Unreported World – USA Review: Down And Out

June 25, 2010 by  
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UNREPORTED WORLD: USA: DOWN AND OUT: Friday 25th June, Channel 4, 7.30pm ALERT ME

News coverage is rapidly becoming another form of entertainment, a ratings war designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator. That’s why you’ll see the focus shifting to opinion pieces where ignorant plebs interviewed street give you their misinformed and completely irrelevant viewpoint rather than some actual news.

Thank goodness then for Unreported World, a long running back to basics news programme which looks at a specific topic in more detail then you’d get from a five minute news bulletin. This week Ramita Navai visits homeless Americans to see the consequences of the economic crisis.

It’s startling stuff. You’d never expect there to be such widespread homelessness in the world’s richest country; great swathes of the population are being completely sidelined. In Chicago we see lines of people queuing up for food but they’re not workshy freeloaders – many of them actually have jobs, but their jobs don’t pay enough to for them to live, forcing them to seek handouts.

And it’s not only unskilled labourers that are forced into seeking charity – among the gathered are professional people with college qualifications laid low by redundancy and downsizing.

Part of this can be traced to the harsh qualifications for a food benefits – the threshold for receiving benefits is punishingly low, so you’re either forced to have a job that doesn’t pay enough to live on or not work at all. It seems like a broken system but we’re offered few answers.

The amount of information delivered in the short 30 minutes is staggering as is the scale of the problem. A small sampling: 37 million people are on state or private food assistance – double the number from two years ago; a harsh reminder that the wheels can fall off the buggy very quickly indeed.

From the streets of boarded up houses where dozens of families have lost their homes, to the Tent Cities of Nashville which are illegal but self-sustaining communities in their own right, to the 2000 homeless in one square mile of California dubbed “Skid Row?, the sheer number of people affected by the downturn is mind boggling.

It’s a poignant reminder that there are those out there harder hit by the winds of change than many of us realised and that fiscal calamity has a very human cost,
Unreported World is a return to the old school, where reporters actually went and found things out, rather than simply asking a man outside Tesco what he thinks about the weather.