borrow money to go to graduate school, even if it’s just for child care.
    “But I’m not. I have less than $100 in my checking account. I’ve been ignoring a recurring robo-call from a company trying to collect a $50 payment that is overdue. The gutters on my house are falling off. My electric bill is late, and I can’t drive my car because the check-engine light is on.”
    I know lots of graduate families who have half her income, little kids, and have their financial affairs in much better shape.
    She has OK excuses for all her financial troubles up to today, but if her life looks just like this 10 years from now, those excuses are going to be wearing pretty thin.
    As always, Dave Ramsey’s book “The Total Money Makeover”, is very helpful. Or if that’s not your cup of tea, then Elizabeth Warren’s “All Your Worth.”

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  8. “My husband is 38 years old, he’s had tenure track jobs for 10 years and tenure for something like 5 years, our oldest kid is 9 and we are not yet homeowners (but will be soon, after half a decade of paying off debt and saving money). ”
    Amy, I think there’s a book in there, too. I think there’s a strong streak in my generation of expectations based on a skewed view of what we thought the previous generation had.
    “My electric bill is late, and I can’t drive my car because the check-engine light is on.””
    And, this does just strike me as a column written for effect and not for true. Who doesn’t drive their car when the check engine light is on? Of course, I am also the one who drives my car even when the tank empty light is on (to the distress of my family, and, I think, some of the other commentors here).
    I’m not sure what the reaction to this article should be, but my degree of sympathy to her current situation is about the same as the attorney from Chicago. The solution seems much the same: to spend less, much less, than you earn. Without knowing how much she earns, we can’t really figure the budget for ourselves, to see if we might have any sympathy.

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  9. I am also the one who drives my car even when the tank empty light is on (to the distress of my family, and, I think, some of the other commentors here).
    When you coast to a halt, y81 will give you a lecture on personal responsibility and leave you beside the road.

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  10. bj,
    Yeah, it’s struck me recently that while I feel like we’ve been waiting for a house for a very long time, my parents and grandparents got their houses on approximately the same schedule. My parents started building their house when my mom was 35ish (a year younger than me now) and finished probably about 5 years later. Likewise, my grandparents initially were raising their kids in a tiny, tiny old cottage (I suspect it’s in the 800 sq. ft. range or less), while building their dream home, which they finished in 1959, the year my grandpa turned 38. So late 30s has been very consistently the timing for homeownership in my family.
    “Who doesn’t drive their car when the check engine light is on?”
    I bet her car really means it.
    “The solution seems much the same: to spend less, much less, than you earn. Without knowing how much she earns, we can’t really figure the budget for ourselves, to see if we might have any sympathy.”
    Yeah. Within 5 years, if all goes well, she’s going to be a tenured professor with a college graduate son, and all of her money can be devoted to taking car of her. That’s pretty sweet. I have a pretty good idea of what her salary is (academic salaries being pretty consistent across the country) and I think that the real unknown in her situation is how big and pressing her old debt is.
    I think she’s in crying need of solid financial advice from a non-commissioned professional.
    Speaking of financial tales of woe, this story got a lot of attention:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/09/business/how-a-financial-pro-lost-his-house.html?pagewanted=all

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  11. “When you coast to a halt, y81 will give you a lecture on personal responsibility and leave you beside the road.”
    Nah, he’ll stop to help. bj isn’t a single mom so he won’t force her to take responsibility for her bad decisions.

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  12. “When you coast to a halt, y81 will give you a lecture on personal responsibility and leave you beside the road.”
    And I would fully admit that I would deserve it, and, what’s more, it would probably teach me a useful lesson. But, I don’t think I (and most importantly my children) should deserve a lifetime of financial instability and opprobrium for my casual attitude about filling my car with gas (which mind you is not the same degree of irresponsibility as bearing children without thinking about the future).

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  13. I’m with Amy and bj here on reactions to the article. There is so much we don’t know about her budget that we can’t really make any judgments about her life.
    Our families did not help us buy our first house (bought in 2002) or our second one (bought in 2006), but we would be deeply underwater (thanks, housing bubble!) if it were not for the passing of both my in-laws over the past few years. They didn’t use their house as an ATM (like my father did), so when they died, their kids benefitted. But really, we shouldn’t have seen a cent of it, and my MIL should have enjoyed her retirement with that money. She died way too young (stupid cancer).

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  14. “Since she isn’t single, her husband can give her the lecture, as is only proper.”
    Isn’t that what husbands are for?
    (I just erased a long and incriminating anecdote involving me and our car.)

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  15. “Since she isn’t single, her husband can give her the lecture, as is only proper.”
    I am a lost cause and am impervious to change, except through hard lessons learned from experience. I’m guessing that if I ever did run out of gas, I would become a diligent refiller.
    My personal belief is that the spouses of people like me who work at car companies have steadily changed the timing of the empty light so that everyone’s tank appears to be smaller than it is. Someday, after the next engineer rescues her husband, expect your empty light to come on when you’ve used up 4 gallons of gas in your tank.

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  16. y81 – I can’t just let that comment about single moms just lay here in the comment section unanswered. You’ve made similar comments before. Why the grudge against single moms? Of all the people that our society has decided to not leave on the side of the road to starve, single moms seem the most vulnerable. Their bad decision was a single incident that lasted about 20 minutes. Compared to a drug addict or a drunk who makes a lifetime of bad decisions, the single mom’s bad judgement happens in a blink of an eye. The implications of that bad decision lasts 17 years. We also choose to care for single moms, because we need to care for the innocent child.
    While the author of that article may have been a single mom, I know countless married grad students who are in a similar boat. Steve and I were there. Jonah arrived before the dissertations were done. We were on WIC and survived only because of the generosity of an extended family. We managed to finish off the dissertations and Steve got a proper paying job, so we didn’t accrue any more debt.
    The problem is that grad school education takes on average of eight years. For many, students are still working on their dissertations way into their 30s. During those eight years, people have kids. Even students who manage to get financial help from their schools do not receive enough to pay for child care, which is very, very expensive. Students who put off having kids still end up way behind their counterparts in the real world, because during all those years of grad school, they aren’t putting money into retirement. They have crappy health insurance. When they get their first job, their salaries are, in many cases, way below the salaries of kindergarten teachers.
    The only solution is to pressure schools to lessen the amount of time that students spend in school. Four years tops. Not 15 years like some of my friends.

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  17. While I agree with most of your comment, Laura, I would take exception to the idea that it should (or we should expect) it to take 7-8 years for grad school.
    The vast majority of people I know finished their PhDs in about 5-6 years. This leans very heavily into the hard sciences, but I have a hard time understanding why it takes some people almost 50% longer to do substantially the same thing.
    Perhaps my sample is biased though, as everyone I know who finished in that time (including those in social sciences, and the arts) were funded by their universities. Perhaps when you have funding that can be revoked – there is a bigger incentive to finish more quickly. I don’t know.
    But it seems like it is often tempting to drag out dissertations for a variety of reasons, none of which usually have anything to do with the constraints of the subject being researched.

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  18. No, I don’t expect a grad school education to take 8 years. It just does. I think that people should be in and out in 4 years. I can’t google the study right now, but 8 years is the average.

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  19. But it seems like it is often tempting to drag out dissertations for a variety of reasons, none of which usually have anything to do with the constraints of the subject being researched.
    Depending on whether or not anybody noticed and dropped me, I’ve been ABD since Clinton was president.

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  20. “Perhaps when you have funding that can be revoked – there is a bigger incentive to finish more quickly. I don’t know.”
    I think there is more of an incentive for the student to get the work done. But, I also think there’s more of an incentive for the school/committee as seeing the work as having been done.
    In the middle olden days (when I was in grad school, in a STEM field, when the rules had started to shift already), the informal rule was 2 peer reviewed papers would be good enough to be a thesis (with some introductory material tacked on). This was a shift from the more qualitative, but potentially more rigorous standard of having made a significant contribution to the field (a hole in the field of knowledge that was identified and filled by the student). In the last 20 years, I think that standard has shifted even more to add a number of other loopholes (i.e. 2 peer reviewed papers, or having found a post doc, or money having run out, having worked hard enough on the project, . . . .). Of course, people who get their Ph.D’s for “having worked hard enough” don’t move much further in the field. But, they do get their degrees, and their institutions get to list their time to degree the way the funding agencies like it.
    So, I don’t see these hard and fast rules about length of time as contributing to the quality of a Ph.D. Why would it be surprising that the time it would take to make a significant contribution might increase over time? If we were learning anything, the holes that are left in our knowledge are going to become harder to fill. Of course there is always the possibility of a rapid and paradigm shifting insight, but that would require awarding a lot fewer Ph.D’s.

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  21. I think it is a general problem that liberals yearn for a perfect economic victim (“I did everything right and look what happened to me!”) while conservatives yearn to nitpick every economic victim to show how it was their own damned fault (“If she kept a proper filing system, she should have noticed that her company had misplaced her entire pension before she became disabled!”)
    The problem is that the object of liberal yearning — if she even exists — is not representative of victims in general, and won’t help to fix the problems that she is being thrust forward to be the representative of. And the problem with the object of conservative yearning is that it exists everywhere, including in 100% of success stories. (Thought experiment: You are being evicted tomorrow and don’t know what you will do next. Write the Conservative critique of your life that explains why it was all your fault — grad school debt/ buying at the peak of the market/ choosing a career that wasn’t expanding/ had a kid at the wrong time, etc. . . Hint: It will be surprisingly easy to make a very long list.)
    It is simply a fact that there’s a bell curve of quality life decisions a person can make, and on average the people who are worse off in our society made made a bunch more stupid decisions than the rest of us. The reason I am not a Conservative is that I don’t stop there and say, “It’s your fault. Deal with it.” I think people should be helped EVEN IF they made a single (or a series of) stupid decisions — or decisions I disagree with. And it’s why I cringe when I hear debates about OWS protesters with $35,000 in debt for a degree in puppetry. Well, of COURSE he’s going to be out there. The question always has to be, Do we let your stupid decisions ruin your whole life, or do we want to give people a second chance?

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  22. Laura, the author of the article doesn’t indicate that she had a child as the unplanned result of an episode of uncontrolled passion. Nor does the sociological literature indicate that the majority of single mothers have children for that reason. Most of them have children intentionally because they live in a culture which valorizes single motherhood. As a result, the majority of their children grow up poor and with inferior life prospects. I disapprove of actions which are statistically likely to worsen the life prospects of other people, and consider such actions irresponsible.

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  23. I think people should be helped EVEN IF they made a single (or a series of) stupid decisions — or decisions I disagree with.
    Trying to get a job as a consultant for Penn State’s Athletics Department? (I kid, I kid.)

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  24. Most of them have children intentionally because they live in a culture which valorizes single motherhood.
    Is Murphy Brown on streaming Netflix?

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  25. @y81
    I’ve read Promises I Can Keep, and I have to say – that is not what I understood the premise to be when I read the text. Perhaps you might want to go back and do a closer reading?
    @MH
    I can highly recommend the book, it is a fascinating sociological study. As is Annette Lareau’s Unequal Childhoods and almost any text of Ruby Payne.

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  26. y81,
    Let me be more blunt. You asserted that single motherhood either results from a moment of passion or from the intentional choice of the mother while waving your hands a shouting “It’s in the literature.” However, something like 1.5% of all children have their parents divorce in a given year. This makes me suspect that you are more venting your world view than actually citing evidence.

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  27. I also object to conflating divorced mothers with single mothers. (I note that the claim about widows seems to have been abandoned.) Society has a set of institutions, i.e., family courts, matrimonial law, custody decisions, alimony and child support awards, etc., designed to ensure, so far as human institutions can, that divorce does not leave children living in poverty with diminished life prospects. What does that have to do with those who choose single motherhood? The author of the original article isn’t divorced.

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  28. I also object to conflating divorced mothers with single mothers. (I note that the claim about widows seems to have been abandoned.)
    This is complete nonsense. Child support payments from a father are not based on whether the father and mother were ever married. Child support obligations to your baby mamma are no different from those to your ex-wife.

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  29. “Child support obligations to your baby mamma are no different from those to your ex-wife.”
    But an ex-wife has claims on marital property in a way that a baby mama does not. Totally different legal kettle of fish.
    Also, with a few glittering exceptions, a person who uses the term “baby mama” of their child’s mother is unlikely to have much in the way of material resources to share with said “baby mama.”

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  30. That is true.
    It is also true that talking about single parenthood without talking about divorce is a way of ignoring the ways in which middle class parents are “statistically likely to worsen the life prospects of other people” while focusing on the ways in which the poorer people do so. I doubt that is unintentional.

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  31. MH, if it makes you happier, we don’t approve of divorce and generally make an effort to cut off social ties with acquaintances who get divorced. But I don’t believe the social science evidence on this issue is anywhere near as strong as the evidence on out-of-wedlock motherhood. Can you give me some cites indicating that the two have equivalent effects on child welfare?

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  32. “Can you give me some cites indicating that the two have equivalent effects on child welfare?”
    My formerly favorite family stats site (familyscholars.org) has gone off the rails in the direction of navel-gazing and no longer does this sort of thing, but I have a fuzzy recollection that the outcomes are in fact different for children from divorced families, versus never-married families.
    On the other hand, at this point, marriage is very closely associated with class and education. Outside of some place like San Francisco, if you put a hundred divorced parents and a hundred never-married parents in the same room, I think most of us would have a respectable accuracy rate if we were asked to sort them out without being told who is who.

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  33. I’m not interested in y81’s social life. I’m trying to figure out if, in his estimation, it is possible for anything bad to happen to somebody aside from “bad choices” short of a meteor smashing their head.

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  34. Or rather, if there isn’t a significant subset of the population that would find it impossible to have their problems blamed on anything but a “bad choice”.

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  35. Apparently, I’m supposed to cut off social ties to my parents. I didn’t read the article, but the fact that we’re talking about choices as if they’re made in a vacuum drives me nuts. If I’m a woman in Mississippi, it might actually be cheaper for me to have a kid out of wedlock than to take 4 days off work to drive to the only abortion clinic and avoid said situation. And don’t tell me the woman should have used Birth Control–birth control fails or is expensive and hard to come by–especially in places like MS. Whose bad choice are we talking about now? And sometimes, the woman gets pregnant, wants to have the kid, and the father takes off–something he can do, but the woman carrying the kid can’t. I’m gonna guess that y81 is not pro-choice–except when he can blame the choice on the woman and then not support her in any way.

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  36. From the professional point of view, Rachel Wagner has done amazingly well. I’m afraid she doesn’t realize how disastrous her career path would be to anybody without her luck. To be very generous, if 100 young women made all of the professional choices she has and worked just as hard, at least 80 of them would find themselves in much worse shape. They’d graduate and then at best string together a series of adjunct or 1 and 2-year positions, a very dismal proposition for a single parent. I think it’s really irresponsible for her to engage in you-go-girlism and encourage other single mothers to do the same thing, when they haven’t a prayer of achieving the same results. And, even though Wagner is a best case scenario, she herself tells us that her financial life is a mess.

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