Don’t Forget to Look at the Broader Issues Behind Feel-Good Stories

On Tuesday, ABC reported the story of Alondra Carmona, a teenager in Texas who had given up her entire college savings to keep her mother from being evicted. It’s the sort of brave, selfless move that garners lots of attention online, especially given how many of us are starved for any sort of feel-good content these days. And no doubt, Carmona’s actions are brave and selfless. She deserves the positive attention she’s getting, and the healthy sum her GoFundMe has netted to offset the burden of her own financial sacrifice. But it’s important to remember that feel-good stories like this speak to larger issues that go beyond one selfless teenager. Viewed from just a slightly different perspective, Carmona’s story is a reminder of some serious problems in the U.S. that can’t be fixed by any one person’s generosity.

Carmona has been accepted by Barnard College, a highly-rated Ivy League liberal arts college for women. But an injury had cost her mother her job, a tough situation that was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. For a while, Carmona’s mom didn’t open up to her daughter about the financial difficulties she was facing, but finally revealed that she was behind on rent and on the verge of being evicted. This is what prompted Carmona to empty her college savings and catch her mom up on rent. She was exceedingly noble. But she shouldn’t have to be.

Simply put, this is not a situation that arises in a healthy society. Teenagers shouldn’t have to be put into the position of deciding between an education they’ve saved for and housing for their parents. Mothers shouldn’t have to rely on the generosity of their high school daughters to keep from getting kicked out of their homes. Carmona had to choose between her future and he mother’s wellbeing only because we as a society chose to put her in that position.

Carmona is fortunate. The GoFundMe she created attracted the attention of local news, and she has recouped her sacrifice and then some, which is great news. But it’s hard not to wonder about the GoFundMe accounts that don’t get picked up by reporters. It’s also hard not to wonder about the mothers who don’t have daughters with savings accounts. Not every eviction gets a successful GoFundMe, but that doesn’t mean they don’t take a toll. One study from last year estimated that the states that decided to lift the moratorium on evictions may have caused between 8,900 and 12,500 excess deaths.

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None of this is a knock on Carmona, or her mother or even the reporters who covered the case. We should help people when they’re in a bad spot. But we should also be willing to examine the broader things that led to that bad spot and whether or not it’s in our control to address those as well.

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