Busted: America's Poverty Myths, a new series from On the Media

Sep 29, 2016

For the month of October, "On the Media" presents "Busted: America's Poverty Myths; The Distorted View of Poverty in America and the Media's Role in Framing the Issue." Listen each Saturday during "On the Media" at  3 p.m. That's Saturday, October 1 through Saturday, October 29.

Episode 1 - The Poverty Tour; October 1

Brooke Gladstone takes the Appalachian “Poverty Tour” with activist Jack Frech, who’s escorted countless journalists -- including Peter Jennings, Connie Chung, and Charles Kuralt -- on the same tour for more than 40 years,  and seen nothing come of it. The question: Can any story truly dislodge America’s entrenched myths about the poor?

Episode 2 - Personal Responsibility; October 8

This episode scrutinizes one of America’s prevailing poverty myths: that the cure lies in instilling a sense of personal responsibility in the poor. This goal has spawned efforts at “reforming” welfare, culminating in the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act. We review the legacy of Reagan’s “welfare queen” in shaping policy, and present the story of Carla Scott, who, though skilled and employable, found her life overturned by the birth of a severely premature daughter.

"Data is important, but it’s abstract. When we hear the stories of poor people, in their own voices, we can’t ignore them. They make us confront our illusions and prejudices – our national ideals – and see things as they really are." - Brooke Gladstone

Episode 3 - Dissecting Horatio Alger; October 15

Novelist Horatio Alger codified the notions of upward mobility for the “deserving” poor. For a hint of how that plays out in real life, we offer the case of Natasha Boyer, a young and ambitious girl from Appalachia, striving toward her goal of managing a pizza shop. In a random act of kindness, a local church gives her a $1,000 tip, saving her from eviction. But despite her best efforts, her dream proves impossible, and she winds up back where she started, in poverty.

Episode 4 - The Safety Net Myth; October 22

In this episode, On The Media goes to a Columbus shelter to illustrate the fragility and accessibility of the nation’s “safety net.” Brooke speaks to Carma Bell and Margaret Smith, who worked long and hard to keep a roof over their families’ heads.  But their margin of safety was razor thin, and when bad luck struck and they lost their homes, there was no safety net to help get them back on their feet. There was no place to go but the shelter.

Episode 5 - The Breaking News Consider Handbook - Poverty Edition, October 29

"On The Media" takes its award-winning guide to the media’s most common and egregious mistakes, and applies it to the coverage of poverty. The “BNCH: Poverty Edition” will dissect junk statistics, dubious terminology, and narrative frames that exclude, obscure, or mislead, and will include a single, printable page of bullet points, for easy reviewing, now, and most likely, forever.

More about the series:

Today, more than 45 million Americans live in poverty. The problem has been addressed countless times since the nation's founding, but it persists, and for the poorest among us, it gets worse. America has not been able to find its way to a sustainable solution, because most of its citizens see the problem of poverty from a distance, through a distorted lens.

“Busted: America’s Poverty Myths” is a five-part series exploring how our understanding of the causes of poverty are formed not by facts, but by myths, media, and the tales of the American dream. Host Brooke Gladstone traveled to Ohio, a state that encompasses all types of poverty -- rural, inner city, and rust belt -- to hear from individuals who are poor how they got that way, and to understand, under current policies, why they are likely to stay that way.

The series also features scholars who have studied the phenomenon including Kathryn Edin, author of $2 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America; Nancy Isenberg, author of White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America; and Matthew Desmond, author of Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City.

"Busted: America's Poverty Myths" is presented in partnership with WNET's Chasing the Dream Initiative.