Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity: Highlights and Accomplishments

Since its inception in October 2007, Spotlight has become the nation’s leading platform for bipartisan opinion, news and research on poverty and economic opportunity. The award-winning website attracts more than 30,000 visits each month, bolstered by 15,000 Facebook and Twitter followers and 7,000 newsletter subscribers. Today, Spotlight is the number-one source for up-to-date news and information on poverty-related issues and policies, according to a recent survey by an independent evaluator. What follows are some key highlights.

Exclusive Commentaries Provide Bipartisan Viewpoints on Reducing Poverty

Spotlight’s exclusive commentary series offers a cross section of perspectives on poverty issues and social programs by contributors from across the political spectrum. More than 200 commentaries have been published including more than 30 from current and former policymakers. Notable highlights include:

  • Former House Speaker and current Minority Leader Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) penned a commentary on legislative successes in fighting poverty.
  • Former House Speaker and Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich contributed a piece on his experience with the 1996 welfare reform legislation and ideas to consider for poverty reduction.
  • Three commentary series have been published including “Opportunity and the Budget: Needs, Choices, and the Future,” Winter 2011; “Poverty, Opportunity, and the Deficit” Fall 2010; and “Current and Former Elected Officials Discuss TANF,” Spring 2010. Contributors included U.S. Representative Jim McDermott (D-Wa.), State Senator Liane Sorenson (R-Del.), former Governor Ted Strickland (D-Ohio), Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of American Action Fund, Ron Haskins, senior fellow at The Brookings Institution, David B. Grusky, director of the Stanford Center for the Study of Poverty and Inequality, and Timothy Smeeding, director of the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Webcasts Offer an Innovative Platform for Advocates, Administration Officials and Practitioners

In April 2009, Spotlight launched webcast interviews of experts and public figures discussing the challenges facing low-income Americans. The webcasts are made possible in part through in-kind support from the Kaiser Family Foundation, which provides Spotlight access to its television studio facilities. Notable webcasts include:

  • Jared Bernstein, who served as chief economic advisor to Vice President Joe Biden discussed the White House Middle Class Working Families Task Force.
  • David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, who discussed his ongoing fast to draw attention to the impact of proposed budget cuts on the poor.
  • Martha Coven, special assistant to the President for mobility and opportunity at the White House Domestic Policy Council, who talked about the Obama Administration’s efforts to reduce poverty and help low-income Americans achieve economic security.
  • Jim Weill, president of the Food Research Action Council (FRAC), discussing the organization’s 10-year campaign to address childhood hunger and the key role of state and local anti-hunger organizations.
  • Sonal Shah, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council’s Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, who offered her thoughts on how government can help promote innovation.
  • Clarence Page, a nationally syndicated op-ed columnist, who joined YouthBuild students after screening of the film, “Waiting for Superman,” which documented the problems in America’s schools.

Events Bring Together Participants from Across the Political Spectrum

Spotlight has hosted and sponsored policy forums, hill briefings, audio conferences and webinars featuring a bipartisan group of national and local policy experts, foundation representatives, journalists and community organizers. Here are some of the highlights:

June 2011 – Audio conference with U.S. Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) who offered an insider’s perspective on the latest budget developments in Congress and the national implications.
May 2011— Audio conference with U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) who discussed how current budget proposals would affect low-income families.
March 2011 – Audio conference featuring Jane Waldfogel of Columbia University and the London School of Economics and Paul Gregg of Bristol University in England. The speakers provided tips and lessons for U.S. poverty advocates and local, state and federal governments on the U.K.’s successful poverty reduction effort.
December 2010 – Joint event with the Brookings Institution and the Hudson Institute entitled “Should the Disadvantaged be Spared from the Budget Axe? A Look at the President’s Budget Commission Findings and How They Could Impact the Poor.” The event examined the recommendations of the President’s Bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform from the perspective of the disadvantaged. It was live-streamed and webcast to a viewing audience of 13,000.
February 2009 – Joint event held in San Francisco with The California Endowment and the Stanford Center for the Study of Poverty and Inequality entitled “Beyond Health Care Coverage: Addressing Inequality and Health Disparities in America.” The forum examined the social and economic factors that influence health and the importance of raising up this issue in the health care reform debate.
September 2008 – Joint hill briefing with the Equity and Inclusion Campaign of the Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation entitled “The Gulf Coast and the New Administration: An Agenda for the First 100 Days.” The event examined the policy strategies available to the president-elect and how to maintain the political and public will crucial to Gulf Coast recovery efforts.
July 2008 – Joint forum with the Half in Ten Campaign and National League of Cities entitled “Tackling Poverty: The Role of State and Local Governments.” The event explored the growing number of state and local governments that have launched comprehensive anti-poverty initiatives.
March 2008 – Joint event with the Center on Children and Families at The Brookings Institution, and the Center for the Study of Poverty and Inequality at Stanford entitled “What Should the Next President Do About Poverty and Economic Opportunity?” The policy forum discussed how 2008 presidential candidates should address poverty in America as they face a sluggish economy, sharp political divisions on Capitol Hill and competing policy priorities.

News, Polls and Research Provide Timely Information on Poverty and Opportunity

The Spotlight website strives to be the go-to portal for information and resources on poverty and opportunity. Noteworthy features include:

In the News. Since launching this section in 2008 Spotlight has posted more than 4,000 articles a year on poverty and opportunity from newspapers and magazines across the country. This service is the only news aggregator of its kind, and helps advocates, practitioners, researchers, policymakers, journalists and the public stay abreast of news and opinion coverage of all topics related to poverty and opportunity in America. We have also provided this unique service to nonprofit organizations looking to include current news devoted to poverty on their websites.
Polling Place. Begun in late 2010, this section compiles the latest opinion survey research on poverty, low-income Americans and topics related to economic opportunity from major public opinion polls across the country.
Issues & Research. A staple of the website since its inception, the issue sections include the latest studies, policy briefs and reports on such topics as family well-being, health, rural poverty, and economic opportunity. These sections are among the most popular features of the website. The education and poverty section, for example, receives more than 2,000 page views each month.

Original Research Contributes New Ideas and Data to the Field

Spotlight has produced original research on U.S. media coverage of domestic poverty issues and other issues effecting poverty and opportunity:

July 2009 – A joint report with the Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation, A Forgotten Crisis?: Coverage of Post-Katrina Gulf Coast Poverty since 2005, studied national and regional reporting on the effects of Hurricane Katrina on low-income residents of the Gulf Coast region.
November 2008 –A study of print media entitled Reaching New Heights: The Issue of Poverty in the 2008 Campaign, conducted in conjunction with Civic Enterprises, found that media coverage of poverty in stories about political campaigns increased every year from 2005 through 2008.
April 2008 – A joint report with the Center for Law and Social Policy, Seizing the Moment: State Governments and the New Commitment to Reduce Poverty in America, highlighted states that have raised the political profile for fighting poverty through commissions, task forces and other tools.