60 Minutes and St. Pete Times investigate Florida families in poverty
Often, when blockbuster TV magazine 60 Minutes highlights a problem, it moves a long way towards getting solved.
But despite sparking $4-million in donations after airing their March report on Florida families forced into poverty and cheap motels by the crushing recession, the venerable newsmagazine found the problem only got worse eight months later.
According to CBS anchor and 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley, of all the families lacking shelter in the entire country, one-third of them live in Florida. Pelley returned to find one of the families he profiled in March living in a cheap motel had now been forced to live in a van.
On the front page of today's St. Petersburg Times, writer Leonora LaPeter Anton told the story of a single mom struggling to stay in the Mosley Motel, one among a string of cheap motels along Route 19 in St. Petersburg where school bus pickups show a surprising number of families living there. Anton's story revealed 22 bus pickups at the Mosley alone, a place which also features a bikini bar.
As Pelley notes, because we have never had so many people out of work for so long, we have more children living in poverty now than at any time since the early 1960s; 16-million kids. Afraid the authorities might take their children away and wary of the marginal people they might encounter living in cars, Pelley notes, these folks have created a hidden America -- scouting Wal-Mart and YMCA parking lots for places to park, where they might catch a shower or use the bathroom.
In particular, Pelley's report on Austin and Arielle Metzger, two smart, bright-eyed kids living in a truck with their dad, an unemployed carpenter, was poignant. Through their stories, the program put an affecting, emotional face on a crushing poverty dynamic.
It's tough to reconcile reports like Pelley's and Anton's with stories of a dysfunctional Congress and government. One Sunday morning political news show this morning quoted a nameless expert suggesting it might be better for the country if the draconian budget cuts mandated by the debt ceiling deal -- including eliminating a payroll tax cut and failing to extend unemployment benefits - were implemented.
It's a sure bet none of those pundits knew anyone like Austin and Arielle Metzger.