Century Marks

Century Marks

Welfare “reform”

The food stamp program seems to have worked well during the recent recession. The number of recipients has increased by about 30 percent. Welfare, since it was "reformed" in 1996, is another matter. Getting through the hoops to receive assistance from the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families is difficult and the decisions can be arbitrary. Some recipients have called it the "Torture and Abuse of Needy Families" program. One couple was told that to qualify they must each apply for 40 jobs a week, even though their car was in disrepair and they had no money for gas or babysitting (Barbara Ehrenreich's afterword to the 2011 edition of Nickel and Dimed).

Back to school rally

When Texas governor Rick Perry held a public prayer meeting last month in Houston before announcing he was a candidate for the Republican presidential race, about 30,000 people showed up. What didn't get much national attention was a much larger gathering in Houston that same day which drew 100,000 and had to turn people away. It was the first citywide back-to-school event at which children were given free backpacks, school supplies, uniforms, haircut vouchers, immunizations and even food. Planners, who expected only 25,000, were overwhelmed at the response (Houston Chronicle, August 7).

Master rules

"The Marriage Vow," signed by several Republican presidential candidates, claimed that "a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA's first African-American President." This pro-slavery line was dropped from the statement following public outrage. In reality, slave owners controlled the most intimate relationships of their slaves, who were forced to copulate with other slaves or their masters and who had no legal right to marriage until the Civil Rights Act of 1866. Though some owners permitted their slaves to exchange marriage vows, slave couples could be forcibly separated at the whim of their owners (New York Times, August 1).

Job change

Typical mid-level college graduates today can expect to change employers 12 times over the course of a lifetime and change skill sets at least three times. By the time they reach 40, they will not be able to rely on the skills they learned in school. With so much fluidity in employment, loyalty between worker and employer will diminish. "Modern capitalism is turning everyone into a work migrant, and many into work exiles," says sociologist Richard Sennett. Amid so much change, it will be difficult for people to have a sense of a coherent life (Hedgehog Review, summer).

Day the music died

The long tradition of English hymnody has nearly reached a point of extinction, says Angli­can church organist Jeremy Nicholas. Until several decades ago, British schools began the day with an assembly or chapel in which hymns were sung. Due to multifaith sensitivities, that practice has been disbanded, and most youth don't go to church. When couples plan their weddings, they haven't a clue what to sing and will ask Nicholas for suggestions. They totally miss his humor when he tells them what not to sing: "Fight the good fight," "O Jesus, I have promised to serve you till the end" and "Dear Lord and Father of mankind, forgive our foolish ways" (Gramophone, March).