I complained to my wife the other day that a blogger writing about poverty is like that kid in the lunchroom no one wanted to talk to, or better yet a wino staggering down the street, fellow pedestrians rushing to the opposite sidewalk to avoid his slurred, paranoid monologues.
You can see I feel that there’s not much of a blogging community for folks like me whose passion is poverty-reduction — compared, say, to the community of bloggers like my wife who are interested in wholesome food (we all have to eat).
What I’m saying is, my Technorati subscription to the “poverty” tag doesn’t often unearth a lot of juicy posts on domestic poverty issues, but the last couple of days have been a bit of an anomoly; my “Techno-Poverty Watch” has finally yielded some action. As usual, leave it to the The New York Times to get bloggers writing about social issues. The Times ran an article on Sunday about the recent rise in infant mortality in Mississippi and other southern states.
I counted at least seven bloggers (who had never hit my radar screen before) who posted on this article and tagged it “poverty.” I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that all seven were activists on the political left; I’m a lefty too, after all, although truthfully I don’t want poverty to be stereotyped as an issue of the left because it won’t be effectively addressed in the long-term except by policies that build consensus and inclusion across the political and demographic spectrum.
That being said, it’s interesting to observe when poverty captures people’s attention. Several of the posts framed the issue in terms of women’s rights and equity for women. Justice for Women, who describes herself as a radical feminist and theologian, stresses the “feminine face of poverty” made evident in the article. Thoughts of an Average Woman was so outraged she quoted virtually the entire article in several chunks. The Tennessee Guerilla Women, who keep busy “fighting the radical right in Tennessee and the nation,” compare the rise in infant mortality to the “quagmire in Iraq,” both being phenomena that were predicted by those on the left in response to policies pushed by the right. Arse Poetica felt the article was casting blame on the women rather than on the policies that are causing infant mortality to rise. Similarly, Dispatch from the Trenches points to hypocrisy among conservative politicians who support a “culture of life” but push for “anti-life policies” that “have been systematically depriving real-life pregnant women who will be carrying to term of luxuries like food and adequate medical care because they’re too expensive.
Taking a more gender-neutral perspective, The Rusted View calls this an issue that “should shock the conscience,” while AMERICAblog reminds us we’re in the 21st century and should demand better. The latter blog has recorded over 390 comments to this post.
Personally, while I agree that statistics like this are tragic, and that increases in infant mortality in southern states are likely tied to the greater willingness of red states to cut safety net services, I don’t think it’s constructive to have a knee-jerk response that implies we ought to return to the good old days pre-welfare reform. We do need to invest more in services for the poor, but we need to focus on asset-building strategies such as job skills, financial education, parenting education, transportation, daycare and access to post-secondary education, not just traditional welfare, which has never been very successful at moving people out of poverty.