‘Neo-Suffering of the Nouveau Poor’ Is Big News

Noting how “media have been pelting us with heart-wrenching stories about the neo-suffering of the Nouveau Poor”–“Sales of Gulfstream jets declining!”–Barbara Ehrenreich pretends (Barbara’s Blog, 3/12/09) to be “tempted to delete ‘class inequality’ from my worry list” before doing some actual reporting:

But hard times are no more likely to abolish class inequality than Obama’s inauguration is likely to eradicate racism. No one actually knows yet whether inequality has increased or decreased during the last year of recession, but the historical precedents are not promising. The economists I’ve talked to–like Biden’s top economic advisor, Jared Bernstein–insist that recessions are particularly unkind to the poor and the middle class. Canadian economist Armine Yalnizyan says, “Income polarization always gets worse during recessions.” It makes sense. If the stock market has shrunk your assets of $500 million to a mere $250 million, you may have to pass on a third or fourth vacation home. But if you’ve just lost an $8 an hour job, you’re looking at no home at all.

Reminding us that “I’m a journalist and I understand how the media work,” Ehrenreich writes that “when a millionaire cuts back on his creme fraiche and caviar consumption, you have a touching human interest story. But pitch a story about a laid-off roofer who loses his trailer home and you’re likely to get a big editorial yawn.” In other words, “‘Poor Get Poorer‘ is just not an eye-grabbing headline, even when the evidence is overwhelming.” Read the current issue of FAIR’s magazine Extra!: “The Recession and the ‘Deserving Poor’: Poverty Finally on Media Radar–but Only When It Hits the Middle Class” (3/09) by Neil deMause