Busted: America's Poverty Myths

I’m about to begin my annual re-listen of the On the Media miniseries on poverty in America. Posting here in case anyone is interested in listening with me & chatting about it! There are 5 episodes.

When I first heard it, a lot of things clicked into place. It was a major ah-ha moment for me, including insight into my own behaviors/beliefs, family histories, and the stories I tell myself about life/other people as an American. I wish I could assign it as homework, especially for elected officials!


Downloaded the first episode to listen to on my drive to school!


I’m in.


I am here to watch discussion, and hopefully I manage to listen to some episodes (they don’t seem to have transcripts…)


Ohhh I see them! I don’t know how accurate they are, but they have them! You’ve gotta go to each individual episode’s page.




Also, I just realised you said you do an annual re-listen. I’m really keen to hear what’s changed as you’ve listened each time - what’s seemed more relevant, or how you’ve started thinking differently etc


Oh interesting. I would not mind finding some time for this.


I definitely catch different things each time. This time, I was struck when listening to the first episode how well Brooke sets you up for what they think the goal of the podcast is…and yet, there’s ambiguity around that as well. I like that they pull in the expert to talk about empathy and how it might not be a good goal. It’s almost as if she’s saying, “We are pretty sure doing this series isn’t going to change anything. And yet we must do it anyway.” That’s the On the Media spin for me–the kind of self-referential nod to “why us? How has the media failed on this topic before, and what pitfalls should we be on the lookout for?” And I get that might not interest other folks, but I think it remains relevant in this era of media distrust. There’s no settling for the implied. They go right there and say, other media has covered this topic, and by any standards, they’ve done so “well,” and yet…here we are with increased bias towards the poor and diminishing services. Why? How did we get here? And that gets me excited to hear the history all over again.


If you’re interested in this topic I highly recommend watching this documentary. I think it gives a really good and very typical look at the reality of the working poor. As with other groups, there’s no substitution for people showing their actual lives and describing it in their own words!


Thanks @noodle for recommending this! I just finished eps 4 and 5 at lunch today and I think they were the best parts of the series.

I found the suggestion that people in poverty should be treated with about as much trust as the middle class to be a great point. That responsibility and irresponsibility, vice and virtue, etc are not correlated with wealth.

I thought it was interesting at the start of ep 4 that they mentioned 40% of people would experience at least 1 year of poverty. I was wondering how that is defined.

I grew up the child of an immigrant academic and a SAHM (mostly, due to visa issues). The budget was always tight. But as an adult I realized “in poverty” was a bad descriptor for it. My parents always had pretty high personal capital (skills, education, credentials) that wasn’t always being leveraged. We also had interpersonal capital (friends and family that would help to some reasonable extent). And as far as I know we at least started out with savings. Plus, grad school/post docs don’t pay great but it’s pretty stable and they do provide decent health insurance. I think poverty really hits when a lot of these additional resources (besides just income/money) are depleted.


I had a rare day when I could listen to podcasts while working (making a PowerPoint),and I wanted more content like this.

I found a Freakonomics rebroadcast on child poverty and the monthly tax credit payment, ft Mitt Romney:
Freakonomics Radio: Why Does the Richest Country in the World Have So Many Poor Kids? (Ep. 475 Update) https://player.fm/1BNUzaA

And this was a very compassionate take on how someone survives on the edge :
Death, Sex, and Money Podcast: Why I Steal https://player.fm/1BMbbjR


Death, Sex, and Money is one of my all-time favorite podcasts! Will definitely check out the Freakonomics episode.


Sorry my relisten has sort of stalled out! I started this thread right before finding out I am pregnant so I’ve been a little consumed with that news. However! I still hope to get around to it. Noticed this related article today.


My initial listen stalled out too but I don’t have any good reason to blame it on (congratulations by the way!!) so thank you for bumping this thread to remind me.

1 Like

We have a long history of not protecting children in this country and I feel like it’s continuing for sure. It’s very odd and I’ve never understood it. We actually had laws against animal abuse before we had laws against child abuse. It wasn’t mentioned in the article but I’ve always thought part of it was our delusion that children are somehow sturdier and heartier than adults, like that children are largely unaffected by things that would totally derail an adult. I think it’s a delusion of convenience and laziness to help people feel better about what a lot of kids go through. Like, in the 80s even psychologists taught that kids would hardly notice divorce or father absenteeism, and they’d just adjust magically and be fine!

We now know that isn’t true but the same thinking exists in lots of other areas (medicine, foster care system, social workers, homeless services, education, etc.). And I think like other demographics the poorer and less advantaged you are, the more you are expected to handle. So there’s this weird double standard where some kids are practically coddled to death and other kids have to grow up way too fast. I think that dynamic has shown up a lot in the pandemic, like in how so many private schools reopened quickly (so rich kids could do important things like access services and socialize and learn) but public schools remained closed, which of course damaged poor kids who also had special needs or bad living conditions the most. Despite that, the articles about reopening public schools were almost entirely focused (sympathetically) on teacher health, not student health. BUT, on the flip side poor food service workers were expected to work basically through the entire pandemic without question.

It seems like the intersection of a lot of different things to me, in addition to the obvious bias against giving additional money to poor parents, especially if they are also people of color.

ETA: Also not trying to sound lecture-y I know you all know this stuff (I’m on meds so tone is difficult rn) I’m just ranting because this stuff pisses me off, lol.


This is absolutely the space to rant keep it uuuup! Rant rant rant rant!

Like, we make spaces to rant so we can be nice to people and thoughtful with our words elsewhere.


I posted something in my journal here that hits this topic. I"ll repost it at some point.

My question for me and all of us: instead of just being upset about it, what can we do? As a 60+ yo woman who may soon be living on 50% of her usual income, throwing $ at the problem isn’t really an option. Yabbering about the problem may make me feel better, but doesn’t change anything.

I have the same problem with my white, English speaking privilege. Okay, I’ve had it my entire life. I get that. I admit it. It’s horrible. What can I do at this point?

Link below.

1 Like

I think it depends on the person, what they have that they can use to help other people, what influence and power they have, and what they individually believe about what they owe humankind. Volunteering time and donating money or goods or services are the most obvious things, which I personally believe are vital. I also think tipping very highly (I overtip always) and being super kind to people in service positions even when they are not doing well is essential.

I am also a big believer that how we act every single day with each other matters. A lot. There are plenty of people who volunteer their time at worthy causes and then don’t treat the clients of those programs very well, for example. Systems and the systemic issues that develop inside of them are just made up of people at the end of the day. I think it’s a huge problem to see “systemic” things as like, far outside of our control, because human beings made these systems and occupy the positions of power. Historically, highly privileged people with lots of power have always believed themselves to be average people with very little control or influence. I think we can learn from that! It’s almost never true IMO.


Thanks. This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot. And I do some of what you talk about, but not directly. I work very hard at being polite to people when I go out. I work hard to say please, thank you, excuse me, etc. as appropriate. I try hard to tell people who look like they’re having a not so great day that I like their sweater or the broccoli in their hand looks great or something to brighten their day.

It irks me that people have forgotten their manners, forgotten that the Constitution and our form of government means that almost none of us get exactly what we want, but all of us get more of what we want through compromise.

When people ask me the “secret” to my 40+ year marriage and I say “Respect is the first thing” they get a surprised look on their face. I allow DH to be who he is. He does the same with me. We neither of us expect the other to be perpetually sexy, charming, entertaining, or great in bed. We expect that the other will treat us well, honor our commitment, and be careful of the other’s feelings etc. It isn’t rocket science. It just demands that you give up always getting your own way, things the way you want them, your “ideal” relationship idea and cope with the reality of the person you’re with.

None of my other relationships had this. They were based on hormones and dreams, not the reality of who I or my partner was – and they all failed. No one can live up to a dream, and “hormonal haze” fades.

If we had a lot of money, 20+ years ago our marriage probably would have fallen apart. We don’t, so we stuck and learned to deal with each other better than we had before. It’s not perfect by any means, but it’s the best life I’ve ever had; I’m not kicking!

Considering I expect to become one of America’s poor in the next 12 months, having a partner I like matters quite a bit.


Community requires compromise and respect always, I agree. I think a lot of people have idealized the concept of community in their minds to mean absolute conformity with what I think is morally right, which is never a good plan. I think about this kind of stuff a lot too. I really want to do enough for my position in the world and I have low tolerance for flailing, haha.

I think if you are going to be living poverty there is no shame at all in taking advantage of as many programs as possible and not donating money. No one can give in every way but that doesn’t mean you can’t have impact. I think person-to-person giving in non-monetary ways is huge. A good friend sent me flowers when I was having a rough time, just to be sweet. I made another friend lots of freezer food before she had a surgery. The guy upstairs saw me struggling with groceries and carried them all to my apartment for me. That is community.

I think that stuff matters a lot. I know some people disagree but I believe systemic change will continue to happen as a natural result/side effect of individual shifts in vision and morality. And I do not believe it can happen without that. I think it is literally the most important ingredient. I also believe humankind is getting better over time, but that like the stock market there are bumps and recessions and setbacks and stuff. If you only look at the numbers during a recession it looks like the world is ending, even if it’s actually far better than it was decades prior.

There are a lot of strange cultural growing pains happening right now, I definitely feel it. People seem more on edge, faster to offend, less polite, more afraid of speaking honestly, less forgiving, and more extreme in their views, but I think that’s largely because we notice those aberrations, and they are further amplified on the internet–giving the impression of a bigger problem. When I zoom out I can’t see anything other than vast improvement in humanity worldwide. That motivates me a lot!