From "Pockets of Poverty" to Potential Prosperity in Appalachia: Examining Mass Media Narratives of Poverty Stereotypes in Appalachia

By Gloria So
Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research in Communications
2014, Vol. 5 No. 2 | pg. 2/3 |

Findings

January 1964: War on Poverty Media Analysis

The coverage included a total of 12 articles from The Mountain Eagle and 11 articles from The New York Times related to the War on Poverty. All five of The Mountain Eagle’s weekly publications in the month of January contained the keywords “Poverty” and “Johnson,” indicating that Johnson’s War on Poverty was a significant event in the region. On the other hand, only a small portion of The New York Times articles mentioned the keyword, “Appalachia,” and every keyword for Appalachia was linked to poverty.

The research found that the local newspaper used more positive language toward Appalachian people than the national newspaper; the national newspaper used more unfavorable characteristics than the local newspaper, and the local newspaper was more likely to criticize federal efforts than encourage action in the Appalachian region, while the national newspaper mostly encouraged action. The following categories discuss the findings for the codes: tone and rhetoric, characteristics in reference to Appalachian people, functions, visuals, and themes (See Appendix C for a full table of results).

Tone and Rhetoric

Each newspaper had 16 words or phrases coded for tone and rhetoric in The Mountain Eagle and The New York Times. Sixty-three percent of the codes in The Mountain Eagle identified positive language, and 38 percent identified negative language; conversely, 14 percent of the codes in The New York Times identified positive language, and 89 percent identified negative language (See Appendix C for more detail).

The articles in The Mountain Eagle primarily used positive language because they focused on the progress in the region and its future potential for economic and social growth. One editorial listed the significant accomplishments of the previous seven years: the doubling of teachers’ salaries; the construction of new buildings, stores, and restaurants; the remodeling of older buildings; and the increase in business and merchandising communities (Gish & Gish, 1964, p. A4). Examples of keywords and/or phrases coded as positive language in an editorial are italicized below:

We feel that at long last the long-heralded new day is dawning for the area. (Gish & Gish, 1964, p. A4)

The closing decades of the Twentieth Century can still be a period of glory for the area if we, the people of Eastern Kentucky, will take our future into our own hands, chart our course and recognize no barriers. (Gish & Gish, 1964, p. A6)

Negative language in the local news articles was mostly used to express some of the frustrations from Appalachian people, including a dependence on welfare funds for survival and a lack of effort from President Johnson in planning development programs for Appalachia, which was described in news articles as “the nation’s worst pocket of poverty” and in “chronic depression” in The New York Times (Bigart, 1964, p. 2A).

Appalachia was cited as the standard comparison for areas that had “grinding poverty” and “blighted villages” or was a “swath of deprivation containing some rural slums” (Bigart, 1964, p. 2A). Examples of keywords and/or phrases coded as negative language in an editorial in The Mountain Eagle and a news article in The New York Times, respectively, are italicized below:

At other times as we watch when those words and promises are translated into action we feel totally both hopeless and helpless. (Gish & Gish, 1964, p. A6)

One new legislative proposal, planned by Mr. Kennedy, was that Mr. Johnson called ‘a special effort in the chronically distressed areas of Appalachia.’ This referred to the Appalachian Mountain areas like Eastern Kentucky and some parts of West Virginia where pockets of poverty and depression have defied all efforts to eliminate them. (Wicker, 1964, p. 17A)

Characteristics

The Mountain Eagle used only favorable characteristics to describe the Appalachian region and people, whereas The New York Times used only unfavorable characteristics (See the second table in Appendix C for more detail). The word “potential” in an editorial in The Mountain Eagle is italicized to show the positive language used in describing the construction of a new economy in Eastern Kentucky and stressing the vast potential of the area’s resources: “the mineral resources, water resources, the resource of our outdoor recreation potential, the resource of our electric power potential, and the resource of our land and its many possible uses aside from those agricultural in nature” (1964, p. A3). Some of the unfavorable characteristics used to describe people in Appalachia included poor or uneducated.

For example, in a letter to the editor in The New York Times, Benjamin Chinitz, the President’s Appalachian Regional Commission Consultant and Chairman of the Department of Economics at the University of Pittsburgh, mentioned phrases that related to unfavorable characteristics: “The low average income of Appalachians reflects their low average educational attainment more than it does the low productivity of the region’s resources” (Chinitz, 1964, p. A1).

Functions

The articles in the newspapers were coded for the functions of “encourage action” or “criticize.” The Mountain Eagle was more likely to criticize (79 percent of total functions) federal efforts in Appalachia than to encourage action (21 percent of total functions) from organizations and people outside of Appalachia. On the other hand, The New York Times printed only “encourage action” items (See the third table in Appendix C).

The “encourage action” function includes urging public mobilization for the amelioration of social and economic injustices in the region. Examples of phrases coded as “encourage action” in an editorial by editors Tom and Pat Gish are italicized below:

The march of 100,000 Negroes in Washington demanding civil rights has made civil rights the No. 1 domestic issue in the nation. The contagious poverty of Eastern Kentucky and the Appalachians threatens to infect many other areas of the nation and is no less a national problem. Couldn’t we organize such a march? (Gish & Gish, 1964, p. A4)

The job of rescuing Eastern Kentucky from its seemingly certain fate rests largely upon the shoulders of Eastern Kentuckians. We must insist that Frankfort and Washington permit Eastern Kentuckians themselves a voice in the planning of their own future. (Gish & Gish, 1964, p. A4)

One of the biggest criticisms against government efforts was that those in office could not grasp the realities of Eastern Kentucky, and that the aid that people were receiving was insufficient to their needs. For instance, in a news article in The Mountain Eagle, reporter Tom Wicker points out the President’s budget appropriation to start a special Appalachian Area Development Program was only “enough to build a couple miles of road in each county, but no more” (Wicker, 1964, p. 4A). Examples of keywords or phrases coded for the function of “criticize” in an editorial in The Mountain Eagle by Tom and Pat Gish are italicized below:

We also foresee many more glowing plans and promises of action to be forthcoming from Frankfort and Washington during the next seven years, but the total inadequacy of the President’s winter relief program, the extreme weakness of the Roosevelt-Appalachia area development program, indicate clearly very little in the way of effective action will come our way. (Gish & Gish, 1964, p. A6)

The burning question of the moment is whether we will do so [take future into own hands] or whether we will leave our fate in the hands of incompetents in Frankfort and Washington. (Gish & Gish, 1964, p. A6)

Visuals

While no visuals were found in the January 1964 edition of The Mountain Eagle, five visuals were found in The New York Times. Visuals from relevant articles in the December 1964 edition of The Mountain Eagle were used instead to compare the use of photographs in both media outlets. The Mountain Eagle showed people smiling and looking directly into the camera, which indicates a level of comfort and confidence in Appalachian people according to the body language of the subjects in the images. In an image in The New York Times, the children were seen with their eyes downcast and turned in a profile view, indicating a sense of hopelessness. Some of the images also included Johnson smiling, shaking hands with officials, giving a speech, or engaging in another activity that showed his level of influence and power. Likewise, in an image of Mrs. Johnson’s visit to Appalachia in The New York Times, she is shown at a higher angle than the children, smiling and holding her arms out to small Appalachian children, whose mouths are turned downwards, implying that they could be unhappy or helpless (Robertson, 1964, p. 1A).

Themes

Several themes emerged from the narratives in the newspapers regarding the culture of poverty and stereotypes of people in Appalachia. First, there was a sense of “us versus them,” in which media narratives marginalized Appalachian people from the rest of America. In an editorial in The Mountain Eagle, the editors asked, “Will the area continue to fall into an abyss of total poverty, or will it begin the long hard climb toward equality with the rest of the United States?” (Gish & Gish, 1964, p. A6). Patterns of feeling powerless in the planning of the future of the research and sensing an increased urgency to gain status also emerged.

Second, there was a theme of an “other” within an “other” in that the local newspaper had to clarify the distinction between Eastern Kentucky and Kentucky, whereas the national newspaper tended to group both regions into “Appalachia.” In one instance in The Mountain Eagle, a reporter commented on Kentucky’s Department of Commerce and Department of Public Information’s proposal to rename Eastern Kentucky as a development area instead of a depressed area:

Eastern Kentucky has had enough of such foolishness. We have suffered too long already because the rest of Kentucky has refused to recognize that our problems exist … Until the state lives up to its obligations to the third of its people and begins as an effective program of help for them, the Department of Commerce and the Department of Public Information can pretend all they want to that what they smell in Eastern Kentucky is the perfume of roses, but another sniff will show them it is the stench of poverty, neglect and indifferent politicians. (Wicker, 1964, p. 2A)

Third, there was a dichotomy between insiders and outsiders in the misunderstanding of the local culture. In an editorial in The Mountain Eagle, an anonymous writer said:

Well-meaning efforts on the part of President Johnson’s administration in Washington as well as those of numerous state and private organizations to build a new economy in Eastern Kentucky and thus to wipe out one of the nation’s ‘pockets of poverty’ are severely handicapped by a fundamental misunderstanding of the way of life in the mountains. (1964, p. A4)

A false label is bringing about a false cure. In other words, President Johnson is being led into a false cure for our ills because no one has explained to him the exact nature of our illness. (1964, p. A4)

This sense of separation between federal and state administrations and local community members in identifying key issues in the region suggests a need for increased collaboration and greater efforts to understand the different cultures and respond accordingly.

January 2014: 50th Anniversary of the War on Poverty Media Analysis in comparison with January 1964

The 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty coverage included one article from The Mountain Eagle and nine articles from The New York Times. The articles in the month of January 2014 were found using the keywords, “War on Poverty” and “Poverty,” from archives. The month was chosen to stay consistent with the previous January 1964 coding.

The research found that The New York Times used more positive language than The Mountain Eagle, and was more likely to encourage action than express frustration. Political, economic, and social issues received equal weight in the coverage in The New York Times and The Mountain Eagle. The top three identified themes in The Mountain Eagle were children/youth, education, and family, while the top three identified themes in The New York Times were children/youth, education, and unemployment. Overall, The Mountain Eagle declared the War on Poverty a failure because of the persistence of poverty and the rising economic inequality, while The New York Times focused on the success and progress of the War on Poverty since the 1960s. The following categories discuss the findings for the codes: language, narrative, characteristics, functions, topics, themes, and the success or failure of the War on Poverty (See Appendix D for a full table of results).

Language

While the results from the media analysis of the War on Poverty coverage from January 1964 showed The New York Times was more likely to focus on negative language than The Mountain Eagle, the media analysis of the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty coverage showed the opposite. A hypothesis was that local media was more likely to use positive language than national media, but The New York Times articles paid more attention to the progress made through initiatives created as a result of the declaration. Times oped columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote, “In fact, the first lesson of the war on poverty is that we can make progress against poverty, but that it’s an uphill slog” (2014, p. A1). The single article in The Mountain Eagle used negative language, while 67 percent of the articles in The New York Times used positive language, and 33 percent of the total codes for language included negative language.

Some examples of progress include a decrease in infant mortality rates, an increase in college completion rates, an increase in the number of women who enter the work force, and a decrease in malnutrition (Lowrey, 2014, p. 2A).

Narrative

There were three narratives identified in both newspapers in the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty media coverage. The narratives were coded for personal narratives, meaning the narrative related to the speaker’s personal experiences with the subjects of poverty and stereotypes; and other narratives, meaning the speaker included a description of a narrative he or she had heard elsewhere, whether it was through a family, friend, or acquaintance. The narratives that did appear in the media coverage were narratives of others, meaning the participants recounted experiences of their friends and families. For example, a narrative that appeared in The New York Times was related to the “Cadillac-driving welfare queen,” a tale used to illustrate cases of excessive welfare fraud as coined by Ronald Reagan in his 1976 presidential campaign (Krugman, 2014, p. A3).

Another narrative that appeared in a news article in The Mountain Eagle was the story of community member Rosanna Troyer, who was coping with a drop in monthly federal food assistance by purchasing cheaper foods at the grocery store (Barrouquere, 2014, p. 1A). Troyer said there was not a day she did not see someone pushing strollers or a cart down the street, trying to find soda cans to take in to get change, focusing on the larger picture that poverty is still prevalent in many Appalachian communities (Barrouquere, 2014, p. 1A).

Characteristics

There were no stereotypical characteristics of Appalachian people mentioned in the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty media coverage in The New York Times, which was notable compared to the high number of unfavorable characteristics found in the January 1964 coverage of The Times. Most of the January 2014 articles, about 75 percent, focused on the overall progress of the region as a whole, rather than specifically observing the plight of the Appalachian region. On the other hand, The Mountain Eagle mentioned how the programs created in response to the War on Poverty were created for parts of Appalachia that had been described as “third-world conditions” (Barrouquere, 2014, p. 2A).

The same article discussed how the dependence caused by food stamps and other assistance also led to the devaluing of education among some recipients and contributed to drug abuse in the region. Likewise, in a news article in The New York Times, journalist Jared Bernstein mentioned a widely known counterargument: “Don’t blame the economy; the poor themselves have made life choices that consigned them to poverty, like not getting enough schooling, single parenthood, or having children out of wedlock” (Bernstein, 2014, p. 3A). This argument directs the problem of poverty at the level of the impoverished individual, rather than the underlying structural and economic issues. In a news article in The Mountain Eagle, Jason Bailey, the Director of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy in Frankfort noted the myriad narratives that discuss the magnitude of this issue: “The gap between central Appalachia and the rest of the country has not closed. In a relative sense, it’s just as big” (Barrouquere, 2014, p. 2A).

Functions

In the January 1964 coding, a low percentage of The New York Times articles encouraged readers to take action (18 percent), while more than half of the articles (67 percent) from January 2014 encouraged public participation to decrease, or eliminate, the rate of poverty. In his assessment of the shortfalls of the War on Poverty, Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution said, in a news article in The New York Times encouraging people to mount an effective war against poverty, “we need changes in the personal decisions of more young Americans” (Lowrey, 2014, p. 2A).

Perhaps one of the factors affecting the increase in economic upward mobility is the convenience in speaking up as a result of technology advancements, especially with the advent of social media. In a letter to the editor in The New York Times, Willie Dickerson from Snohomish, Washington wrote, “Speak up, citizens: call, write, text, tweet, Facebook or visit your elected representatives and tell them that it is time to successfully end the war on poverty” (2014, p. A4).

Topics

Based on the emphasis on economics of poverty in the media coverage of the War on Poverty in January 1964, a hypothesis was that national media were more likely to focus on the economics of poverty than local media, which were more likely to focus on social and cultural aspects of poverty when covering the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty. However, the findings revealed a different proportion in the four categories in both newspapers.

In The Mountain Eagle, each of political, economic, social, and health topics accounted for 25 percent of the total topics coded. In The New York Times, each of political, economic, and social topics accounted for 32 percent of the total topics coded, while the topic of health accounted for four percent of the total topics coded.

The 1964 media articles in both newspapers primarily focused on politics when referencing President Johnson and his influence in the War on Poverty. Conversely, the media articles from the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty focused on acknowledging the need to fight poverty. They also underscored a political divide in the differing solutions for tackling poverty between the Republican and Democratic parties. President Obama called this inequality the “defining challenge of our time” and urged states to expand their Medicaid programs to poor, childless adults, and stressed an increase in minimum wage, but conservatives such as Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin said the government misspent its safety-net money and should focus less on support, and more on economic and job opportunities (Lowrey, 2014, p. 1A).

Reporter Jeremy Peters, pointing out problems within each side’s argument, said, “Democrats could push the rich-versus-poor theme too far, alienating middle-class voters and wealthy donors. Republicans may find themselves painted in the same box as Mitt Romney was in 2012, when many voters saw him as indifferent to the concerns of working Americans” (Peters, 2014, p. 1A). He explained that most of the Republicans are suggesting adding work requirements to safety-net programs, streamlining federal offices, improving training and education initiatives, and offering tax breaks to the needy, while most of the Democrats are urging an extension of unemployment benefits and an increase in the federal minimum wage (Peters, 2014, p. 1A).

A prevalent economic issue in media narratives was food assistance programs, which, according to Republican State Sen. Robert Stivers, “helped some people break the cycle of poverty, but left others ‘accustomed to it and created a cycle of dependence’” (Barrouquere, 2014, p. 3A). In a news article in The Mountain Eagle, Barrouquere referenced the cuts in food assistance programs: “Nearly 900,000 people who need food stamps saw a proposed cut of $40 billion from [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] SNAP” (2014, p. 3A). An article in The New York Times also acknowledged that although the American labor force has become better educated and more skilled, there are still high poverty rates; some of the reasons for the causes of persistent poverty include technological changes, globalization, the decline of labor unions, the high inequality of market income, and the falling value of minimum wage (Lowrey, 2014, p. 2A-3A).

While there was little to no coverage on social topics in the January 1964 coding in The New York Times, 32 percent of the total topics coded in January 2014 related to social issues. Narratives suggested the War on Poverty had failed because antipoverty programs did not reduce poverty; therefore, poverty in America was a social disintegration problem—“a problem of broken families, crime and culture of dependence that was only reinforced by government aid. And because this narrative was so widely accepted, bashing the poor was good politics, enthusiastically embraced by Republicans and some Democrats, too” (Krugman, 2014, p. A1-A2). Thus, poverty was a problem of values and social cohesion rather than money. In an opinion piece in The New York Times, Krugman commented on the lack of economic opportunity:

If progress against poverty has been disappointing over the past half century, the reason is not the decline of the family but the rise of extreme inequality. We’re a much richer nation than we were in 1964, but little if any of that increased wealth has trickled down to workers in the bottom half of the income distribution. (2014, p. 2A)

However, when Lowrey looked at economical and sociological trends to help explain why people face poverty, she listed factors such as high incarceration rates, more infants born out of wedlock, and single parenthood (Lowrey, 2014, p. 2A-3A). Kristof agreed, saying that programs that encourage jobs, especially for most at-risk groups, and earned-income tax credit are the most successful efforts to help the working poor; he said one of the most basic successful social programs is family planning assistance programs for at-risk teenage girls, citing that the “teenage birthrate has fallen by half over roughly the last 20 years” (2014, p. A2). Other programs he mentioned included parent coaching to get pregnant women to drink and smoke less and encouraging at-risk moms to talk to their children more through programs such as Healthy Families America and Nurse-Family Partnership (Kristof, 2014, p. A3).

Increased focus on education also strengthened the need for funding social programs. An op-ed columnist for The New York Times listed organizations, such as Playworks, that work to create safe and inclusive play opportunities in public schools nationwide: “When researchers from Mathematica Policy Research and Stanford University examined the program . . . they found something that many educators overlook: children’s emotional and physical well being is immediately connected with their cognitive development” (Bornstein, 2014, p. 2A).

Associate Professor of Economics at the University of Michigan, Martha Bailey said in a discussion board in The New York Times that the War on Poverty also offered lessons for increasing opportunities to racial minorities through the federal funds that encouraged desegregation in schools and hospitals (2014, p. A1). She also said improvements in black infant health led to better test scores for black teenagers through the 1980s; joined with other initiatives, these policies have decreased the black/white poverty gaps, and consequently, had vast benefits for society (Bailey, 2014).

For the topic of health, there was only one article in each of the newspapers related to health in the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty coverage. In The Mountain Eagle, community member Rosanna Troyer said senior citizens are forced to decide between buying medication and paying for food, and that “a lot of them do without medicines because they can’t afford them” (Barrouquere, 2014, p. 3A). In The New York Times, op-ed columnist Paul Krugman argued that the success of the War on Poverty can be seen in the improvements of lives of the American poor and that lower-income Americans are healthier and better-nourished than they were in the 1960s (2014, p. A2).

Themes

The coded themes included children/youth, education, media, unemployment, environmental issues, and family. Beginning with children/youth, images from The New York Times’ 1964 War on Poverty coverage showed children with downcast eyes and mouths turned down at corners, ostensibly to evoke a sense of sympathy from the reading public. The mention of children/youth was also one of the top three themes coded in the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty coverage, accounting for 33 percent of the total themes coded in The Mountain Eagle and 24 percent of the total themes coded in The New York Times. Nicholas Kristof of The Times commented on this use of children in poverty:

In contrast, children are voiceless, so they are the age group most likely to be poor today. That’s a practical and moral failure. In part, that’s because when kids are deprived of opportunities, the consequences can include a lifetime of educational failure, crime, and underemployment. (2014, p. A2)

Associate Professor of Economics at University of Michigan Martha Bailey added the troubling statistic that 1 in 5 children are poor and increasingly falling behind their peers due to the neighborhood location (2014, p. A1). In the same article, she argued that the early childhood programs from the War on Poverty helped combat trends in children and youth from the cyclical nature of poverty.

Children and youth were also commonly referenced with education, which was one of the top three themes mentioned in the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty media coverage results, accounting for 33 percent of the total themes coded in The Mountain Eagle and 24 percent of the total themes coded in The New York Times. In an article in The New York Times, Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House majority leader, spoke at Brookings to argue that education reform was the surest way to break “the vicious cycle of poverty” (2014, p. 2A). Although the share of adults with higher education attainment had risen significantly, there was also a need for a higher emphasis on education programs, specifically early education programs (Bernstein, 2014, p. 3A). For example, programs such as Head Start have linked higher high school graduation and college attendance rates with higher chances of employment (Kristof, 2014, p. A3).

Although there were only four references of information channel in the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty coverage in The New York Times and no references in The Mountain Eagle, it is worth noting the subtle ways information channels have influenced poverty dialogues. For instance, in his article in The New York Times on the progress in the War on Poverty, Kristof mentioned a comment by “a reader named Frank” on his Facebook page, and used Frank’s argument that government aid was wasted because it did not focus on parent education to set the foundation for the rest of his article (2014, p. A3).

In 1964, the primary way to gauge public opinion standing on Johnson’s visit was to read published letters to the editor. Since then, media platforms have evolved and there has been a rise in social media and other online networks as discursive forums that exist outside print media. For instance, in the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty coverage, one of the many communication outlets included a “Room for Debate” discussion on The New York Times website, in which Martha Bailey set the tone by writing a recap of the War on Poverty today, and encouraged people to post directly on the online forum. Other influences included attack ads on television related to poverty by the Democratic and Republican parties and blogs (Kristof, 2014, p. A3).

Ideas from these virtual channels for discourse can also be incorporated into classroom discussions. Instructional coach and teacher mentor at The Learning Network, a blog that uses content from The Times to create educational lesson plans, Michael Gonchar created a lesson plan for teachers to incorporate poverty and economic inequality in America, as well as research as many possible solutions as the students propose a new war on poverty for 2014 (2014, p. 1A-7A). Some of the lesson plan options included interactive maps showing the distribution of poverty in neighborhoods, participatory videos on YouTube about wealth inequality, and articles on minimum wage and social mobility.

Another popular theme that emerged in The New York Times that related to topics of poverty was unemployment, which accounted for 24 percent of the total themes coded. In an op-ed piece on fighting the War on Poverty, Krugman summarized the shift in narratives about unemployment between 1964 and 2014:

The trouble is that the American right is still living in the 1970s, or actually a Reaganite fantasy of the 1970s; its notion of an anti-poverty agenda is still all about getting those layabouts to go to work and stop living off welfare. The reality is that lower-end jobs, even if you can get one, don’t pay enough to lift you out of poverty just hasn’t sunk in. And the idea of helping the poor by actually helping them remain anathema. (2014, p. A2)

Lowrey cited the poverty rate for full-time workers as three percent, and 33 percent for those who are unemployed (Lowrey, 2014, p. 4A). Other arguments included considering not only the absence of employment, but also low wage jobs, and a greater need to examine the underlying structural problems in the economy that affect poverty (Bernstein, 2014, p. 4A; Krugman, 2014, p. A3).

The Mountain Eagle and The New York Times shared two popular themes, children/youth and education, but differed in their third most prevalent theme: “unemployment” was prevalent in The New York Times, while “family” was in The Mountain Eagle.

Finally, it is worth noting that although “environmental issues” was included in the coding because of research predictions, there was no mention of environmental issues in either phases of the media coverage.

War on Poverty – Success or Failure?

The majority of the opinions in The New York Times, about 75 percent, would consider the War on Poverty a success because of the progress that has been made since 1964, while the article in The Mountain Eagle called it a failure. Mark Updegrove, the director of the Lyndon B. Johnson Library summarized the popular sentiment in a news article in The New York Times:

Ultimately the War on Poverty was just the first in a roll call of achievements – civil rights, education, health care, immigration, the arts and humanities, the environment – that, taken together, equaled nothing less than a new American revolution of opportunity and equality. (2014, p. 1A)

Looking at the overall rates of poverty, in 1967, about 26 percent were poor compared to 15 percent in 2014 (Bernstein, 2014, p. 2A). Likewise, Social Security, a New Deal program that was expanded in the 1960s, reduced the elderly poverty rate from 44 percent without counting Social Security benefits to nine percent (Bernstein, 2014, p. 2A).

In the articles, there was broad consensus by authors that social welfare programs created since the War on Poverty have improved living conditions for low-income Americans (Lowrey, 2014, p. 1A). A Columbia University study suggested that without government benefits, the poverty rate would have soared to 31 percent by 2012 (Kristof, 2014, p. A2).

Other successes are in the shift of the victim-blaming. For a long period, people considered the War on Poverty a failure, saying, “It was the fault of the poor themselves. But what everyone knew wasn’t true, and the public seems to have caught on” (Krugman, 2014, p. A3).

One of the reservations about the success on the War on Poverty is that people had to work harder in the face of increasing economic challenges facing low-income families. On the other hand, other authors focused on the success stories, such as the effectiveness of food stamps, Medicaid, and earned-income tax credit. In the Room for Debate Discussion on The New York Times website, Bailey wrote that a renewed commitment to the War on Poverty would increase opportunities for people and strengthen the economy (2014).

While the content in the online discussion board was not coded among the other articles, it was included in this dialogue to gauge public opinion on the evolution of the War on Poverty. A commenter on the discussion board, Michael O’Neill replied, saying:

The thing we must remember is that a rising tide lifts all boats. It isn’t the masts that are floating in the water, it is the keel. If we wish our economy to do well we need to make sure the bottom quintile does well.

Six of The Times articles, or 75 percent, focused on the overall small victories in the War on Poverty, rather than the failures. The few that did consider the War on Poverty a failure cited the famous words of Ronald Reagan, “We fought a war on poverty, and poverty won” (Lowrey, 2014, p. 1A), and argued the alternate narrative that America needs a war on inequality, rather than on poverty (Bailey, 2014).

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Presentation Tips 101 (Video)