Poverty — the story of us all

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I thank Hofstra Journalism Department Chairwoman Carol Fletcher, Herbert School Dean Evan Cornog, Suburban Studies Institute Executive Dean Lawrence Levy, Herbert School Assistant Dean Adria Marlowe, journalism professor Peter Goodman, student assistant Gabrielle Anania, Poynter Institute grants coordinator Wendy Wallace and the McCormick Foundation for making this seminar a reality. As a Hofstra adjunct professor, I was proud to attend the workshop, and I left feeling hopeful to see so many journalists committed to covering social-justice issues.

For the park story 19 years ago, I interviewed a number of children on the street, who said they had nowhere to play except Inwood Park, a mile and a half west, at the end of Bayview Avenue. To get there, they had to ride their bikes or walk across Route 878, a six-lane expressway known for accidents, and make their way through an industrial district full of heavy-duty trucks. So they mostly hung out on the street corner with nothing to do, bored out of their minds.

They knew they were poor. They knew they came from the “wrong side of the tracks.” What they needed was for someone to listen to their story.

As the Hofstra seminar progressed, I thought more about the story of poverty in America. I began to realize that poverty is really a story about all of us, or at least most of us, not only about “them,” the people on the other side of the tracks. So many of us can tell stories about our immigrant grandparents or great-grandparents who arrived in this country with little more than the clothes on their backs, hungering for opportunity.

I also thought about how the middle class that was built in the post-World War II boom is slowly –– perhaps not so slowly –– eroding. It is much harder to be middle class today than it was even 10 years ago. Rising health care and higher-education costs, coupled with the Great Recession, have put a middle-class existence out of reach for many of the borderline poor, not to mention those who live in extreme poverty.
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