As farsighted Americans focus on problems abroad, those beneath their noses worsen. As of late, however, the national media has begun to cover the social issues troubling the United States, especially poverty. What has prompted this change and how long will it last?
Indeed, much of the attention is due to circumstance, as journalists, political leaders, and everyday Americans brace themselves for a presidential election. And, of course, most will vote for the individual they trust will bring them out of the current economic depression.
The spotlight on poverty is refreshing nevertheless. National media outlets have begun to inform Americans about the hard times many of their compatriots are experiencing across the country. In some cases, reports even give voice to the poor, particularly those who work long, hard hours and still can’t make ends meet.
Perhaps the attention will be short-lived. Certainly a case can be made that this focus on economic insecurity among the masses will be lost once the last vote is counted in 2012.
Yet I suspect that poverty will outrage everyday Americans. Perceptions are changing, and the poor are not the renegade, lazy, freeloading, game-the-system kind of people that Reagan’s and Clinton’s administrations made them out to be. They in fact are workers denied living wages by exploitative corporations; homeowners coaxed into fraudulent loans; young parents with bachelor degrees forced into low-paying jobs to pay off college debt…
In truth, Americans know “the poor” more intimately than they care to admit. They’ve been neighbors, coworkers, friends. Many Americans also have backslid into poverty themselves and hang on to subsistence by the thin threads of SNAP and Medicaid benefits—both on the political chopping block these days.
In other words the media attention comes at a time when Americans will look around and see poverty everywhere—when they will be ready and willing to hear how it afflicts others with whom they identify.
The last time this happened was during the Great Depression, when poverty was no longer the failing of individuals but of corporations and governments. The end result of this reallocation of the blame for poverty was the social safety net. What will the current redefinition create?
As poverty becomes a campaign issue, people will turn to one another and recognize that change will not trickle down from the White House to the masses; that instead real change will bubble up from below like molten rock. It is then that they will notice that—in the words of Senator Bernie Sanders—“it makes no sense that we push to the fringe so many people who could be of such great help to us.”
As poverty becomes a campaign issue, it may also become the cause of an antipoverty social movement. The question is, Will the media cover the story then?