6 – Did Oprah and Will.i.am miss the mark?

For any of you who have nothing better to do weekday afternoons than watch Oprah, you may have seen a recent episode on which Will.i.am (musician, songwriter, producer, and founder of the Black Eyed Peas) paid off the mortgages of two families who were about to lose their homes.  They were, according to the show, victims of our nation’s poor economy.

One family was a single mom and her daughter.  It appeared the Mom had done everything right.  She worked hard, furthered her education, and did her best to give her child a place to call home.  I don’t know if she lived within her means, but it appeared that she did.  The other family had eight children.  Dad recently lost his job, and the mom was a stay-at-home mom.  I don’t know how many of you have eight kids, but I’ll bet the majority of you know what a challenge it is to keep your head above water with just one or two.  Is having eight kids living above your means?  Simple math tells us that the average cost of raising one child for 18 years is about a quarter of a million dollars.  Multiply that times eight and you have an expense of $1.8 million dollars or $100,000.00 a year for 18 years.

This is America, you say, and if you want 8 kids you can darn well have them.  That’s true.  I’m all for loving parents having as many children as they want – as long as they can care for their kids both financially and emotionally.

While it was a grand gesture on his part, I couldn’t help but scratch my head and wonder how these two families qualified for such a generous act.  Deserving or not, two families are, for the moment, mortgage-free.

That said, my point is this.  Will.i.am knows what it’s like to be poor.  He came from the projects of East Los Angeles.  His mom came from the projects.  And before he bought her a nice little home of her own, his granny still lived in the projects.  He knows what it’s like to work your way out of poverty and become a responsible member of society.  I can’t help but wonder if that message wasn’t lost in the “bailout” of these two families.  Wouldn’t his money have been better spent on education?  He is in the unique position to reach millions of people who could benefit from the message that we all need to make responsible decisions that we can live with.  Or better yet, why not reward families who have not teetered on the brink of financial disaster, families who have made reasonable, realistic choices and assumed responsibility for those choices.

The economic downturn in this nation has given rise to an expectation that we are somehow owed something, and I fear that show simply fueled the fantasy.  Our tattered economy follows an era of reckless spending.  Are the two connected?  You betcha.  How can the economic situation improve if we believe that somehow we will be bailed out when we have been irresponsible? Last year saw 1,776,124 new personal bankruptcies.  In the twelve month period ending September 30, 2009, total filings increased more than 34% over the preceding year, and the last quarter of 2009 alone saw a 33% increase over the last quarter of the preceding year.

Will.i.am’s good intentions are a mere bandaid on a festering wound. The performer also started a fund called “i.am home” to help those in jeopardy of losing their homes due to the economic crisis.  He’s kicking off the fund with his own money.  Very admirable, even though it was mentioned as an afterthought as he stood on Oprah’s stage with the single mom and her daughter and the family of ten.

Hopefully the performer’s fund will benefit those who genuinely have fallen victim to the bad economy and not those who simply overspent.

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