Notes on the Atrocities
Like a 100-watt radio station, broadcasting to the dozens...

Tuesday, August 26, 2003  

Go buy an August 18 - 25 New Yorker as soon as you can (I don't think it will be on newsstands much longer). In an article called "The Marriage Cure" (sorry, no link available), Katharine Boo has written a searing story about being down and out in Oklahoma City. If you're black and live in the projects, you get the shaft. Bus drivers swerve around you, and the laws try to extract whatever nickels you mght have earned:

But in the legit world Kim kept botching things. In the six weeks between leaving her burglar-alarm job and taking the new one, she had applied for emergency food stamps and been denied. [Her neighbor] eventually accompanied her to the welfare office and pleaded her case successfully, but in the meantime Kim bounced several checks to Wal-Mart. Oklahoma penalties for bad checks are stiff, and are a politically popular income-generator for the District Attorney's office. For writing a $12.18 check, she now faced a $114 penalty, including "victim restitution" to Wal-Mart and a fee to the D.A. And then there were two more bounced checks, and, as the letter from the D.A. said, if she didn't come up with $495.53 in ten days, she could face a year-long jail sentence.

[Her neighbor] pointed out that the District Attorney's wife, a plastic surgeon and former Miss Oklahoma, had just pleaded guilty to illegally obtaining narcotics, for which she received community service and permission to resume doing nose jobs. But Kim, who had seen her own father and brother face less forbearing jurists, did not anticipate lenient treatment.

But wait, there is some "good" news. The government isn't completely insensitive to the plight of America's poor. They're willing to lend a hand.

Oklahoma has rarely found itself in the vanguard of antipoverty thinking, but the class to which the two women were heading embodies a vigorous new idea--something known locally, and archly, as "the marriage cure." Traditionally, singleness has been viewed as a symptom of poverty. Today, however, a politically heterodox cadre of academics is arguing that singleness--and, particularly, single parenthood--is one of poverty's primary causes, for which matrimony might be a plausible tonic. For the past few years, the state of Oklahoma has been converting this premise into policy. In an initiative praised by the Bush Administration, which aims to seed marriage-promotion programs nationwide, the state has deputized public-relations firms, community leaders, and preachers (among them the pastor at Holy Temple Baptist Church) to take matrimony's benefits to the people.

What I like most about the article is how well it uses these women's lives to tell the story of poverty in America. Similar to Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed in reportage, it explodes all the Republican-fueled myths about the "welfare queens." Rather, it paints a portrait of women using every bit of their energy and intelligence to try to get by, but who are constantly frustrated by governmental, legal, or commercial barriers. It's incredible stuff. Seriously, go buy a copy.

posted by Jeff | 9:27 AM |
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