A UT radio station is giving a voice to the unheard in East Tennessee: the working poor.
WUOT, a member of National Public Radio licensed to UT, is airing a special called "Without a Net: Voices of the Working Poor" at noon on Dec. 7. The special will be comprised of interviews with experts who interact and work with working people who struggle financially.
Matt Shafer Powell, the director of new content at WUOT and the executive producer of this special, finds the predicament of these people worth researching.
"This is a large segment of our population that often goes unnoticed," Powell said. "They're too poor to enjoy the kind of middle-class existence they aspire to, but they make too much money to qualify for much in the way of government assistance. And to be honest, many of them aren't interested in a handout."
Leslie Snow, the co-producer and co-host of the special, says that they chose this subject because of the way this group of people is often overlooked.
"Powell and I spent an afternoon brainstorming about projects we wanted to tackle," Snow said. "We decided to focus on the working poor because we believe their stories often go untold and unheard. We wanted to give (a) voice to people who work long hours, who see dignity in hard work, but still walk a thin line between making ends meet and financial disaster."
Originally, the project was just a set of four-minute clips featuring different representatives of East Tennessee's working poor to be aired daily for a week.
"In these segments, we get an intimate glimpse into their lives, their interests, their jobs, their struggles, their dreams and the persistent, paralyzing fear of financial collapse," Powell said.
As the project continued, however, it became evident that the project needed more in order to truly understand and represent these people.
"After producing the daily segments, we realized that we had really only begun to scratch the surface in terms of our understanding of the working poor," Powell said. "So we decided to add an hour-long special where we could explore some of the issues that were brought up during the daily pieces."
In making this special, Snow and Powell faced several difficulties in gathering their information.
"It was important to establish a level of trust with the people we interviewed," Snow said. "They were gracious enough to invite us into their homes and their lives and tell us stories that were often difficult to tell."
Powell emphasizes that these people are a part of the Knoxville community that go unnoticed and unappreciated.
"The people we spoke with are members of our community — they're our neighbors, our sisters, our cousins, our parents," Powell said. "They're the people who wait on us at the store, in the restaurant. They fix our roads and our cars. They build our homes and our schools. They work very hard and don't expect anything more than a fair shot at the American dream."
For Snow, it's important that listeners put themselves in other people's shoes in order to understand the way they live.
"One of the people we interviewed told me, 'I think everyone should take off their shoes and be grateful and thankful for what they got and walk in my shoes. To see what it's like to have to work two jobs everyday, sick with the flu, pneumonia or whatever, because you know you have to get out there to make your bills, to pay your bills, to have a roof over your head,'" Snow said.
She added, "I think the series and the hour-long special give listeners a chance to do as Rick asked and walk in his shoes."
The special airs on Dec. 7 at noon on 91.9 FM. During the week of Dec. 3rd to 7th, short interviews will be aired throughout the morning.