Ultimately, The Voices of Poverty project will form the basis of a book detailing the contours of poverty 21st-century-style. Part analysis, part oral history, the book will help facilitate a national conversation about the causes, and consequences, of poverty around America; and the solutions that can be implemented legislatively, as well as in the non-profit world.
This work builds off of one of my previous books, Breadline USA: The Hidden Scandal of American Hunger and How to Fix It. That book explored what hunger looked, and felt, like in early recession-era America, documenting low-income communities in profound crisis, and the impact of that crisis on millions of American families’ food intake.
The book was reportage-based, but interspersed within the reporting narrative was writing that grew out of a personal experiment that I underwent in maintaining myself, in terms of food consumption, over many months on an ultra-low-income budget.
Other work that I did during those years included a number of magazine articles exploring low-income Americans’ increasingly non-viable financial calculi; their “food insecurity,” their gambling on healthcare outcomes in a world in which they could not afford health insurance, their sinking in a sea of housing and credit card debt they would never be able to pay off, their increased vulnerability to home foreclosure and the seizing of assets.
Today, four years into the housing bust, and with the significant likelihood that America is in for a prolonged period of high unemployment, rising poverty, and governmental austerity, poverty is front-center stage in American political discourse. The Occupy Wall Street movement, with its potent organizing mantra “we are the 99 percent,” has pushed issues of equity and fairness to the forefront; and the ongoing national and state debates about tax cuts and the slashing of public spending versus targeted tax increases on the wealthy so as to preserve social infrastructure are also leading to more of a conversation about national priorities.
The book that will eventually accompany this project is aimed at a general readership. In telling these stories, my hope is to bring alive, and shed light on, people left voiceless, left invisible, by a culture that has done everything possible in recent years to ignore its own poor, invisible, millions.