Home / Blog / Article


September 14 2018

On Jobs and Poverty, the New York Times Willfully Gets It Wrong

by Charlotte Hays

The New York Times recently ran a story with this headline:

Americans Want to Believe Jobs Are the Solution to Poverty. They're Not.

The New York Times unfolds the story of Vanessa Solivan and her three children, who have had more than their share of hard knocks in life.

After a murder on their street corner, Vanessa and the children went to live with her father, a crack addict, and mother, an ailing woman who could not put up with the noise the kids made. So, after her father died, Vanessa was forced to look for different housing:

If Vanessa had the money, or if a local nonprofit did, she would book a motel room. She liked the Red Roof Inn, which she saw as “more civilized” than many of the other motels she had stayed in. It looked like a highway motel: two stories with doors that opened to the outside.

The last time the family checked in, the kids carried their homework up to the room as Vanessa followed with small grocery bags from the food pantry, passing two men sipping Modelos and apologizing for their loud music. Inside their room, Vanessa placed her insulin in the minifridge as her children chose beds, where they would sleep two to a mattress. Then she slid into a small chair, saying, “Y’all don’t know how tired Mommy is.”

After a quiet moment, Vanessa reached over and rubbed Shamal’s back, telling him, “I wish we had a nice place like this.” Then her eye spotted a roach feeling its way over the stucco wall.

Adding to her travails, Vanessa is an insulin-dependent diabetic.

It is a sad story and our hearts go out to Vanessa and her children.

But as to a job not helping the family attain a more stable lifestyle?

The Times has been a little less than candid on this matter.

Kevin Williamson addresses the job and poverty issue:

Solivan is a home health aide, a job for which she is paid between $10 and $14 an hour, depending on the reimbursement rate of the patient in question. She works part time, between 20 and 30 hours a week. Desmond writes that the federal government estimates that Solivan would need to earn $29,420 to meet her family’s basic needs.

If we assume an average wage of $12 an hour (in the middle of that $10-$14–an-hour spread), then Solivan would earn $24,000 a year by working 40 hours a week 50 weeks a year. As Desmond notes, our welfare programs favor the employed, and as such Solivan would receive about $5,200 in Earned Income Tax Credit benefits, raising her total income, absent any other benefits, to $29,200, just a few dollars shy of that $29,420 estimate of her family’s basic needs. Which is to say, a job looks like a pretty good solution, if not quite a complete solution, to poverty in her case, provided it is a full-time job. So perhaps the headline should be amended: “Part-Time Jobs Are Not a Solution to Poverty.” But that isn’t much of a headline, since not many people believe that part-time jobs are a such a solution.

Mona Charen addresses another reason Vanessa and her kids are not faring well: the dissolution of the family. Charen writes:

It may well be true that low-level, unskilled jobs are less of a ladder out of poverty than they once were. But the other aspect of Vanessa’s plight, and that of her children, Desmond and most analysts resolutely refuse to grapple with. It’s familial.

We learn that the father of two of her children has made erratic child-support payments, and apart from one trip to Chuck E. Cheese, has played no role in his children’s lives. The father of the youngest was sent to prison when she was 1, released when she was 8, and murdered shortly thereafter. There is no indication that Vanessa was ever married.

Work is available in America, but for those with low skills and major family responsibilities, one income is simply not enough, especially for three children. According to US News and World Report, home health aides average $23,600 per year. If two home health aides are married, they earn enough to be comfortably in the middle class. They will almost certainly not face homelessness.

The New York Times Magazine was attempting to spotlight the failure of work to solve all problems. But it felled a straw man. Who thinks work alone is sufficient? And it failed to address the root of so much dysfunction in America — family dissolution.

It is amazing that members of the mainstream media, who tend to be highly-organized folks, living in traditional marriages, are so busy pitying the poor and guilt tripping the rest of us that they aren't able to fairly judge the things that contribute to poverty and make life so difficult for people like Vanessa Solivan.



Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
Follow us