Fusion: the dollar poor

Rediffusion London’s house magazine, Fusion, on two productions on poverty and abundance in the USA

Intertel is a project for international understanding through television. The full title is the International Television Federation. The members of it are the National Educational Television and Radio Center and the Westinghouse Broadcasting Company of America, the Australian Broadcasting Commission, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Rediffusion Television Ltd, London.

The two Intertel programmes contrast poverty and abundance. The United States is the richest country in the world. Vast car parks full of automobiles reflect this richness. Consumer goods pour out. Yet as machines increasingly take over, the awesome surplus of people grows. So do the dole queues – and despair. Homes, too, range from luxury apartments to shacks.

From 'Fusion', the house magazine of Rediffusion London, issue 37 from Christmas 1964

Highways, Expressways, Thruways – the evidence of affluence cuts through the heart of cities (left). Poverty, the dole, food handouts – these cut through the heart of people. Codell Gibson, father of 10 children (right), explains his views in ‘The Dollar Poor’. He is one of 40 million Americans – a fifth of the population – who belong to families with an income of less than $3,000 a year.

Only a few days before he died, President Kennedy was presented by his staff with a report on the problem of poverty in the United States. He had called for this after reading a short but remarkable book. The Other America, written by a young sociologist called Michael Harrington. Kennedy had no chance to act on the report, but on the day after his assassination, it formed part of the briefing which President Johnson received as soon as he entered the White House. With characteristic shrewdness and foresight, Mr Johnson seized upon the poverty problem as a major moral and practical issue which should be presented to the American public during an election year. This was the origin of his famous poverty programme – or the ‘poverty package’ as it is known in Washington – and the energy with which Mr Johnson has pursued it has made poverty, after civil rights, the biggest single talking-point in American politics in this day and age.

Our first difficulty in preparing a programme about poverty in America, was one of selection. According to government economists in Washington, nearly 40 million Americans – a fifth of the population – belong to families with an income of $3,000 a year or less. All are officially classified as poor. But they are poor in a thousand different ways and for a wide variety of reasons. To get at the roots of the problem, to identify the main causes of poverty – and so prepare the way for solutions – a good deal of simplification is necessary. In the course of our researches, and in travelling 20,000 miles across the United States, we found we were able to isolate four major factors.

The first is the collapse of traditional industries, particularly mining. In the Appalachian mountains, which stretch across eight states near the Atlantic seaboard, the coal industry is in irretrievable decline. Many thousands of miners are totally unemployed, with no prospect of getting work in the area. Their families live on food handouts, for they are no longer eligible for unemployment benefit. Here there is great distress, anger and often violence. Appalachia has received more attention than any other single region, and constitutes a special section of the ‘poverty package’, but only migration can solve its problems, because they spring from a fundamental change in the structure of the US economy.

The collapse of traditional industries, particularly mining, is one of the major factors creating poverty. In the Appalachian mountains many thousands of miners are out of jobs. Further, there is no prospect of work. Homes rot into patched up shacks. Waste water goes through the windows (left). Rain also comes in from above, for this home of Oliver Mason has no roof. Families live on food handouts (right). These are made on the first Monday of each month between 7.30 a.m. and 3.30 p.m. The food has to last for the next month.

Another industry undergoing rapid transformation is agriculture. Thanks to mechanisation, its labour force has been slashed by over two-fifths since the war. In the Southern States – especially Florida – but above all in California, millions have been thrown out of work. Most of them are unskilled hand-pickers, who cannot find other jobs. Those who remain in the industry get only seasonal employment, are not entitled to Federal minimum wages or unemployment benefits, and get little or no protection from Federal labour laws.

A third type of distress is to be found in many northern industrial cities. Here – and notably in Chicago – unemployment caused by automation is aggravated by a heavy influx of negroes from the South. As American industry becomes more sophisticated, it has less and less demand for unskilled labour of any kind. A white worker thrown out of his job by technical change has little chance of securing another, unless he gets the opportunity to attend a re-training course. A negro worker is still worse off. because his basic educational standards are lower and. when jobs are scarce, his colour is a marked disadvantage.

Finally, there is the problem of the aged poor. America’s social security laws are by no means so all-embracing as in some European countries and. according to some authorities, nearly 50 per cent of Americans over the age of 65 live on or near the poverty-line. Their lot varies from state to state: in California, for instance, where the aged have organised a political pressure-group of their own, they are comparatively well-off. In other states their old age pension is scarcely enough to save them from destitution. America has not yet evolved a Federal Medical Security System and old people, in particular, are often forced to sacrifice their life-savings and their homes to meet hospital bills. The elderly, in fact, form the biggest single element in America’s poverty problem.

Why don’t some people move into the richer industrial areas of the north? Some do, but they bring their poverty with them. Negroes from the South may find apartments to let (top left), but they can’t find jobs. Their children (bottom left) roam the streets. Meanwhile back in the Appalachians, some white schoolchildren (top right) have no washing facilities in their schoolhouse. At lunch time they have to wash their hands in a filthy stream nearby. For many of them that lunch – cooked by the teacher – will be their only meal of the day. Codell Wilson is typical of many. He cannot afford to move his family (bottom centre) to a big city. Even if he had a shaky old car to get them there, would they be any better off (bottom right)? Mass production needs only the highly skilled.

Working on this four-part basis, we investigated poverty in West Virginia and Kentucky, in the rich agricultural valleys of California, in the big West Coast cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco, and in the industrial areas of Illinois and Indiana. Our object was not only to present the various aspects of US poverty, but to describe how the Federal and local administrations are tackling it. In Washington we found a tremendous awareness of the problem and a determination, at all levels in the Administration, to give it high priority in their efforts.

At a local level, too, we met scores of dedicated men and women – many of them only in their twenties – working for a great variety of government agencies: in social welfare, housing, re-development. industrial re-training, child-care and relief-work. We met, also, many social workers employed by private or charitable organisations. None of them made any attempt to hide the evils of poverty in America – on the contrary, they were anxious that we should see everything. Talking to them, we were impressed by two things: their tremendous enthusiasm and, secondly, their frustration in the face of local and federal laws which seemed rooted in the laissez-faire attitudes of the 19th century.

There is no doubt, we found, that America is making a serious attempt to eradicate the shame of poverty. But there is equally no doubt that it will not succeed in this task until American society is brought to change its attitudes about the nature of poverty and the relationship between work, moral virtue and worldly success.

Paul Johnson

ON THE EDGE OF ABUNDANCE

THE DOLLAR POOR

Script
Research
Sound Recordists

Film Editor
Cameraman
Director
Executive Producer

Jack Hargreaves
Bryan FitzJones
Basil Rootes
Freddie Slade
Beryl Wilkins
Ron Osborn
Bill Morton
Cyril Bennett

Narration
Script
Research
Music
Sound Recordists

Film Editor
Cameraman
Director
Executive Producer

James Cameron
Paul Johnson
Bryan FitzJones
Fredrick Buxton
Basil Rootes
Freddie Slade
David Hodgson
Ron Osborn
Randal Beattie
Cyril Bennett

RESOURCES

America: The Dollar Poor has an American Archive of Public Broadcasting record

America: the Edge of Abundance has an American Archive of Public Broadcasting record

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