Invisible Men and Women

Barbara Ehrenreich investigates why the working poor don?t exist in the media

| July / August 2003

In her recent best-selling book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, Barbara Ehrenreich calls the working poor ?our society?s major philanthropists.? They sacrifice their health, relationships, and lives so that the privileged can live more conveniently. To research the book, Ehrenreich went undercover, taking jobs as a waitress, a hotel maid, a housecleaner, a nursing-home aide, and a Wal-Mart ?associate.?

Trained as a scientist?she earned a Ph.D. in cell biology from Rockefeller University in 1968?Ehrenreich began writing about women?s health issues for Ms. in the 1970s. In the ?90s she was a regular essayist for Time?until the magazine began rejecting her pieces on poverty, inequality, and capital punishment. She is the author or coauthor of 12 books.

Why do you think class inequality is such a taboo subject in the mainstream media?

It undercuts the American myth that anybody can become rich, that it?s just a matter of personal ability and determination. To admit that large numbers of people are systematically held back is hard, because it means upward mobility is not an option for everybody. But that?s the way it is.

Journalist James Fallows says the poor have become ?invisibilized? in our society. They?re given very little mention in the media. The media system is fed by corporate advertising, and advertisers want ?good demographics??that is, they want to reach mostly the upper middle class.

The media played an important role in the civil rights movement. Why don?t they play a larger role in the workers? rights movement?