Poverty in Arkansas: Series on Ozarks at Large

Last week we posted about Ozarks at Large’s series on poverty in Arkansas.  The series recently aired and below are links to each of the pieces.

As we mentioned in the previous post, Arkansas’s (and the larger south’s) poverty problem—both current and historic—forms part of the undercurrent for much of the things we discuss on this blog.

Too often we as a society, especially those of us lucky enough to live above the poverty line, don’t even have a sufficient vocabulary for talking about the nuances and realities of poverty, making even the most basic discussions a challenge for both lawmakers and everyday citizens alike. If we have a hard time even talking about poverty we’re certainly going to have a hard time fixing the problems. And this begs the question, how much does the larger populace—those lucky enough to not be living in poverty—really know about complex realities of life below the poverty line? How is poverty defined, who sets those standards, and what does a path out of poverty look like? What do advocates say? What do those living in poverty say? How can these stories channel real change?

Recently Ozarks at Large produced a series examining  poverty from multiple angles. The series was born out of a “forum organized in January 2012 by the non-partisan initiative Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity,” explained series producer Iti Agnihotri-Mudholkar. Veteran journalists, she explained, say there’s a disconcerting lack of in depth coverage of timely, poverty-related issues in the media. While issues of poverty perpetually surface in thew news, very rarely do journalists cover the issue in depth.

The goal of the series was to dispel the myths about poverty and lead to a larger regional dialog, initiating a “discussion regarding chronic poverty”and an “understanding of reasons behind the continued rise in the number of poor in the state and ways in which poverty affects everyone, including those who are not poor,” explained Agnihotri-Mudholkar. More than just a look at abstract concepts, this series helps to illuminate the complexity of human lives.

All of the five segments of the series are now available online and you can listen to them within the context of the one hour Ozarks at Large program or on their own. The series is heavily focused on the Northwest Arkansas region, but the themes and discussions are applicable for the entire state and beyond. The series begins with a look at the myriad of definitions of both the word and concept of poverty. The series then examines the historic causes of poverty in the state and moves toward fleshing out how poverty plays out in the lives of individual men and women within communities. The series concludes with a panel discussion with former and current Arkansas lawmakers, a poverty researcher from the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, and a Little Rock-based lobbyist who advocates on behalf of Arkansas’ children and families.

The nucleus of the series is a profile of one single mother in Springdale who lives below the poverty line, raising her children and trying to improve her financial situation. Producer Iti Agnihotri-Mudholkar spends time with Casey Burd, learning more about her daily life and her ongoing fight to get out of poverty. Listening to the pieces it’s clear that Burd is a brave woman to allow her story to be shared and to speak so frankly about her own struggles, mistakes, and setbacks.

Below are links to each of the five segments.

Did you listen to the series? We’d love to hear your thoughts.  Thanks so much to Iti Agnihotri-Mudholkar for allowing us to share these series here.

Part 1: Definition of poverty: A conversation between Ozarks at Large News Producer Kyle Kellams and series producer Iti Agnihotri-Mudholkar about the concept of the word poverty and its various legal and political definitions.
Part 2: Who is poor in Arkansas and the misconceptions surrounding poverty and the poor: According to a U.S. Census Bureau report in 2010 and 2011, close to 15 percent of Americans were living under the federal poverty line, but in Arkansas, that number was as high as 17 percent. An exploration of who is most likely to be poor in Arkansas and some of myths that surround poverty and the poor.
 Part 3: Causes of poverty in Arkansas and the American South, and the effects of poverty:  An examination of the root causes of poverty in the state and a look at our complex economic history, including slavery and lack of labor organizing.
Part 4: Profile of Casey Burd, a single mother:  Moving beyond abstractions, this piece explores the daily life of one women living below the poverty line and her attempts to get out of poverty.
Part 5: The panel discussion:  Kyle Kellams and Iti Agnihotri-Mudholkar join a team team of experts, featuring former Arkansas Sen. John Brown III, Rep. Uvalde Lindsey, Dr. Marcia Shobe from the University of Arkansas School of Social Work and Susana O’Daniel from Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, as they discuss the many strides Arkansas has made in overcoming debilitating poverty and also the many ways in which it can be further reduced.

Iti Agnihotri-Mudholkar with mic.  Image from ArkChallenge.com

All pieces were produced by Ozarks at Large producer Iti Agnihotri-Mudholkar and shared with her permission. To hear more pieces from her go here.