There are many problems with this. Compared to a half-century ago, the price of food today is much less important than housing and utility prices. Medical expenses have grown; child-care expenses have increased as single parents work more.
Here’s the most important problem, however. In the last four decades, the U.S. has greatly expanded help for lower-income families, including food stamps, housing programs, medical care assistance, and changes in tax laws to benefit the poor. But our current poverty statistics are based only on families’ cash income, and none of these programs affect cash income—so none of them affect the official poverty rate.
Another article focuses on the deplorable conditions faced by illegal immigrants held in maximum security facilities around the country: “Centers’ substandard conditions have been partly to blame for nearly 70 detainee deaths in the last five years. Immigrant advocacy groups, human rights organizations, and the media have widely criticized ICE’s detention system—a $1.6 billion industry funded by taxpayers—for being unaccountable and poorly overseen.”
But Sojourners stumbles somewhat when it covers the Christian movement itself. The cover story, “Nashville’s New Groove” documents recent charity projects by Christian country artists: “[Derek] Webb is one of a growing number of Nashville-based Christian musicians who are combining their faith with a commitment to social justice. Rather than simply playing benefit concerts or becoming celebrity spokespeople for charity, they’re taking a hands-on role in serving some of the poorest people on the planet and advocating for social change.”
Yet the reporting feels thin, like the result of one or two interviews, with lots of showing, not telling. And the focus on the musicians’ work, instead of the needs of those they’re serving, reads more like a celebratory profile than a careful examination of the developing world’s needs. Which is fine—there’s nothing wrong with celebratory profiles—but nowhere near as rewarding as the magazine’s harder-hitting stuff. –Katia Bachko
IQ, as a “magazine of ideas”—its pages slickly designed; its topics of intellectual and aesthetic inquiry (“Media & Culture” and “Music & Performance,” among them) relatively erudite; its layout peppered with nuggets of fibrous wisdom courtesy of Prominent Historical Thinkers; its articles, despite their promise of “original thinking with an emphasis on the visual,” mere synthetic summaries of books available for “Further Reading” (read: sale) elsewhere; its overall aesthetic, therefore, more Cliffs Notes-meets-Amazon than New York Review of Books; its overall sensibility, therefore, almost painfully self-conscious about the appearance of its own IQ—is a publication that is probably best left to those who think themselves smarter than they are. –Megan Garber
America, March 23, 2009
The March 23 issue of America, the national Catholic weekly published by the Jesuits, has a funny photograph on its cover that perplexed me for a good five minutes (and then another five minutes when I was drawn irresistibly back to it). It features a little Toto-like dog sticking its head out from behind the folds of a fur coat. Below the furry one is a pair of pointy green leather boots. Now, having seen many a little dog toted around by denizens of Fifth Ave., I thought it might be a feature on wealthy Catholics, or possibly one on pet ethics. A co-worker asked if it was some Dorothy kind of thing?
As it turns out, the feature it illustrates is an op-ed-like piece about animal welfare; its main message is that concern for animals is not “akin to idolatry,” and that it doesn’t “displace God.” The starkest expression of that argument: “More to the point, when one person chooses to abstain from meat derived from animals raised in unnatural conditions, while a second demands to be served only the tenderest, juiciest cuts of sirloin, it is not the first who is raising up idols.” The piece sticks to its message, but it would have benefited from some actual focus on what America’s readers might actually do. In asking for changed perceptions (writer Kate Blake reminds that it’s not “what that chicken or calf or rabbit can do for me”) or renewed commitment (quoting the Catechism: “Man’s dominion… requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation”), a bit of service journalism might have proved most useful.