Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Poor Shall Always Be With Us

In a world that idolizes the rich, the powerful, the beautiful people, the poor are hardly noticed. The poor, in a consumer-driven society as we currently reside in, will be considered worthless and useless, unable to purchase the goods that companies sell.

Poor people have  become an affront to the wealthy, reminding them that they ought to do something. But wealthy people tend to have a high sense of entitlement, believing that poor people likely deserve their fate. If only the poor person would work harder, they might be successful. Yet, there's the working poor to consider.

Even Jesus said: "The poor will always be with us." For compassionate people, the words ring as an action call to do something, to alleviate the pain, suffering and indignity the poor suffer in an affluence-driven society. For the wealthy, many of them declared compassionate people, the words mean a helpless Gallic shrug, often translating to "what can you expect us to do."

Media's coverage of the poor
So, how do the media tend to cover the poor? According to the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, the media tends to cover the rich positively and the poor negatively. (See Many Say Coverage of the Poor and Minorities is Too Negative.) The findings tend to follow class lines:

  • Nearly a third of Republicans (32%) say coverage of the wealthy is too negative, about the same number who say it is generally fair (33%); 24% of Republicans say press coverage of wealthy people is too positive.
  • By contrast, Democrats are substantially more likely than Republicans to say press coverage of the affluent is too positive (37%), while just 21% say it is too negative. Independent views of coverage of wealthy people mirror those of Democrats.
This result is hardly surprising, yet highly disappointing. But such is a sad reality in a world economy driven by wealth.

We can dissect the reasons and find out some of the root causes of such thinking. A consumer society, as is much of the world today, needs consumers to buy the products manufacturers produce and sell. Even useless products that add little to people's lives. So, in such an economy, a HDTV becomes more important than food. A smart-phone becomes more important than a place to live.

Why it's so has everything to do with our values, and how they have formed over the years, driven to a great part by the persuasive powers of advertisers. So, here we stand. Perhaps, as an outgrowth of the American Puritan work ethic combined with consumer-driven economics, wealth has been associated with success, and poverty with failure. It's as if the equation can neatly be written as: Poor=Failure. Or, using George Orwell's Animal Farm as a template:

Wealthy People Good; Poor People Bad.
Personal disclosure
A bit of disclosure here. I know about the working poor. I grew up as part of the working poor. My father worked hard, but did not make much money, and my mother stayed at home taking care of my brothers and I. She was always at home when we came home from school. She was our Mom, and we adored her. True, we had few if any luxuries. However, we never missed a meal. Never.

Here I stand again. My wife and I worked more than 100 hours a week for months to build our business. We tried everything to keep it going. We worked hard. We worked long hours. We were not successful.  We failed.

So, now, I have once again joined the ranks of the working poor, this time with my wife and two young children. My wife has found a part-time job; I have yet to find something, even though I have assiduously tried. Our family faces multiple decisions daily on which bills to pay. I worry about my children. After all is said and done, all the poor ask is to lead a life of dignity. I join their chorus.

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