Friday, December 02, 2011

Hard Times Generation: Families living in cars

60 Minutes aired a story tonight on homeless families in Florida (where 1/3 of American homeless families live) that broke my heart.  It really brought home what a brutally hard economy it is out there for tens of millions of people, especially the 16 million American children (nearly ¼ of the total) who live in poverty today.  Below is the transcript, but to feel the impact you need to watch it:;storyMediaBox

More than 16 million children are now living in poverty and, for many of them, a proper home is elusive. Some cash-strapped families stay with relatives; others move into motels or homeless shelters. But, as Scott Pelley reports, sometimes those options run out, leaving an even more desperate choice: living in their cars. 60 Minutes returns to Florida, home to one third of America's homeless families, to find out what life is like for the epidemic's youngest survivors.

The following is a script of "Hard Times Generation" which aired on Nov. 27, 2011. Scott Pelley is correspondent, Bob Anderson and Nicole Young, producers.

Never has unemployment been so high for so long. And as a result, more than 16 million kids are living in poverty - the most since 1962. It's worst where the construction industry collapsed. And one of those places is central Florida.

We went there eight months ago to meet families who'd become homeless for the first time in their lives. So many were living day-to-day that school buses changed their routes to pick up all the kids living in cheap motels. We called the story "Hard Times Generation."

Now, we've gone back to see how things have changed. It turns out some families are losing their grip on the motels and discovering the homeless shelters are full. Where do they go then? They keep up appearances by day and try to stay out of sight at night - holding on to one another in a hidden America - a place you wouldn't notice unless you ran into the people that we met in the moments before dawn.

While I spend most of my time focusing on our educational system, poverty has an ENORMOUS impact on the ability of children to study, learn and do well in school (Finland, the country that typically tops the world on the PISA test, has a child poverty rate of under 5%), so I would be negligent if I didn't raise this issue as well – and the news is not good, as the only conversation in Washington and in most state capitals is not whether but by how much to cut back on programs like unemployment insurance, food and shelter assistance for the poor, etc. that would help poor children.  In fact, I can't think of ANY major program that helps poor children that isn't under attack.  And the most vocal attackers are the very same people who are such extremists that they were willing to cause the U.S. to default on its debt rather than raise taxes on the ultra-rich by even a penny.  This is the kind of extremism (and heartlessness) that I'm talking about above and in my previous email. 


Those of you reading this who favor these cuts while claiming to be champions of children need to do some hard thinking about this total inconsistency.  What would you say to one of the children interviewed in the 60 Minutes story?  "Hey, we've just opened a new charter school, or here's a voucher to go to a different school."  To which the child would say, "Gee, thanks, but the real issue in my life right now is that my family is homeless and I'm living in a car."


(I have no doubt that these comments, like my previous email, will generate some heated responses that I should stick to school reform issues, etc.  My response: 1) Poverty IS a school reform issue and I have just as strong opinions on this as I do about how to fix our schools; 2) These emails are highly political and I never promised to make everyone comfortable; in fact, I view it as one of my goals to make everyone UNcomfortable at times; and 3) If you don't like my political commentary, too bad – I've been doing this for the better part of a decade, enjoy it, and get a lot of positive feedback, so I'm not going to change.  Nobody is forced to be on this email list so if you want off, email my assistant Leila at and you'll never hear from me again.)


November 27, 2011 8:01 PM

Hard Times Generation: Families living in cars


Watch the Segment »

Scott Pelley brings "60 Minutes" cameras back to central Florida to document another form of family homelessness: kids and their parents forced to live in cars.

 Subscribe in a reader