Monday, March 2, 2009

CNN Reporter Sean Callebs Plays At Living On Food Stamps For One Month

I'm not mad at the story idea, I think it's actually a good one that could have really made a significant impact if Mr. Callebs had actually put some real thought into his experiment. He made numerous errors that could have been averted with a little more research and planning. His blog raises many interesting questions from the people that e-mailed him, more than his actual participation in this experiment did. My personal opinion is that Mr. Callebs comes off like a very privileged man playing at being poor.

The main difference of course is that Mr. Callebs ALWAYS knew he was living an experiment. An experiment that would end. I would be willing to wager for the majority of people living on public assistance that for them one of the most disconcerting aspects is having no idea when they will be able to stop relying on public assistance, if ever. He faced none of the feelings of depression, sadness, hopelessness, and bewilderment that the average person receiving public assistance must be feeling on varying levels on a daily basis.

Another major difference is that Mr. Callebs also has a job, a job that he clearly enjoys. Lots of folks on public assistance are either unemployed or working in an environment that making daily living all that much harder. Instead of working at CNN, I would have loved to see Mr. Callebs working at Walmart or Target for his 30 days. Since he was in the Big Easy, how about 30 days working at Jiffy Lube or Popeye's Chicken while living on $176 dollars for the month for food? I'll bet the house that would have made a big difference in how he felt about munching on oatmeal, peanut butter, and tuna, everyday for a week.
Further, he didn't have to suffer the public humiliation or the personal shame. Calleb didn't have the stigma of having to carry and use the S.N.A.P. (welfare) debit card. He didn't have to face his regular store clerk in his neighborhood grocery store with the consistent reminder that he was receiving public assistance. He didn't have to suffer the rolled eyes of folks who can afford to pay for their shopping and resent folks on "the county." He walked with a dignity that many people who receive public assistance are not always allowed.

One last thing, folks who work at menial labor jobs and rely on public assistance, don't have or spend their free time running 20 miles or so a week. They are too damn tired trying to survive.

One final note
- The more I think about it, it really troubled me that most his segments featured black folks in a predominantly black neighborhood. With one in six folks in post-Katrina Louisiana on food stamps, the face of folks living on public assistance was more than black.


ActsofFaithBlog March 2, 2009 at 2:17 AM  

I saw this on Twitter I think from Don Lemon and it just pissed me off b4 I even watched it. This guy's flippant attitude is beyond clueless. He thinks he's ;earned so much. I can't believe LA gives more in food stamps than CA. You get $162 for a single person and you're denied if you make more than $1120 even on unemployment.

msladydeborah March 2, 2009 at 2:25 AM  

I am not impressed at all.
His monthly allotment for a single unemployed person is more than my home state issues out.

My ex is totally disabled and his allotment is $40.00a month. And they tried to cut that because he has a phone.

It would of been more realistic if he had a low paying job and tried to meet his monthly expenses.
Then he would learned something for real.

Marrell March 2, 2009 at 3:38 AM  

Great post Professor, as always. Funny that I just finished watching Skid Row with Pras Michel. I would love to see this reporter try doing that for a month. I do like this reporters attempt but it defintely could of been thought out more and good point about Jiffy lube& Popeyes.

ch555x March 2, 2009 at 8:30 AM  

Yeah, this is basically a rerun. They should run the experiment near my neck of the woods in rural Appalachia. There aren't that many black folks to compare with and conversing with the "cast-off's" can make a difference.

roslynholcomb March 2, 2009 at 9:07 AM  

I've only watched one of these reports, and I didn't get the impression that Callebs was trying to demonstrate what it's like to be poor. As you said, that's beyond the scope of what he's trying to attempt. I got the impression that he's simply trying to demonstrate that it's damned near impossible to get by on food stamps. Again, I've only seen it once, but for that limited purpose, I think it's all to the good.

Shady_Grady March 2, 2009 at 9:33 AM  

Didn't Barbara Ehrenreich do something like this for a longer period of time? I didn't read her book yet but I think it was "Nickel and Dimed".

Anonymous,  March 2, 2009 at 10:13 AM  

Barbar Ehrenreich did a similar experiment and she actually worked in low-wage environments and lived in places that could be afforded only with those wages. She wrote about it--Nickel and Dimed--good read and a lot more thorough that this investigation.

Tabatha Atwood March 4, 2009 at 11:05 AM  

oh god forbid a journalist might actually interview a cross section of people on snap (food stamps)-

the phony playacting of the professional class- babara e or cnn is ridiculous and demeaning-

why don't they do their actual job and write/produce a good piece with interviews and statistics

just another opinion March 4, 2009 at 3:00 PM  

The offensive thing is the way the other reporter concludes that it must have been so tough for him and she's sure he discovered a new-found respect for leftovers. Really, is that all we're meant to take away from what he attempted to do? We have such a looooong way to go.

What Barbara Ehrenreich concluded through each of her experiments in Nickled and Dimed is that she just couldn't make it--during one stint as I recall (there are 4 or so in the book) she, like the other low-wage workers, had to live in her car because even though they were employed full time, housing was out of reach. But she also, like the CNN reporter, operated with the knowledge that this was not her life; it was temporary.

But there's also an excellent documentary film, Waging a Living, which chronicles real-life working poor individuals and man, that is sobering. As someone whose job was eliminated in October and I've yet to get any response to my resume, yeah.

beth March 8, 2009 at 2:00 PM  

excellent post--reporter callebs also seemed way too interested in how the "experiment" helped him lose weight. he mentions his clothes were looser, although he claims he didn't weigh. he seems a bit disinenguous to me.

Anonymous,  March 8, 2009 at 4:20 PM  

"Only" $176 a month? I haven't kept track lately but I think I definitely spend closer to $140 a month on food and I eat healthy. I buy cheap "No Name" stuff but it doesn't make me feel poor. I wouldn't buy instant potatoes and oatmeal partly because it sounds gross but also because it's cheaper to make my own. And poor people buy cereal and pasta? Wtf? I make stuff myself mostly because I like cooking and like homecooked food. He had to buy stuff on sale?!? Oh my.
My point is I don't think he's experienced what it's like to be poor, maybe what it's like to be not rich. His experience sounds like my experience growing up middle class. Aiming to buy generic brands and things on sale is just good sense.

Rosie March 9, 2009 at 7:43 PM  

It annoyed me when he said that in order to do it 'properly' he didn't accept any gifts of food from others, or seek out places to get free food. Even if the experiment was not meant to be about living poor, but just eating poor, surely these things would be part of that experience in reality? For example, there was a recent article in 'The Stranger' about some free breakfast thing at a chain restaurant (I think it was nation-wide?). The author overheard a snippet of conversation in the line that made it clear the couple speaking had a map in their head of all the cheap/free places to eat in the city (out of necessity, not just thriftiness).

Here in Australia, a journalist called Elizabeth Wynhausen published a book a few years ago about living on the poverty line. This is an edited description from an online review:

"Elisabeth Wynhausen took a year's leave from her job as a journalist to join the ranks of the minimum-wage workers... Soon, she was one of the casual workers, travelling in search of work and learning what it was like to work long hours for low pay and no respect.

As a journalist, Wynhausen had often written about the working poor. Now, she decided, she would join them, working alongside them and trying to live on the wage they earned. She wanted to see what it was like working menial jobs for low wages - and trying to live on earnings below the poverty line.

...She experiences boredom, injury and fatigue, along with the frustrations of having work doled out on a seemingly adhoc basis. She exposes the difficulties of living on minimum wages and on being treated as both dispensible and insignificant by bosses and employers who look to cut costs at every opportunity."

imee March 10, 2009 at 7:30 AM  

I liked the idea of someone trying to live on the other side of the fence and reporting it. I have to agree though, that Callebs wasn't 100% successful. He could've asked someone who had dependents to participate as well, so different factors could be discussed... Not everyone is a single white man in his 40s with no children, after all.


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