Poverty Doesn’t Sell, but We Wrote About It Anyway

M. Spencer Green/Associated Press

Those living on the edge can testify to the inadequacy of public benefits and the stinginess of the so-called welfare state for millions of Americans, many of them children.

For the past two years as a Prospect writing fellow, I’ve carved out a beat on poverty and inequality, writing about marginalized populations and overlooked issues. Stories on inequality are depressing. They don’t sell ads. But in an era where the chasm between rich and poor is only widening, and wages have stagnated for decades, this is the stuff we need to talk about.

Thanks to the Prospect for letting me—a person from the working class—write about issues close to me, and issues I think are important. Here are ten of my favorite stories I’ve written, either because of the people I spoke with or the topics that were highlighted.


Could California End Childhood Poverty?

California, as far as I know, is the only state whose department of human services convened a task force to come up with solutions to end childhood poverty. And the Prospect, as far as I know, is the only outlet outside of California that covered this groundbreaking commitment to low-income kids. The state recently passed what’s pretty much the first guaranteed income for low-income families with children in the country—though they intentionally left out families with undocumented parents.

Benefits on the Line

So much of my work has been explaining how complicated policies affect the most marginalized people. Sometimes these policies are designed to be complex so that, unless you have a Ph.D. in economics, they go over our heads. This story attempts to explain one.

Building Worker Solidarity Across Borders

American consumers have tended to ignore the labor conditions of workers internationally—cheap stuff wins out. But the Communications Workers of America has, for the past few years, slowly built relationships with call center workers in the Philippines. I wrote a follow-up story, here, in which I interviewed via Skype a Filipino worker who had been fired for organizing.

Reproductive Rights at Risk With or Without Roe

There was a lot of panic for the future of Roe when Trump appointed two new Supreme Court justices. Rightly so, but abortion has never been easy to access, especially if you’re a person of color, have low income, or you live in a rural area. This story also saw me on C-SPAN … eek!

Who Cares for the Care Workers?

I interviewed two care workers who are also organizing their colleagues in their respective cities in the South. Home care workers are a “hidden” workforce, laboring away, typically alone, in buildings you unknowingly pass on the street.

The Idle Poor and the Idle Rich

This is an essay about societal expectations and how we think about who is deserving of government assistance. It is also a song in the 1968 musical film Finian’s Rainbow.

Scott Walker and the Failure of Trickle Down

Two states, two directions, widely different outcomes. Governor Scott Walker, national disgrace, threw Wisconsin into disarray by a commitment to trickle-down economics, and by cutting welfare and gutting unions. Minnesota, which did the opposite, is doing much better on nearly all counts.

West Virginia Teachers Won Their Strike. Now, They’re Rebuilding the Local Economy.

Possibly my favorite story: I traveled to McDowell County in southern West Virginia, the poorest county in a struggling state, to report on an anti-poverty initiative led by the American Federation of Teachers. This project is a throwback to the days when labor unions provided community resources and support—but in a region that knows how quickly do-gooders will drop one project for the next, the initiative has had a rocky start.

Food Stamps Aren’t a Substitute for Work. They’re How Low-Wage Workers Avoid Hunger.

For this piece, I interviewed a woman who used to receive SNAP to learn about her experience with the program, and held onto the interview for a few months until I came upon a report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities that perfectly explained her difficulties. In contrast to the stereotype, Sarah used the program when she needed it most—when she was in between unstable jobs—not so that she wouldn’t have to work.

The Poverty on Disney’s Doorstep

The Prospect isn’t known for publishing movie reviews, which is why I loved writing this piece about how indie movie The Florida Project depicted not just childhood poverty, but childhood itself.

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