Issue #255

New type of poverty: How the iPhone became a placebo for the poor

This is not what poverty looks like anymore.

This is not what poverty looks like anymore.

The face of poverty in America has changed dramatically from what Walker Evans and James Agee indelibly captured in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, their book documenting the lives of our nation’s poverty-stricken tenant farmers during the Great Depression. Now, an American family living at or below the poverty line is almost guaranteed to have not only such basic necessities as indoor plumbing or refrigerators, but also things like high-speed Internet access, multiple cars, and video game systems. Young adults who can only find work as an intern or at a minimum wage job might need to live at home with their parents, but they probably have iPhones and a well-stocked wardrobe. And yet while it might in many ways seem that contemporary lower-income families and individuals are not suffering at the level of poverty-stricken Americans in the past, the gains that have been made are actually superficial, and only serve to hide the larger systemic poverty problem that faces us today. Brooklyn Magazine, 5-6-14.