Welcome to our first What We’re Reading This Week. Beginning today, we will highlight five stories every week from reporters and others who are “talking poverty” and raising awareness across the country.
Authentic stories and good reporting play an essential role in the fight to dramatically reduce poverty in America, because silence and misinformation are among the biggest barriers to progress. When the media is not reporting the real data, or when low-income people do not have the opportunity to share their real experiences, then the vacuum is filled with the same old lies and stereotypes, and poverty solutions continue to be ignored.
Each week, we will share five must-read articles that contribute to a stronger antipoverty movement. These are works that grapple with critical issues, inspire us to action, challenge us, and push us to see both problems and solutions from new angles.
Here are this week’s five stories:
Let Them Eat Cash, by Christopher Blattman (New York Times)
“Midway through a meal of sesame-crusted tuna and filet of beef, some 200 homeless people discovered that they would not be getting money. Instead, the Rescue Mission would accept $90,000 on their behalf. You can imagine the anger and humiliation. ”
Blattman tackles the issue of cash transfer programs to the very poor, specifically Americans’ resistance to a model that has proven successful in reducing poverty in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. If you give a homeless person in New York City a lump sum of cash, will it help to lift them out of poverty or be exchanged for drugs and alcohol? What does the evidence show? As Blattman states, “We must be skeptical of stereotypes of those we purport to help.”
Don’t Call Them Dropouts: A Report on the Nation’s Nongraduates, by Linda Shaw ( The Seattle Times)
“The Alliance titled its report “Don’t Call Them Dropouts” because many of the 200 young people it interviewed asked it to stop using that term. They may not have graduated, the interviewees said, but they haven’t given up. Many are enrolled in high-school completion programs or have returned to school.”
Shaw highlights data on students who do not graduate high school on time, both in Washington State and across the nation. Importantly, she raises the issue of how we as a society label these students and why the “drop out” label denotes preconceived notions. While many people have faced serious hardships that have kept them from school, it does not mean that they have given up on their education.
The South is Essentially a Solid, Grim Block of Poverty, by Mark Gongloff (Huffington Post)
“This should not be much of a shock, as Southern states consistently lag the rest of the country in good things like wages, economic mobility and access to health care, while leading it in bad things like poverty, obesity and general unhappiness. Another thing Southern states have in common is Republican political leaders that have spent the past decade shrinking the social safety net.”
Gongloff breaks down some of the more troubling data from a new U.S. Census report, released this week, which found that over 25% of Americans now live in “poverty areas.” As the graphics reveal, the rise in people living in poverty areas from 2000 to 2010 was not evenly distributed throughout the country.
Top Restaurant Industry CEOs Made 721 Times More than Minimum-Wage Workers in 2013, by Lawrence Mishel, Ross Eisenbrey, and Alyssa Davis (Economic Policy Institute)
The current minimum wage is $15,080 if earned full-time, while the average pay of top restaurant CEOs in 2013 was $10,872,390—721 times more than minimum-wage workers. These corporate CEOs earn more on the first morning of the year than a minimum-wage worker will earn over the course of a full year.
We can count on Economic Policy Institute for hard-hitting data on labor market inequalities, and this snapshot is no exception. Just look at the spike in the Restaurant CEO-to-minimum wage worker pay ratio from 2006 to 2013. This piece adds an enlightened and needed perspective to ongoing debates about raising the minimum wage and economic inequality.
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Beating the Odds by Kavitha Cardoza (WAMU 88.5)
“During that summer, the bills were so high so it was either, we wouldn’t have any food or we had to get rid of our electricity and our water for some time. At home, it was really bad because it was hot, the food was going bad. We all slept in a bed in our basement because it was the coolest room in our house. We couldn’t take showers in the house.”
Our final must-read is a series of ten stories from education reporter, Kavitha Cardoza. Each profiles a young D.C. area student who has overcome massive challenges in pursuit of a high school diploma. These deeply moving stories put a face on a range of poverty-related issues, including incarceration, immigration, disability, homelessness, and the death of a parent. Ultimately, we’re struck by each student’s resilience, and their hopes for the future.
To keep up with our reading list throughout the week, make sure to like TalkPoverty on Facebook and follow us on Twitter (@TalkPoverty)! You can also sign up for our weekly emails on the TalkPoverty.org homepage.