It takes time, energy and ability to be an engaged citizen in our American democracy. Yet, most would be surprised by the number of hours a person must work in order to live above the poverty line. In my own state of New York, one must work 88 hours per week to live above poverty, an outlier perhaps, but in Indiana 71-88 hours is necessary. A work schedule like that leaves little time to educate oneself on the issues being discussed by candidates, contact one’s representatives or attend a school board meeting.
Never mind the associated strain and exhaustion of working 70 plus hours each week, the presumption that a dedicated citizen can educate herself through the public access to radio and television cannot be helped either. While a person living in poverty may have access to the media, the news world struggles to remain afloat and spends little time unearthing and contradicting the falsehoods found in political rhetoric. Unfortunately, the dark shadow of the Supreme Court’s ruling on Citizen’s United has led to a lack of ownership and transparency in political ads, thereby excusing the media of that responsibility. Thus, this dedicated citizen receives inflammatory and contradictory information with little time to shuffle through the facts on her own.
Even if she takes the time to explore facts and read voting records, cognitive ability is impaired by poverty as pointed out in a recent article by Matthew Yglesias that challenged the age old attitude that bad decisions lead to poverty. New research finds that “worrying about money causes cognitive impairments”, and old research like this from the Mayo Clinic continues to show that stress affect the body and cognitive abilities. How is it that a person struggling with the realities of a life lived in poverty with its impacts on diet, education, concentration or access to resources can fully participate in our democracy?
Nichole Davis is a MPA Graduate from Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs in Indianapolis. She currently works as a Program Officer in New York, NY.