Smiley: “That is consistent all across the country. The one percent continues to do well. We are all suffering. This is not an urban or suburban issue. Poverty is the new American norm.”
PBS talk-show host Tavis Smiley will speak at The Poverty Forum Sept. 28th at the Lexington Convention Center. Tickets are $50 for the 6 p.m. dinner event to benefit the nonprofit Community Action Council. / Copyright 2004 The Courier-Journal;YES COURIER-JOU
Estimates vary of the damage inflicted by the Great Recession on the middle class. The fall in home values precipitated by the 2008 mortgage crisis is responsible, many experts predict, for an average drop in net worth between 28 to 38 percent for U.S. households. Meanwhile, the national unemployment rate remains stagnant at around 8.2 percent, the same as the state of Kentucky.
The Poverty Forum will present radio and television broadcaster Tavis Smiley at the Lexington Convention Center to benefit the nonprofit Community Action Council. In advance of the dinner event Sept. 28th at 6 p.m., Tavis Smiley talked about the shrinking middle class.
Smiley is the host of “Tavis Smiley” on PBS, the “Tavis Smiley Show,” and “Smiley & West,” both distributed by Public Radio International. With Dr. Cornell West, his PRI co-host, Smiley co-authored the book “The Rich and the Rest of Us: A Poverty Manifesto.”
Where do you see poverty growing in the U.S.?
Smiley: “What I hear from everybody is that it has never been this bad. There are three classes of poor people in this country. The first are those persons who have been perennially poor. The second are those who are near poor, just a paycheck or two away… I identify the new poor as the former middle class.”
What characteristics define the “new poor?”
Smiley: “I am talking specifically, in the last two or three years, (those) who fell out of the middle. They filed bankruptcy. They lost their homes. They lost their 401k. They were downsized. They spent all their savings. There is a whole new group of Americans now in poverty who never expected to be here. They went to college. They got fired. They got laid off.”
U.S. Census Bureau estimates show median income fell at least 8 percent in every Louisville-area zip code except one, Glenview, from 2005 to 2009. Does this pattern match what you hear from your reporting, and your radio and television audience nationwide?
How do you define poverty or low income?
Smiley: “One out of two Americans is either in poverty or in low income. We define low income as a couple of paychecks from being there, right on the brink, where any one catastrophe pushes you into the ranks of the poor. This is is an American catastrophe.”
Some experts say we are at least three years away from a recovery in available jobs and home values to levels before the Great Recession began in 2007. What is your view of the possible timing of a return to more widespread prosperity?
Smiley: “I don’t see the light… I am looking for it. My friend Suze Orman says `there is a highway into poverty and not even a sidewalk out.’”
“What we have to do is have a president who makes this a priority. You cannot sustain a democracy long term when the hopelessness quotient is rising so fast and so high. We lack a president who says to poor people `I’ve got your back and I am going to call a White House conference on the eradication of poverty.’ This is not a skill problem. It is a will problem.”