Covering poverty and politics– by Richard L. Clark
Why you should cover poverty and race in your county:
- Local and national American politics have and will continue to be influenced by income and class. Tax policy and redistribution of wealth are perfect topics to start a heated debate with any group.
- Wealth and class are closely related to who votes and for whom the vote is cast. Wealthy Americans are far more likely to vote-and vote Republican-than low-income residents. Exit polls continue to show the poor who do vote are likely to vote Democratic.
- The poor do not have a political party dedicated to their cause. Nationally, labor had a party alternative in presidential elections from the late 19th century until Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1932 election. The merger of the American Labor Federation (AFL) and the Congress of Industrial Organization (CIO) means that the Democratic Party has been the choice of labor at the national level.
- Wealth and influence have become synonymous in the political field. This fact is especially true in local politics that usually occurs out of the bright glare of media. Without wealth, groups are at a disadvantage for influencing public policy. Surveys have shown that low-income Georgians are less likely to contact elected officials than their wealthier counterparts.
- Poverty affects a community's potential for economic development.
- Minorities such as African Americans and Hispanics are much more likely to suffer from persistent poverty where poverty repeats itself over several generations. When the image of poverty is the working family that faces an unfortunate circumstance, such as a health problem or a general decline in the economy, and cannot find work that pays enough to bring the family out of poverty, the public is supportive of programs to assist the poor. In the 1980s, the face of the impoverished became the so-called "welfare queen." This image of a mother who has more and more children while staying at home watching television turned public support against social assistance programs.
- Local reporters can be the best source for understanding and articulating public opinion for their community. Journalists can also relate public support to policy initiatives affecting low-income residents. Reporting can uncover the effects of poverty that directly affect the community. A reporter should remember to separate persistent poverty, which occurs over the long term, and episodic poverty, which happens with temporary downturns in the economy.
- Local politics focus primarily on how government services are delivered and distributed. The rate of poverty in a given place has a direct impact on local government services, such as the police, hospitals, schools and all forms of social services. Many programs rely on the government's definition of poverty and the definition of who is in poverty becomes a heated political issue.