Who do you think of when you hear the word “poor”? There are myriad of reports on economic doom and gloom and rise in poverty in the US, but none that hit the nail on the head with what I call, negating the stereotypes…..
A recent Huffington Post article noted that 4 out of 5 adults struggle with joblessness, near-poverty or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives–a sign of deteriorating economic security and an elusive American Dream—driven by an increasingly globalized US economy, the widening gap between rich and poor, and the loss of manufacturing jobs.
Many people think this poverty is skewed toward racial minorities—primarily Blacks and Hispanics—but this is no longer true. The race disparities in the poverty rate have narrowed substantially. While Blacks and Hispanics are still three times more likely to live in poverty, census data reports that by sheer numbers, the predominant face of the poor is white…more than 19 million whites fall below the poverty line of $23,021 for a family of four, or 41% of the population, nearly double the number of poor blacks.
To further negate stereotypes, the same article shows numerous studies that reflect:
- While marriage rates are in decline for all races, for the first time since 1975, the number of white-single-mother households living in the poverty with children surpassed or equaled black ones in the past decade—spurred by job losses and faster rates of out-of-wedlock birth among whites—1.5 million in 2011 comparable to blacks. Hispanic-single-mother families in poverty trailed at 1.2 million.
- The share of white children living in high-poverty neighborhoods is increasing to 17%, up from 13% in 2000, even though the overall population of white children in the US has been declining. The same share of black children dropped to 37% (from 43%) while Latino children went from 38 to 39%.
These shifts have clear indicators as it relates to values, causes and beliefs. These studies show that nonwhite minorities have more optimism about the future while whites (particularly working-class/no-college) have never been so pessimistic. Whether these feelings, beliefs and values are ignited by Obama’s election and re-election, and/or economic hardships, they are reflected in hard facts. And no one can negate the social and cultural changes that are rapidly challenging the status quo.
This puts a different spin for marketers for price/value brands, doesn’t it? And not just in advertising and marketing campaigns, but also in growth strategies with distribution. A different spin for politicians, election campaigns and how we evaluate social policies. A different spin in how we feel about the widening wealth gap between the rich and the poor. A different spin in how we see “us” versus “them”.
Two years ago, I wrote about Middle Class shrinking and the vanishing American Dream. And last year, I wrote a blog “The Emerging Middle Class Culture in America” challenging companies and marketers to avoid broad-stroke depictions of non-white consumers. I defined multiculturalism by a mosaic of different cultures in one platform and a society that is ethnically and culturally diverse. I always reiterate that does not mean excluding whites or implying ethnic minorities only.
As multicultural societies become the new mainstream and new normal, and non-whites approach a numerical majority in the US, expect to see wealth, income and class to become far greater indicators and predictors of behaviors, consumption and lifestyles than race and ethnicity ever were. I think we are in that marketplace now.
That’s not to say that race and ethnicity don’t have any cultural impact on lifestyles. But unless you are selling products and services that cater to a very specific cultural nuance, know that your customers’ needs are driven primarily by their socioeconomic status, not their skin color. So, start marketing to the inside of your customers, not outside. This is not easy to do since most analysis, measurements and ratings are still broken down by age, gender, race, etc. And that’s OK, since the same type analysis is helping us negate our stereotypes. But, as marketers, we must learn to understand and measure customers’ needs that transcend many demographic lines. The first step is to start negating stereotypes and challenging orthodoxies, and finding commonalities. This not only helps your strategic positioning and marketing campaigns, but also help us remember that we’re all in this together.
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