Poverty has grown everywhere in the U.S. in recent years, but mostly in the suburbs. During the 2000s, it grew twice as fast in suburban areas as in cities, with more than 16 million poor people now living in the nation's suburbs — more than in urban or rural areas.
Elizabeth Kneebone, a fellow with the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, says this shift in poverty can be seen in Montgomery County, Md., right outside the nation's capital.
"Montgomery County is one of the wealthiest counties in the country," she says, noting the streets lined with luxury apartments, big homes and crowded restaurants. "But it also has a rapidly growing poor population."
Kneebone, co-author with Alan Berube, of a new book from Brookings, Confronting Suburban Poverty in America, says poverty in Montgomery County has grown by two-thirds since the recent recession. That means 30,000 more residents living below the federal poverty line — about $23,000 for a family of four.
That doesn't buy much in a suburban area with a high cost of living. By some estimates, a family of four in Montgomery County needs more than $80,000 a year to meet basic needs.
Hidden Among Affluence
Kneebone says, around the country, the suburban poor live in low-income and working-class neighborhoods. "But it's also occurring in places we think of as more affluent," she says. "And, in fact, it may be even more hidden there because we don't expect to find poverty in those communities."
On a tour of Montgomery County, Kneebone stops at one place where the growth in poverty is not a surprise: Manna Food Center in Gaithersburg, where about two dozen people are lined up for food.
One of them is Polly Maxwell, 64, who walks with the help of a cane. Maxwell says she started coming here a couple of years ago. After working 38 years at a local hospital, mostly in medical records, she now lives on disability checks.
But Maxwell says things have gotten way too expensive. She spends half of her income on the $800 a month rent for her efficiency apartment.
"What you were making in two weeks when I was working, that's what I make a month," Maxwell says. "I mean, it's hard. And I just never thought it would be like that. So, you have to get used to that, you know. Some of your money lasts a month, sometimes it doesn't."
And she's hardly alone. This center, like food pantries across the country, has seen its caseload double since the recession.
Kneebone says Montgomery County is fairly typical. Suburban poverty has grown nationally because low-income families moved from cities — or other countries — in search of better schools, affordable housing and jobs. But she says it's also about people like Polly Maxwell — long-time suburbanites who have gotten poorer.
"And the Great Recession was particularly severe — widespread job losses, many of them concentrated in suburban communities hit hard by the collapse of the housing market and the loss of construction jobs and related services," Kneebone says. And even though jobs are coming back to the suburbs, she says many pay too little to make ends meet.
Kneebone says even social services and charities have been slow to recognize the shift in need. Most of their resources still go to the nation's cities, where there's a long history of serving the poor.
Shifting Focus Beyond The City
The nonprofit Mary's Center has been providing medical and other help to the poor for 25 years in the Washington, D.C. area. But until recently, all of its facilities were located in the city. That changed in 2008, when it opened a site in Montgomery County, in an area that serves many immigrants. It opened another suburban center last year.
"We were figuring out that when we were over there at the other sites that we have in D.C., there was a lot of population from Maryland who were traveling from here to there," says Zulma Aparicio, site director of the two suburban locations. "And they were paying fares for the bus, metro and all of this. And now they continue paying, but it's closer."
Brookings' Elizabeth Kneebone says that transportation is a big issue for the suburban poor. Everything is so spread out, it can be hard to get where you need to go to meet basic needs, especially if you don't own a car.
But Montgomery County is trying to take steps to address the problem. The county's Neighborhood Opportunity Network operates three one-stop shops for struggling families. Pearline Tyson, the network's program manager, says the county opened the three centers in neighborhoods it knew had been especially hard-hit by the recession.
"They knew that some people would be intimidated by going to a [bigger] regional center to apply for benefits. Especially people who had never received benefits before or who were not familiar with government services," Tyson says.
Instead, the neighborhood centers are intimate and accessible. One is located in Gaithersburg, in what looks like a typical suburban office park. But it's filled with non-profits and social service agencies, instead of businesses. People who come to the center are assigned a county worker who helps them navigate what can be a labyrinth of benefit programs and charitable services.
For Akouavi Davi and her husband, who came here from West Africa, it's been a godsend. "I'm so happy, because I know I have someone to help me now," she says.
The family had been getting by on its own until a back injury forced Davi to give up her job at Wal-Mart. Then their daughter left their small grandson, Joshua, in their care, and now, only her husband works, as a security guard.
"We have electricity problem. We have apartment problem. I have health problem, I don't have insurance," Davi says.
And to complicate matters, she doesn't drive. The family recently moved from a neighborhood further out in the county, where there are no buses, to a place near the center, where there are plenty.
Kneebone says when you're poor, geography matters. Low-income residents can spend long hours trying to get services — time that might be better spent working, or going to school. She says at least this county is trying to adjust. Many have yet to do so.
"We're still thinking about poverty where it was in 1964 when President Johnson launched the War on Poverty. The reality on the ground today is just very different," Kneebone says.
And that reality, she says, is unlikely to change if people don't know that it's there.
This story was produced for broadcast by Marisa Penaloza.
The phrase "second term curse" is so familiar that it's become a cliche of American politics. Whether it's President Richard Nixon's resignation or President Bill Clinton's impeachment, presidents tend to have a tough time during the back half of an eight-year presidency.
Nothing on President Obama's plate comes close to those historical examples. But right now the White House is defending itself against three controversies that distract the president from the agenda he would like to be pursuing: Benghazi, the IRS and the Justice Department seizure of AP phone records all have the administration scrambling.
Why do presidential second terms tend to be so fraught?
Alfred Zacher, a real estate agent in Indiana, says there's no single explanation.
After reading about Thomas Jefferson's second-term stumbles, Zacher started thinking - obsessively- about the presidencies he had watched.
"I'm old enough to remember Franklin Roosevelt's packing of the Supreme Court and his difficulty," Zacher says. "Lived through the retirement of Richard Nixon and seeing Lyndon Johnson with his difficulty. I said, 'This second term is troublesome. What's going on here?' "
So Zacher spent eight years writing a self-published book, Presidential Power in Troubled Second Terms. By his subjective tally, only about a third of the presidents who won re-election had a successful second term.
"A rather prominent historian asked me last year: Which presidents had a better second term than first term?" Zacher says. He came up with two names: James Madison and Andrew Jackson.
The downward trajectory can be traced to a variety of different pitfalls, from wars to personal scandals to congressional gridlock.
Donna Hoffman at the University of Northern Iowa studies that last measure. After analyzing the amount of legislation presidents got through Congress for the last 50 years, she's dubious that the "second term curse" is all that bad.
"We often times see that there is a little bit of a drop in terms of what presidents are able to accomplish in the second term," she says, "but it's not such a drop that one would go, 'Aha, there it is. They're always less successful.' "
The drop is a little more than 10 percent. She says in a second term, lawmakers start to envision Washington without the sitting president.
"So their political fortunes may start to diverge in that sense, even members of his own party," Hoffman says, while members of the other party have more interest than ever in investigations and subpoenas.
A 'Scandal Backlog'
Then there are scandals — self-inflicted wounds that seem to pop up more often after re-election. Partly that's because these things can take years to come to light.
"President Obama actually went the longest of any contemporary president without a scandal," says Brendan Nyhan of Dartmouth College. "So you can think about the current context as also reflecting a kind of scandal backlog."
Nyhan has studied when presidents are most vulnerable to scandal. His research shows that the danger zone comes during slow news periods when the president's popularity is especially low among members of the other party. In other words, this moment is a perfect storm for Obama.
"President Obama is unpopular with the Republican base and there's not much going on in the news," he says. "When you add the Republicans' control of the House and the committees there to investigate the administration, President Obama's at a great deal of risk."
But no presidency is black and white. In fact, many who endure beatings after re-election go on to accomplish a lot.
Clinton was impeached. Then he worked to get legislation passed, oversaw a growing economy and left office more popular than when he started. President Ronald Reagan endured the Iran-Contra scandal. Then he had major foreign policy victories and wound up an icon.
As David Greenberg, a historian at Rutgers, puts it: "In a way, if we define the curse so broadly that it could include bad policies, scandals, personal failings, then you look at presidents' first terms and there's also a first-term curse."
In fact, out of the 44 U.S. presidents, only 21 have served more than a full term. So there may be a second-term curse, but for more than half the presidents, a first-term curse never even let them get that far.
The classic children's show Captain Kangaroo aired on TV for nearly 30 years, starting in 1955. After its creator and star, Bob Keeshan, died in 2004, his estate donated a few of his beloved hand puppets to the Smithsonian.
But if you're like me and grew up in the 1960's and '70s, you have hazy memories of Captain Kangaroo telling stories, drawing pictures and palling around with a whole cast of sidekicks, including the bespectacled Mr. Bunny Rabbit, a dancing bear, farmhand Mr. Green Jeans and Mister Moose, who told corny jokes and made ping pong balls rain down on the Captain's noggin. And all of them are due to be auctioned off this Tuesday in Los Angeles.
I got all nostalgic seeing Captain Kangaroo props and costumes on display in the garden of the Nate D. Sanders auction house — including, yes, Mr. Moose and the dancing bear. Auction manager Laura Yntema says more than 500 items are being auctioned, most with starting bids of $250. Up for grabs are pairs of Mr. Green Jeans' denim overalls. And the Dancing Bear's furry man-sized costume held together with velcro. "He's a little dingy," Yntema says, "but he's not ripped or anything. I mean, the quality of this stuff is really, really great."
Also on the auction block are scripts and awards, and Captain Kangaroo's iconic red and blue peacoats. "They have the deep pouch pockets like kangaroos. So he would, you know, have little treats in there for all his characters," Yntema says. "You really don't need all this computer animation and gimmicks to really entertain kids, you know, just need some imagination."
Yntema says Bob Keeshan's idea for the show was to make Captain Kangaroo a grandfatherly figure for children. "He was pretty young when it started so he had a full head of hair. And they actually made him older looking in the beginning. But then as time went on, obviously, he lost his hair and then they had to make him younger looking. So we have like five toupees of that kind of like floppy mop top."
"He was just this kind, bubbly weirdo man," says Stephanie Beard, who's stopping by the auction house to view some of the items she plans to bid on, like the ring of keys to the Captain Kangaroo's treasure house. Beard may sound like she's five, but she's actually 31 years old and lends her voice for cartoons.
"I'm kind of a third generation Captain Kangaroo fan," she says. "You know, my Pop showed my dad growing up and they passed it down to me, and it was kind of a really big deal for us. My grandfather made us a set of those treasure house keys, and we would play Captain Kangaroo growing up. I have a very close fondness to this stuff. And this just brings back floods."
In China, having too much money is a relatively new problem. But the rapidly growing country is second only to the U.S. in its number of billionaires, according to Forbes magazine. And now an enterprising company has set up a course for kids born into wealthy families, who are learning how to deal with the excesses of extraordinary wealth.
For a moment, it looks like this high-end shopping mall in the southwestern city of Chengdu has been taken over by baby bankers. Kids in maroon neckties, white button-down shirts and khaki trousers are holding a charity sale to raise money for earthquake victims. They're on a course dubbed a "mini-MBA" at China Britain Financial Education.
"Even for me, for all our teachers, we sometimes feel very surprised to hear how much pocket money they have," says Paul Huang, the head of research and development. "One girl told our teacher that each year at the spring festival, she might have more than 20,000 U.S. dollars as pocket money."
To put that in context, that's almost four times the annual income in Chengdu. Urban incomes in China have rocketed; they're 12 times what they were two decades ago. But still, these kids live in another world. Paul Huang describes the dreams of one student:
"Our teacher asked her, 'What's your ideal life in the future?' She thought about it for a while, say, 'I want to become a princess. I want to have a castle, and I will have lots of servants. I won't do anything, because I've got lots of money, so I just buy whatever I want.'"
Growing Disparities In Wealth
In China, income inequality is already past danger levels, according to a measure known as the Gini coefficient, which puts 0 at complete equality and 1 at complete inequality.
A figure of 0.4 or above is regarded as signifying dangerous levels of inequality. China scored 0.474 in 2012, according to its own figures, which it released in January for the first time in 12 years.
It claims that income inequality is down from a peak of 0.491 in 2008. But many suspect the real statistics may be different, and one Chengdu institute calculated it at an alarming 0.61 last December.
So the ulterior motive of the charity drive is to teach these kids how to care about others, to teach little rich kids how to give back to society.
As it gets underway, one kid is playing the trumpet for money. Another is selling his hastily drawn picture of a tank for $16. That's way overpriced, but because it's for charity, all the goods are being snapped up, mostly by parents wearing a parade of designer labels.
Allen, 9, is selling off his old books. "You can pay what you like," he says, "because it's all about showing a loving heart."
But this budding businessman hasn't brought all of his books, he says; otherwise, his family would lose money.
"Generally Chinese kids are spoiled," admits his mom, Lisa Zheng. Her husband is the biggest culprit, she says, because he buys their son everything he wants.
But there's a bigger problem too, she says: Money is the be-all and end-all in modern day China.
Paul Huang agrees, saying this mindset has created a morality vacuum, which plays out among both the rich and the poor.
"For the wealthy family, their problem is they don't know and don't care where money comes from, and they spend money in a disgusting way to other people," he says. "For children from poor families, when they grow up, they try to do anything to get money. They don't think it's right or wrong. That's another problem."
These 25 kids raised $375 for charity, which is far more than if they'd been doing this on the streets. They've also learned cooperation, communication and the experience of giving back to society. But it's ironic that learning the value of money comes at no small price: A year's lessons cost the parents almost $10,000.
Her hair is brown and tied back into a professional looking ponytail. She wears a blue shirt, tan sweater and delicate gold chain. It's the first time she's met the man sitting across from her, and she looks out at him, her eyes curious.
"So how are you doing today?" she asks cautiously, trying to build rapport.
"I'm doing well," he answers. His eyes blink.
"That's good," she continues. "Where are you from originally?"
"I'm from L.A.," he tells her, and this makes her smile slightly.
"Oh!" she says with surprise in her voice. "I'm from L.A. myself!"
She is from L.A. She was created in Los Angeles and "lives out her life" there on a computer screen in a lab at the University of Southern California. She's not a real woman, but a virtual one, created to talk to people who are struggling emotionally, and to take their measure in a way no human can. Her makers believe that her ability to do this will ultimately revolutionize the way that mental healthcare is practiced in this country. Her name is Ellie.
There's Power In A Well Timed 'Uh-huh'
The project that resulted in Ellie began almost two years ago at USC's Institute for Creative Technologies. Two scientists in particular are responsible for her existence, a psychologist named Albert "Skip" Rizzo and a computer scientist named Louis-Philippe Morency.
Rizzo and Morency spent months laboring over every element of Ellie's presentation and interaction with patients, experimenting with a range of different personalities, outfits, and vocal mannerisms.
"Everything has been thought of," says Morency. For example when patients talk, Ellie encourages them to continue talking with a well timed, 'Uh-huh,' just as real people do.
"We have recorded more than 200 of these uh-huhs," Morency says. "And these are so powerful! Because a simple 'uh-huh' and a silence — if they are done the right way — can be extremely powerful. So we spent a lot of time on these little details."
But the most important thing about Ellie is not her skill at gently probing all the people her scientist brings into the lab to talk to her. Her real value, the reason she was built at all, is her skill at taking and analyzing thousands of measurements of those people.
Under the wide screen where Ellie's image sits there are three devices. A video camera tracks facial expressions of the person sitting opposite. A movement sensor — Microsoft Kinect — tracks the person's gestures, fidgeting and other movements. A microphone records every inflection and tone in his or her voice. The point, Rizzo explains, is to analyze in almost microscopic detail the way that people talk and move — to read their body language.
"We can look at the position of the head, the eye gaze," Rizzo says. Does the head tilt? Does it lean forward? Is it static and fixed?" In fact Ellie tracks and analyzes around 60 different features — various body and facial movements, and different aspects of the voice.
The theory of all this is that a detailed analysis of those movements and vocal features can give us new insights into people who are struggling with emotional issues. The body, face and voice express things that words sometimes obscure.
"You know, people are in a constant state of impression management," Rizzo says. "They've got their true self and the self that they want to project to the world. And we know that the body displays things that sometimes people try to keep contained."
So, as Ellie gets the person in front of her to ruminate about when they were happy, and when they were sad, the machines below her screen take measurements, cataloguing how much the person smiles and for how long, how often they touch their head.
Morency says the machines record 30 measurements per second, or "about 1,800 measurements per minute." Literally every wince, pause and verbal stumble is captured and later analyzed.
Ellie was originally commissioned by the U.S. Department of Defense. After all the deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan, the military was seeing a lot of suicides and wanted to find a way to help military therapists catch the suicides before they happen. Soldiers don't always like to confess they're having problems, but maybe their bodies would say what their words wouldn't.
This is why Ellie is being programmed to produce a report after each of her sessions — it's a kind of visual representation of the 60 different movements she tracks.
"For each indicator," Morency explains, "we will display three things." First, the report will show the physical behavior of the person Ellie just interviewed, tallying how many times he or she smiled, for instance, and for how long. Then the report will show how much depressed people typically smile, and finally how much healthy people typically smile. Essentially it's a visualization of the person's behavior compared to a population of depressed and non-depressed people.
If the person's physical behaviors are similar to someone who's depressed, then the person will be flagged.
The idea here is not for Ellie to actually diagnose people and replace trained therapists. She's just there to offer insight to therapists, Morency says, by providing some objective measurements.
"Think about it as a blood sample," he says. "You send a blood sample to the lab and you get the result. The [people] doing the diagnosis [are] still the clinicians, but they use these objective measures to make the diagnosis."
Real People Are Complicated
Now, obviously this work raises all kinds of issues, and even on a practical level, real obstacles remain. Jeff Cohen, a psychologist at the University of Pittsburgh, studies the relationship between physical movements and emotion and says signals from the face, voice and body are incredibly complicated to interpret.
"Individuals vary a lot in how expressive they are," Cohen explains. "You know, if I'm someone who is very expressive and I smile frequently, [even] when I'm depressed and smiling less, I may still smile more than you do if you're a tight lipped, not very emotive individual."
This means, Cohen says, that using Ellie in the way that blood tests are used — as proof positive of one diagnosis or another, will be really difficult.
"It strikes me as unlikely that face or voice will provide that information with such certainty," he says.
But Skip Rizzo, the psychologist working on Ellie, genuinely believes these technologies will eventually change the field of mental health. One of the central problems with humans, he says, is that they bring their own biases to whatever they encounter, and those biases often make it hard for them to see what's directly in front of them.
"You can get training to be a health care provider or psychologist," he says, "and try to put those things on hold and be very objective. But it's still a challenge. It's always going to be biased by experience. What computers [like Ellie] offer is the ability to look at massive amounts of data and begin to look at patterns and that, I think, far outstrips the mere mortal brain."
This summer Ellie is being tested. She's scheduled to sit down with dozens of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan.
She'll ask them about their lives, encourage them to open up.
Then silently Ellie will measure their answers.