Blog #48 – Writing About Inequality

To the Editor, The New York Times,

(re: Changed Life of the Poor: Better Off,but Far Behind”.. (Front page, May 1, 2014)

 A researcher is quoted as saying: “the poor are better off than they were… but they have also drifted further away.” “Drifted away,” indeed! The story says: “…the poor have fallen further behind.” They have “fallen?” What images does such writing conjure up? Inequality increases because the poor drift away from being better off, the silly, ne’er-do-wells? They can’t keep their balance, these helpless people? That’s surely not the intent, but it’s the effect of using stock formulations without thinking about them.

Would a formulation like: “While the poor fell behind or drifted away,the rich rose higher and marched further ahead” pass muster?

Or would formulations to explain increasing inequality like: ““The rich have gotten even richer on the backs of the poor,” or “The poor have been pushed even further down by the growing wealth of the rich” pass muster at the Times? After all, it takes two to be unequal. The victims shouldn’t be blamed for their poverty without examining what happened at the other end of the divide. Inequality increases because the rich get richer as well as the poor getting poorer. A coincidence?

 Peter Marcuse                                                            May 1, 2014.



Author: pmarcuse

Just starting this blog, for short pieces on current issues. Suggestions for improvement, via e-mail, very welcome.

One thought on “Blog #48 – Writing About Inequality”

  1. I am writing about Housing Development Fund Companies, which in ways however few there are, have become the new landlords of last resort. There was a time when I was hostile to gentrification, but it seems that those doing the gentrifying are as vulnerable as people who were once described as low income. The rhetoric of affordability will boggle your mind because it is mre ideological than descriptive of a social condition. It’s primarily purpose, from standpoint, is to provide people who identity as middle income the ability to continue to identity as middle income while benefitting from legislation and programs designed for low income New Yorker. Meanwhile, the low income resident have reassigned identification as very low income and extremely low income. I apologize for not writing a coherent paragraph about a single topic. Instead, this a paragraph of topic sentences and so my last topic is a question: how does the City get away with using legislation to benefit median and above median income earners through legislation designed to benefit low income New Yorkers? Who would be tasked with calling the City to justice? One final note, I think you are exactly right to take writing to task for relying on conventions to do the work that strong nouns and strong verbs can do. I tend to agree with Ralph Ellison when he wrote, “only the critical intelligence can perform the task that the critical intelligence can perform.” I appreciate the forum and the mountain of literature you’re produced around this compelling social problem.

    Gregory C. Baggett,
    Columbia University, Ph.D Candidate
    Director, New York Council of Housing Development Fund Companies

    PS: I am curious about Mayor de Blasio’s affordable housing agenda, and slightly more curious about it being cancelled a day before he was scheduled to make the announcement. What does a Mayor do when he proposes to outperform his multi-term predecessors and does have the money to finance his political rhetoric?

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