The New York Times had a heart-wrenching story this morning about "Baby Antonio, 5 pounds, 12 ounces and homeless from birth." It began:
He arrived at 12:29 a.m. on a warm Thursday in August. He was purple and perfectly formed, weighing all of 5 pounds and 12 ounces. He stretched his tiny arms and legs into the air as hospital staff hovered over him to count 10 toes and 10 fingers.
His skin turned from purple to a light brown, and he cried, knowing nothing about his world.
There is a picture of homelessness etched in public perception: a solitary, disheveled man, begging on a crowded sidewalk, holding a cardboard sign. But the largest single population in New York City’s shelter system is children under the age of 6.
The gist of this heart-breaking article is pregnancy is often the root cause of homelessness.
Middle class families have to recalibrate their finances because of pregnancy. So undoubtedly pregnancy can tip a struggling family on the edge into even more dire circumstances.
But the reporters on the story, Nikita Stewart and Gabriella Angotti-Jones, seem blithely to pass over the factors that have put this family–and hence Baby Antonio–in such perilous circumstances.
Antonio's parents are Shimika Sanchez and Tony Sanchez, both in their thirties. Tony is an extravagantly tattooed ex-con. His history includes three burglary charges. So here is the real root of the family's precarious situation: Dad has a criminal record for serious offenses that precludes work stability.
But that isn't all.
Shimika Sanchez dropped out of high school but then earned an equivalency diploma and subsequently a certificate as a medical technician. It was at a school that has since been fined for misleading students.
But Ms. Sanchez had to leave her job for health reasons and now she owes $300 a month in student loan debt racked up to get that certificate.
Whoaaa. Who approved the loan?
Shimika Sanchez was no doubt trying to better herself–more power to her–when she took out this loan.
Wish there had been an apprentice program for Shimika and somebody wise to point her in that direction.
We live in a society that tells people credentials are so essential that going into serious debt to obtain them in okay.
And $300 a month is very serious debt for a struggling family.
Ms. Sanchez probably didn't have anybody to talk to her about options and consequences of important decisions.
It looks like her family is at least two generations into serious dysfunction:
Ms. Sanchez began considering moving into a shelter four years ago after Bella was born, and Ms. Sanchez’s parents, who were never married, reunited romantically.
At the same time, Mr. Sanchez was months away from being released from prison, and Ms. Sanchez wondered how her family of five would fit in her mother’s three-bedroom apartment, where her two younger sisters and a niece were also living.
You've got to shake your head at that "reunited romantically."
The Sanchez family lives in what amounts to a cramped studio apartment in a shelter. They store their belongings for $213 a month.
It is easy to understand why this family, clinging to the little they have, would want to store their belongings. Still, wasn't there anybody who would help the family with their property without charge?
Notice that with the education loan debt, this comes to more than $500 a month.
However, the reporters write:
A woman becomes pregnant, and suddenly, the two-bedroom apartment she is sharing with her family becomes too small. Faced with added responsibility once the baby is born, she falls behind on bills and rent. Family tensions rise. She argues with parents or with her partner. She may become a victim of domestic violence. Too often, she ends up moving into a shelter and so does her child.
This paragraph is a marvel of modern non-judgmentalism: there is no acknowledgement that criminal records, loans, and intergenerational family instability are at least partially the root causes of homelessness–and the travails that Baby Antonio will endure.
In Coming Apart, Charles Murray argued that society should be more judgmental about the behaviors and habits that can lead to poverty. It would mean that some kids like Antonio might not be homeless.