advertisement
advertisement

Poor People, Presidential Candidates, and Wal-Mart

In the tiny town of Marks, Mississippi, they filled the potholes on Cotton Street just before presidential candidate John Edwards showed up this week to talk about poverty in one of the poorest communities in America. That detail was reported by the Boston Globe, as part of its story on Edwards’ three-day, seven-state tour of some of America’s most impoverished communities.

In the tiny town of Marks, Mississippi, they filled the potholes on Cotton Street just before presidential candidate John Edwards showed up this week to talk about poverty in one of the poorest communities in America. That detail was reported by the Boston Globe, as part of its story on Edwards’ three-day, seven-state tour of some of America’s most impoverished communities.

advertisement
advertisement

In the last 10 years, the working poor have all-but-disappeared from the conversation in America, but 37 million Americans live on $20,000 a year in income, or less. That’s $385 a week in income — $54.80 per day, to live on. (If your rent or mortgage is $1,600 a month or more, you’re spending more on shelter alone than 13 percent of America has to live on.)

It’s funny: The whole justification for the “global economy” is that it provides opportunity, that it lifts people living at the subsistence level — literally hand-to-mouth — out of poverty in places like China and India. But what about those in the U.S.A. who need the same kinds of opportunities?

Edwards is the only presidential candidate who has consistently talked about the less-well-off in America — although he has a significant intellectual conflict, which doesn’t have anything to do with $400 haircuts.

Most of the media coverage of Edwards’ tour has used the poor as a prop to talk about something else — some of the coverage has, in fact, done that while accusing Edwards of using the poor as a distraction from his own campaign troubles.

That’s what the Raleigh News & Observer, Edwards’ hometown newspaper, did. (The N&O also has a highly opinionated rundown on Edwards’ major anti-poverty proposals.) USAToday used Edwards’ efforts to highlight poverty to highlight the position of Barack Obama against poverty. The New York Times discussed whether Edwards’ poverty tour legitimately links him to the legacy of the Kennedy brothers.

advertisement

One story, from Eric Pooley at Time magazine, tapped with genuine emotion the larger points that Edwards is trying to make. Here’s the opening two sentences:

After three days on the road with John Edwards in some of the poorest places in America, it’s not only the depth of human need that hits you, but the layered and interlocking complexity of it — the way a complete lack of health care, for instance, can all by itself consign someone to ignorance and joblessness. But you’re also struck by how so many of the people who have been dealt these difficult hands manage to play them with grace and fortitude.

But here’s my question for John Edwards: Since he’s concerned about the plight of the poor, why is he so relentlessly critical of Wal-Mart? Where does he think the poor shop? And the question cuts the other way, as well: Half the adults in America shop at Wal-Mart every week — why is John Edwards attacking a company that many of his would-be voters depend on?

Just wondering.

advertisement
advertisement

About the author

Charles Fishman, a long-time Fast Company staffer and contributor, is the author of "The Wal-Mart Effect: How the World's Most Powerful Company Really Works--and How It's Transforming the American Economy," the definitive look at Walmart, as well as "The Big Thirst, The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water."

More