Friday, December 12, 2008

Crisis Deepens: Lisa Foderaro Reports Rich Kids Coping With $60 Weekly Allowance.

The Times's aggressive economic crisis coverage continues with Lisa W. Foderaro's report on the way children of rich parents are bring forced to cope with reduced allowances, part-time jobs and -- gasp! -- no more Pilates classes or takeout sushi dinners.

The story's headline says it all: "As The Rich Get Poorer, Teenagers Feel The Crunch." And intrepid reporter Foderaro has talked to families in Greenwich, Ct, and Woodcliff Lake, N.J., in search of struggling kids who must forgo their life of privilege and do things like babysit:

“I just thought it would be responsible to get a job and have my own money so my parents didn’t have to pay for everything,” said Jodi [Hamilton], who is 17. “I always like to be saving up for something that I have my eye on — a ring, a necklace, a handbag.”

What a relief to know that even though Jodi's mom lost her "lucrative job managing a huge dental practice in the Bronx," her daughter won't have to go without necklaces and handbags.

But it won't be easy for these kids to keep themselves well-dressed and well-fed. Apparently, applications for jobs at places like the Gap in the Westchester Mall are up 30 percent!

Michael Pollack, a vice president at CBS, tells Foderaro he's happy to see his son Zachary get a part-time job at a veterinary hospital. He believes there's a life lesson in the experience. “I really want him to feel it and save it and spend it so he knows that money goes away,” Pollack said. “If he wants to treat all his friends to a movie, that’s great. But he needs to see that it bottoms out. Where else are they going to get that experience?”

But what has Zachary learned, exactly? Nothing that spoiled kids everywhere don't already know:

Zachary, who earns $80 a weekend for 11 hours feeding and caring for animals, said that he was glad to “help my parents with our financial situation.”

“Things I need, they’ll buy,” he said, “and things I want, I’ll buy.”

Foderaro, in an apparent bow to those in genuine need, does devote two whole paragraphs to a 17-year-old senior at Information Technology High School in Queens, who lost his $5 weekly allowance when his dad's delicatessen business began losing money.

But even the statistical support for Foderaro's thesis is faulty. She quotes figures showing that teenage employment goes up as family income goes up, with only a slight drop off when family incomes go above $150,000; that directly contradicts her point, as does the expert she then quotes:

Teenage participation in the national labor force has fallen steadily since 1979, when 49 percent of all 16- and 17-year-olds had some kind of work; last year, the figure was 30 percent.

A recent study by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University showed that teenage employment from 2005 to 2007 has risen with household incomes that go up to $150,000 a year: 14 percent of teenagers from families earning less than $20,000 a year work, as do 26 percent of those whose families make $60,000, 32 percent of those earning $80,000 and 33 percent of those between $120,000 and $150,000. Over $150,000, it drops to 28 percent.

“Research shows that the bigger allowance you get from mom and dad,” explained Andrew M. Sum, director of Northeastern’s center, “the less likely you are to work.”

Huh? Foderaro doesn't tell us if there's a connection between family income and allowance size. And the implication of her story is that rich kids don't work as hard as poor kids -- and that's the opposite of what the numbers say.

But that's not the real problem with this story.

What's annoying is that in pieces like this one, the Times seems appears more concerned with the far-off fear of perceived economic pain than the actual human costs of the current crisis. It deals so seriously with the supposed dilemma of affluent parents and their spoiled teenage kids that it fails to see how their problems pale in comparison to those with no jobs, no money, and no savings to protect them.

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