Like anyone who grew up with stories of the Great Depression, I find it hard to really understand what it must have been like to go to bed hungry. Or to own only one pair of shoes. Or to sleep in the same bed as several other siblings. The Great Depression is so far in the past and, in many ways, looked on with nostalgia, that it’s easy to think of depression-era kids as plucky and shrewd and even sort of lucky to have faced such hardship at a young age, an opportunity to learn what really matters and on and on. The past is kind of safe because just look at grandma and grandpa — everything turned out OK.
Flashforward to now: unemployment rates continue to rise, home foreclosures, as well. Thousands of once-middle class families have fallen on hard times. Real hard times. Great Depression-style hard times. They’re being split apart according to gender in homeless shelters.
Or, as a recent CBS/60 Minutes segment shows, they’re living among other homeless families in cheap hotels. Going to bed hungry. Sleeping three to a bed.
The latest Census figures indicate the child poverty rate is 25 percent, the highest level since the Great Depression of the 1930s. From CBS:
Nationwide, 14 million children were in poverty before the Great Recession. Now, the U.S. Census tells us its 16 million – up two million in two years. That is the fastest fall for the middle class since the government started counting 51 years ago.
What’s interesting about these numbers is that the government considers a family of four poor if their annual income is less than $22,000. If millions are living below that — and we all know, in many parts of the country even twice that is still nearly impossible to live on — how many are living with not much more?
The 60 Minutes feature talks to some of the kids and to people working in social services. Whereas homeless families would typically spend just weeks at a homeless shelter, they’re now spending months and years living without a permanent situation, in hotels or out of cars.
The reporters call these kids the Hard Times Generation. I wonder what they’ll tell their grandkids.