Reporting Poverty

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steveperaza
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Reporting Poverty

126 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?   

Rob McCourt
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Re: Reporting Poverty

I understand that the increased recognition of poverty is mostly due to the upcoming presidential elections in 2012 and is used mainly to appeal to voters. My question is what needs to be done (by both the public and government) to make sure that the issue of poverty remains on the president's and government's agenda? how will change "bubble up from below like moletn rock" from the masses to the whitehouse?

steveperaza
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Re: Reporting Poverty

Thanks for the comment and questions.

I wish I could answer for the public and the government...I'm playing my part, which is covering the persistence of this particular social problem.

Yet, it is clear to me, that a fundamental part of the United States political economy is an alienated, underprivileged, and stigmatized social class. Over time different groups have played this role and, of course, for different reasons. But this group, nevertheless, has served perpetually as a stabilizing force--the "base" of the American social and economic hierarchies.

To eradicate poverty, then, would be to eradicate the American political economy; that is, to the pull out the rug beneath it. I'm not sure that's the most pragmatic course to follow. (Though, I must admit, I'd be all in favor of a radical campaign to end American poverty...)

A more realistic alternative--in the short term, at least--is to question, if not criticize, the imaginary boundary between the working poor and the middle class. Pundits and politicians continue to express wonder at the economic instability of middle class families, yet most of them have always been one economic downturn away from poverty...

The next step, then, is to merge the poverty and middle class issues so that both constituencies see their fight through the same lens.

Jordyn Anya
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Re: Reporting Poverty

To go off what Steve said about combining the issues of the lower class with the issues of the middle class would be an issue of changing opinions and mind sets as well. There are so many negative perceptions of the poverty stricken, it's sad and not entirely fair. There are stereotypes that would need to be eradicated before people can work together. The question then becomes how do we go about eradicating negative outlooks to work together? 

steveperaza
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Re: Reporting Poverty

To my mind, this might be a case when tragedy leads to triumph. What the Great Recession has done is point out how easily "normal" people--which I am defining here as the members of gainfully employed middle class households--can backslide into poverty. In turn, the mass media has highlighted the plight of these normal folks, thereby softening some of the rigid stereotypes of poor people. It might be revealing to focus now on those who were poor before 2008--that is, those for whom the Great Recession was just one downturn among many in what may seem to them like a lifetime of poverty. I bet their stories will resemble those of the "new poor," thus hinting at the systemic reproduction of an American underclass. In light of the presidential election on the horizon, and the Occupiers currently contesting economic inequality, this longer narrative of poverty will raise more than a few eyebrows...But this presumes that the mass media wants to connect the dots. That remains to be seen.  

jbford11
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Re: Reporting Poverty

Although the Media wants to connect the dots of poverty in relation to the class system we have created in a negative connotation in the United States.  Obviously as it is previously stated the new numbers for the unemployment rate and people in poverty are in direct correlation to the upcoming 2012 election to give either republican or democratic side a boost on whatever positive spin they can put on it.  Unforatunely, a positive spin should not be put on unemployment and poverty rather a solution.  But as also stated above poverty, lower class, middle class, upper class, and everything in between is the only able way to run a capitilist country.  Creating a solution to poverty or limiting it from our outrageous fictional 8% currently which you could nearly double for actuall unemployment would yes be beneficial to an extent. Limiting poverty to 2% would be a perfect national average, but removing it completely would essentially equalize our countries wealth among nearly every individual creating a communist like environment, which we are not.

Clearly the negative stereotypes need to be removed before anything can be changed in our country?

James Fordyce