Elmo, Sesame Street's most giggly spokesmonster, is going through some tough economic times. His mommy has lost her job.
Elmo's daddy is still working. (Note: A Sesame spokeswoman tells me their names are Louie and Mae. I and many Internet sources called them George and Gladys.) But because money is tight, the family will have to cut back -- eating meals at home instead of at restaurants. A trip to the pirate amusement park is out, and movie night has become game night. But the message of Families Stand Together: Feeling Secure in Tough Times, an excellent program airing next month on PBS, is that Elmo's situation is not unusual, especially with the jobless rate expected to top 10 percent before the end of the year.
The producers of the show, which features Al Roker and Deborah Roberts, created a commendably realistic -- though not depressing -- look at the recession's impact on all sorts of families. According to the non-profit Sesame Workshop, Families "aims to help families with children, ages two to eight, experiencing difficult economic circumstances by offering strategies and tips that can lead to positive outcomes for their children's physical and emotional well-being during this tough economic climate."
The program depicts the struggles of laid-off workers from the auto industry and the military. Personal-finance expert Jean Chatzky also provides useful advice, such as setting realistic financial expectations for children.
Sesame Street even holds a garage sale in which cash-strapped humans and Muppets sell stuff to make a few extra bucks. Roker and Roberts look for a present for their daughter at the community market.
Down but not out on Sesame Street, Elmo decides to open a lemonade stand. The pundits at CNBC would be proud.
There's no doubt that the recession has hit children hard. As Katie Couric's blog noted in May, more than one million children have lost health insurance, and one in 50 American children is homeless. Some parents struggling to make ends meet swap babysitting services with other parents to save money. For some families, pleasures ranging from family vacations to new toys are, for the moment, memories.
And Sesame Workshop was forced to do some belt-tightening of its own several months ago, when it cut nearly 20 percent of its staff: 67 of 355 positions. The company continues to produce Sesame Street, now in its 40th year, and offers a plethora of Sesame merchandise and a theme park near Philadelphia.
As a business writer and the father of a nearly three-year-old Elmo fanatic, I was curious to hear what Elmo had to say about our current economic situation. He did not disappoint. Families Stand Together airs September 9 on PBS.
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