Power Marketplace’s public service journalism 💙 Give Now

Sesame Street takes on financial crisis

Marketplace Staff Sep 4, 2009

Sesame Street takes on financial crisis

Marketplace Staff Sep 4, 2009


TESS VIGELAND: Why is Mom home on a Tuesday afternoon?
Doesn’t she have to work? That’s the kind of question a kid might ask that could lead to “The Talk.” The challenging chat with the kids when a parent loses a job or the economy makes things really tight around the house.

Sesame Street is taking to prime time to help families tackle it. In the special called “Families Stand Together,” our old friends hold a swap meet to help families raise money.
Grover doesn’t quite get it at first.

Grover: Well it is too bad I cannot buy a community at the community market. I was not able to buy a garage at the garage sale today either. But I did get some lovely tags at the tag sale, and some cute little fleas at the flea market, see?

Man: Oh Grover don’t open it. Please!

Grover: Wait a minute, where did they go?

The show includes four real-life families who’ve had to make big changes because of job losses.

Child 1: We can’t go to the store a lot and buy stuff that’s really expensive, so we have to buy stuff that’s cheap.

Child 2: They talk to us about a want versus a need. You want new clothes, but you need food for your lunches.

We’re joined now by two members of the Sesame Workshop. Dr. Jeanette Betancourt helped produce the special, welcome to the program.

Dr. Jeanette Betancourt: Thank you so much for inviting us.

Vigeland: And I know you’ve brought a very special guest with you. Hi Elmo.

Elmo: Hello, how are you?

Vigeland:I’m very well, thank you. Can you remind us how old you are?

Elmo: Elmo’s 3 1/2, going on 49.

Vigeland: Oh my goodness. Well that’s a big jump.

Elmo: Yes it is.

Vigeland: Well I’m so glad you can join us.

Elmo: Thank you for having Elmo.

Vigeland: Tell us a little bit about how things are going in your family right now.

Elmo: Elmo’s family been going through a lot of tough times. Ever since Elmo’s mommy lost her job, it’s been a big change.

Vigeland: Was it hard to talk about that with your mom and dad when she lost her job?

Elmo: No, they told Elmo about it and Elmo was kind of happy, because that meant mommy would be home more.

Vigeland: That’s right, that’s right. How did they explain it to you, Elmo?

Elmo: Well they just said that things are going to be a little bit tight, because only daddy was working and mommy was out of a job. So that meant instead of going to the movies and paying, we would stay home and watch TV together. Or Elmo loves amusement parks, but that costs money so we got to go to a regular park.

Vigeland: And what did you think about that?

Elmo: Oh it’s fun, because mommy and daddy and Elmo were together.

Vigeland: That’s right. Well, let me turn to you Jeanette. Elmo’s family is one of five that are part of this special and all five are going through some pretty tough times. What are you hoping kids and their parents take away from it?

Betancourt: Basically, a lot of these families are so brave in opening up about this situation. It deals with job loss, as well as tight times, as well as when you lose a home due to economic situations. What we’re hoping that families take away from this is how to talk to children about what is happening and also explaining how these tough times are affecting the entire family.

Vigeland: Talk to us a little bit about why the folks there at Sesame Street thought that this was a topic that they needed to tackle with this audience.

Betancourt: Sesame Street is always looking at where the needs of children are and particularly in this situation, we started to note that more and more families were impacted and there were very limited resources that address this issue. And what we specialize in and what Elmo brings to mind is how to really talk about difficult subjects like this one.

Vigeland: Yeah, you do have a lot of very practical tips, ways for families in need to, not only talk to their children, but maybe find a little more income or manage the incomes that they do have. Would you share some of those with us?

Betancourt: It’s a lot of what’s similar to what Elmo just shared with his family. It’s looking at alternatives in terms of finding free things that may be available in your neighborhood. It is looking at your budget and figuring out what you absolutely need, again, for the entire family, those basic needs. And ways that you can find things in your community that can bring your family together, such as going to the library, instead of buying books. Or using DVDs or having family time together and playing board games. All of these are options that are more cost effective.

Vigeland: You know, one thing I noticed while watching the stories of these families is that the kids are really far more resilient than their parents, I think, expect them to be. In fact, almost immediately, their reaction is “How can I help?”

Betancourt: I think that comes from the idea that these families are really open about what’s happening. And they have family time together and they explain the changes that are happening. So that leads to children being part of the process and understanding more what’s going on.

Vigeland: Elmo, what did you learn from these stories and how are you helping your mom and dad?

Elmo: Elmo thought that because Elmo asked for a lot of toys that’s why we didn’t have much money. But Elmo’s mommy and daddy told him it wasn’t Elmo’s fault. It was just something that happens sometimes. And Elmo learned that there are so many different ways to still have fun without spending money. And one of Elmo’s friends named Michelle, actually made t-shirts so he could make money for his family.

Vigeland: Yeah, I think there was a lemonade stand too, wasn’t there?

Elmo: Oh yeah.

Vigeland: That must’ve been yummy.

Elmo: No, it was really good. They made a lot of money too.

Vigeland: Now Elmo, I know your mom was very excited about a job interview that she was going to. Do you know if she got the job?

Elmo: Yes she did! Elmo’s so proud of her and daddy’s proud of her too.

Vigeland: Well that’s wonderful news. I want to thank both of you for talking with us today. Dr. Jeanette Betancourt, thank you.

Betancourt: Thank you.

Vigeland: And Elmo it’s been really cool to talk to you. Thanks for visiting with us.

Elmo: Thank you. See you soon.

Vigeland: The Sesame Street special is sponsored by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. You can watch it on PBS stations across the country this coming Wednesday, Sept. 9. Check your local listings for air times.

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.