“No country has ever closely scrutinized itself visually … I know what we could make of it if people only thought we could dare look at ourselves.” – Dorothea Lange
For a short period of time, we did turn the camera on ourselves. Dorothea Lange was one of the photographers hired by the Farm Security Administration to document life during the Great Depression. Proponents of Franklin’s New Deal understood that urbanites needed to see what was happening across the United States, to visualize what children and their parents faced in the fields of Salinas, California, Harlingen, Texas and Chandler, Arizona. For nine years, Lange and other photographers journeyed across the country, creating a library of over 80,000 photographs.
It’s been more than eighty years since Lange began her photographic journey. And because of New Deal legislation and the programs that followed, we now have a rudimentary, though holey, safety net consisting of food stamps (now SNAP), aid to dependent children (now TANF), Social Security, Medicaid and unemployment compensation. Yet income inequality has been rising since the early 1970s, and today more than half a million Americans are homeless and 42 million (1 in 6) live in “food insecure” households. The gap between the rich and poor grows ever wider, and the middle class is clinging to the edges of the cliff.
Is the gap now so large that some of us can no longer see what life is like on the other side? Writing for The Conversation, Jonathan J. B. Mijs’ answer is “Yes.” And when this happens, it’s much easier to believe that we all have an equal chance to be the smiling family on the billboard.
You can read Mijs’ article discussing inequality, our perception of individuals in need, and why our beliefs regarding causation matter here. To see additional statistics, check out Nicolas Fitz’s article, “Economic Inequality: It’s Far Worse Than You Think.”