Reporting on poverty and food insecurity. Bring your humanity


In a land and a time of unprecedented abundance and wealth, the persistence of poverty and food insecurity in America and related issues, such as homelessness and healthcare access, are complex challenges for everyone — government at all levels, nonprofit and charitable organizations, the average citizen and the news media.

Statistics describe the problem and are essential to know and understand, but reducing poverty and food insecurity to numbers can cause everyone to lose sight of the human stories and the circumstances those people must endure. Nonetheless, a few statistics are required to establish a baseline.

  • The United States Department of Commerce reported the 2021 poverty rate was 11.6% or 37.9 million Americans. Of that group, 15.3% were younger than 18, 10.5% were 18 to 64 and 10.3% were 65 and older.
  • In primary families with children younger than 6, 16.1% were in poverty, and 15% in those with children younger than 18.
  • According to the United States Department of Agriculture, 10.2% of all U.S. households were defined as “food insecure” in 2021. Approximately four percent had very low food security. That number rose to 6.2% in those families with children.
  • Food insecurity in Black and Hispanic households was greater than for all households, or 19.8% and 16.2%, respectively.

Journalists living the poverty issue

Traditionally, journalists were taught not to become part of the stories they were reporting — to remain outside the story to maintain their objectivity. Because of the severe contraction of the news industry and the uncertainty of working as a freelancer, some journalists have experienced poverty and food insecurity. Becoming part of the story is often critical to their articles being published. The financial and distribution support of the Economic Hardship Reporting Project (EHRP) is helping those journalists recover from the trauma of being without a job and sometimes homeless.

“For some of our pieces, the journalists report about hard times they’ve experienced. Many accomplished journalists have had to receive food stamps and unemployment or have been homeless,” Alissa Quart, executive director of EHRP, said.

Lori Yearwood, EHRP team member and a housing crisis reporter

Lori Yearwood is a team member and a housing crisis reporter under contract with EHRP. Her articles are published on the EHRP website and simultaneously co-published in The New York Times, Mother Jones, The Washington Post, Defector and many other media outlets.

Yearwood is one of those journalists who have lived through crises. She was an enterprise reporter with The Miami Herald for seven years, and then, years later, a series of traumatic circumstances caused her to become unhoused for two years. After she found a place to live, she started to freelance for EHRP, gradually working toward becoming a team member and reclaiming her position as a full-time reporter again.

“Instead of writing only from the perspective of the victim, who is often portrayed as being solely disempowered, I emphasize the more comprehensive story about the coping mechanisms and the resilience that it takes to negotiate these horrendous circumstances in which people find themselves. We need to write more from that perspective so that we’re not creating one-dimensional caricatures of people,” Yearwood said.

“Gentrifier: A Memoir” by Anne Elizabeth Moore
Anne Elizabeth Moore, an EHRP-supported journalist and author and cultural critic

Anne Elizabeth Moore is another EHRP-supported journalist. Moore has been a journalist, author and cultural critic for more than 20 years and has had her articles published in The Guardian, Salon, Paris Review, Truthout and many others.

“I’m a woman working full-time in media and relying exclusively on that for my income for 20 years. In my 2021 book, 'Gentrifier: A Memoir,' I wrote that I experienced a quite severe and financially devastating illness. I applied for an award from an organization that was giving free houses to low-income writers in a permanent residency program,” Moore said.

Moore was awarded a home in Detroit in 2016 but quickly learned expensive repairs were needed. She was offered and accepted a job in another state and put her home on the market. Although the deed to the home was in Moore’s name, the title was technically in dispute because the previous owner’s name was still on the title. Moore’s research about that situation, tracking the previous owner and talking with her, became the basis for her EHRP article. Moore revealed how the Wayne County, Michigan, property tax foreclosure crisis impacted one woman, the former owner of the home she had been given. It was published in partnership with The Guardian and Bridge Detroit.

When asked how the news media, editors and reporters can improve their coverage of poverty and food insecurity, Moore said, “What’s tricky writing about poverty is so much of our culture doesn’t allow for honesty about economic security. You must pay very close attention to identifying those who are struggling financially. Have a conversation with people experiencing poverty, but not in a judgmental way.”

Writing about poverty in Black communities

Alexa Imani Spencer, health reporter with Word in Black

Alexa Imani Spencer is a health reporter with Word in Black, a collaboration of 10 legacy Black newspapers founded by the Local Media Association. She writes from the perspective of a young Black woman and the experience of generations of her family who have been impoverished since enslavement.

“Today’s food insecurity is directly connected to the Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras and redlining during the 1930s, which denied Black people from buying homes in suburban neighborhoods,” Spencer said.

Spencer added she always wants to know “my why” and must constantly do “heart checks” because if journalists aren’t careful, they’ll be too focused on story quotas and deadlines and forget why they're doing the work.

“When we’re reporting on any group of people, it’s crucial to understand them holistically. We should know what they value about their community and culture. Why? Because it’s our job to report factually, not based on unchecked assumption or bias,” Spencer added.

“Do your best to approach any interview with economically oppressed people and people of color with a trauma-informed perspective. It makes a big difference to talk with someone who’s actively listening and not triggering an emotional response from you to obtain a good quote. Be considerate and compassionate about the lived experiences of these people.”

Spencer cited two positive trends for Black Americans. In her April 2023 Word in Black article, “Basic Income Is Coming to America’s Poorest, Blackest Cities,” she reported on expanding guaranteed income programs into many Black communities. These programs have resulted in improvements in full-time employment, mental health and family life.

Spencer has also noticed an increase in urban farming and gardening, which provides a local source of fresh food.

“When we add trees, gardens and farms to these neighborhoods, we’re not just beautifying them but also helping people be safer. There’s a direct connection between these efforts and health outcomes for people in these neighborhoods, lowering anxiety and even rates of gun violence,” Spencer said.

Bob Sillick has held many senior positions and served a myriad of clients during his 47 years in marketing and advertising. He has been a freelance/contract content researcher, writer, editor and manager since 2010. He can be reached at


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