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Ann Curry's "Dateline" Special Puts Spotlight on America's Poorest

July 26, 2010

“Some 40 million Americans – including one in five children – are now living in poverty. For a family of three, that means living on less than about $18,000 a year.” Ann Curry’s astonishing Dateline special from southeastern Ohio puts the spotlight on a group that has received little to no media attention even, paradoxically, amidst the recession—the poor. Curry delivers a stark and deeply affecting report on the very poorest population in the United States, a class that has received no guarantees, and very little aid. While politicians and much of the media constantly reassure the middle class that its money and future are secure, Curry gives voice to a population she describes as living in a “hidden America, an America where families are living on the edge, where many feel invisible and believe they have been forgotten.” The special is titled “America Now: Friends and Neighbors” both after Ohio resident Lisa Roberts’ food pantry and, it seems, as an attempt to appeal to those viewers who might dismiss the show’s shocking contents as representing a tiny percentage of American people. As Curry points out near the end of “America Now,” studies project that nearly 22% of American children will be living in poverty by the end of 2010, which represents a 5% increase in the past four years alone. Women and single mothers emerge as the group most in need, as well as a group in which Curry clearly has invested interest. Single mothers without partners or readily accessible daycare struggle to find jobs, or indeed any help at all. Curry further emphasizes this plight with the disturbing statistic, “single moms and their children make up 60% of all American families living in poverty.” When this kind of number emerges from Curry's heartbreaking stories of single mothers living in vans through the month of November and mothers going hungry so they can adequately feed their children, the gravity of that number is hard to ignore, or indeed rationalize.  In response to the oft-voiced opinion that perhaps the poorer populations suffer from a lack of will throughout the special, Lisa Roberts said the following: LISA ROBERTS: They’re not asking to be rich – they’re asking to not be hungry, to be able to pay their bills and buy their medicine. That’s not too much. It’s not their fault. It’s not the people’s fault. ANN CURRY: Why do you say that so much? LISA ROBERTS: Because I see how hard they work. Sometimes you’ll hear, ‘Oh, you know, they’re just layin’ back, waitin’ for a handout. They could go to work if they wanted to go to work. They’d rather be on welfare, they’d rather have 100 kids.’  It’s not true. Curry’s in-depth look at this neglected population is a heartwrenching and commendable undertaking. Her evident passion for the project is also inspiring, and can be seen in the above clip from CNBC, on her Twitter page, and throughout the special itself. Curry hopes that in making the stories of these unheard people public that she can bring attention to their desperate plights, as well as their efforts to rise above them. Families living on $500 or less a month, community projects such as Roberts’ in which community members write pleas to the President on paper plates to end hunger and single mothers raising several children on food stamps alone are only a few of the stories Curry tells in “America Now: Friends and Neighbors”. In amplifying their voices, Curry raises awareness and, crucially, raises the stakes. It's a mission that we at the Women's Media Center , committed to such pieces that change the media conversation, applaud. (Read a transcript of “America Now: Friends and Neighbors” here or watch the special on Dateline’s website)
Tags: Economy