The Nouveau Poor, the Working Poor

In last Sunday’s NYT, Barbara Ehrenreich writes eloquently of those Too Poor to Make the News.   She disparages the news coverage of the effects of the recession on everyday life:

The super-rich give up their personal jets; the upper middle class cut back on private Pilates classes; the merely middle class forgo vacations and evenings at Applebee’s. In some accounts, the recession is even described as the “great leveler,” smudging the dizzying levels of inequality that characterized the last couple of decades and squeezing everyone into a single great class, the Nouveau Poor, in which we will all drive tiny fuel-efficient cars and grow tomatoes on our porches.

The lives of the working poor, meanwhile, are considerably less faux -romantic:

The recession of the ’80s transformed the working class into the working poor, as manufacturing jobs fled to the third world, forcing American workers into the low-paying service and retail sector. The current recession is knocking the working poor down another notch — from low-wage employment and inadequate housing toward erratic employment and no housing at all. Comfortable people have long imagined that American poverty is far more luxurious than the third world variety, but the difference is rapidly narrowing.

She describes families of five moving into the  two -bedroom apartments of relatives, living under the threat of eviction if they get caught, living invisibly, beyond the scrutiny of  reporters census takers.  She writes that one third of Americans now report being unable to pay for their prescriptions, of the downward spiral of wages for unskilled workers.

And somehow, policy makers still believe that we need only admonish teachers to work harder if  these children of parents who have lost their second and third jobs, whose lives outside of school are marked by fear and stress,  are not to be left behind.

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