Newspapers across American who take The Associated Press are carrying an AP story based on census data and interviews with poverty-research experts by the ubiquitous wire service. “Four out of 5 U.S. adults struggle with joblessness, near-poverty or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives,” says the story’s lead. Mark R. Rank, a sociology professor at Washington University in St. Louis, did number-crunching for The AP that produced the story’s findings. Rank’s data compilations show, for example, more than 19 million whites now fall below the poverty line of $23,021 for a family of four.
Pundit Tom Blumer on the “liberal-media” bashing blog site NewsBusters essentially replies: “So what,” everyone faces adversity at some point in their lives. Then the libertarian blog “The Rio Norte Line” juxtaposes text of President Obama’s speech in Galesburg, Ill., over the weekend with the AP’s reporting and implies a disconnect between Obama’s expressions of faith that the economy is recovering and the reality portrayed in the AP story published Sunday, July 28 and written by AP staffer Hope Yen. Excerpting from her story:
“Poverty is no longer an issue of ‘them’, it’s an issue of ‘us’,” says Mark Rank, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis who calculated the numbers. “Only when poverty is thought of as a mainstream event, rather than a fringe experience that just affects blacks and Hispanics, can we really begin to build broader support for programs that lift people in need.”The numbers come from Rank’s analysis being published by the Oxford University Press. They are supplemented with interviews and figures provided to the AP by Tom Hirschl, a professor at Cornell University; John Iceland, a sociology professor at Penn State University; the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey Institute; the Census Bureau; and the Population Reference Bureau.
So the news-literacy challenge here is figuring out to what degree The AP’s findings represent a fundamental shift in American’s perceptions or reality, and how important an impact that has on our ability to sustain participatory democracy. But what’s remarkable is that this debate is breaking out in the main stream media — a debate about, in effect, what has happened to the American Dream.