Say The P Word Putting Poverty And The Poor Back On The Agenda

Isaiah J. Poole

LISTEN

The Nation’s Greg Kaufmann discusses “This Week in Poverty” and the need to make the plight of poor people more visible.

Did you catch the reference in President Obama’s State of the Union address to “poverty”?

You can be forgiven if you didn’t. Greg Kaufmann of The Nation, who recently launched a weekly column, “This Week in Poverty,” on thenation.com, warns in his column today that if you review the video or the transcript of Obama’s speech, “don’t blink, you’ll miss it.”

Here’s what he had to say about poverty…:

“A great teacher can offer an escape from poverty to the child who dreams beyond his circumstance.”

Got that? Great teacher, poverty, child who dreams. We good?

People living below the poverty line, 46 million Americans, represent 15 percent of the country, including more than one in five of the nation’s youth. And yet, as Kaufmann writes today, “in a 65-minute address describing the state of the union, President Obama decided it merited barely a mention.”

Kaufmann, who you can hear above in an interview I conducted earlier this month, is on a crusade to get progressives to start saying “the p word” again. So each week Kaufmann writes a column that highlights the facts, statistics and perspectives that he believes should drive our discussion about poverty, its causes and solutions.

“I got the sense that the news cycle only reports about poverty mostly whenever the census numbers come out annually, and I think we need a constant focus on it,” he says in the interview. He said he is working to bring “poverty to the forefront as much as possible, so that it’s not ‘the p-word’” and allow people living in poverty to tell their own stories.

Today’s column, for example, notes that Florida, where the Republican primary will be held Tuesday, is third worst in the percentage of residents without health insurance, fifth worst in unemployment, eighth worst in food insecurity, third worst in homelessness and second worst in availability of affordable housing. The statistics are a dramatic testament to the destructive impact of the Tea-Party conservatism being practiced in that state. They deserve broader attention, but unfortunately no one in mainstream media has caught on to the fact that the conservative economic policies that the Republican presidential candidates are advocating for the nation are failing in Florida.

While much of the progressive discourse shies away from directly talking about poverty and the poor, the right is showing no reticence in using those words as a cudgel against progressive policies. Note, for example, how Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels’ response to the State of the Union address Tuesday night slandered President Obama’s economic and energy policies as “pro-poverty,” while claiming that the conservative policies that led to the financial crash, the Gulf oil spill, record income inequality and increased poverty are somehow going to benefit the people “waiting to begin or resume the climb up life’s ladder” and will “save the safety net.” Not to mention, of course, the continuing references during the Republican campaign to Obama as “the food-stamp president” who has created an “entitlement society” of people either too lazy or too dumb (and, by implication, too black or brown) to better themselves.

We need to be more aggressive in taking these arguments head on through frank discussions about poverty and real explorations of the lives of poor people. That’s why Greg Kaufmann’s “This Week in Poverty” is a must-read.

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