Talking about the poor is hip now

Story highlights

  • Carol Costello: Suddenly the issue of poverty, inequality is on people's minds
  • She says it's good that both parties have now identified it as a priority problem

Carol Costello anchors the 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. ET edition of CNN's "Newsroom" each weekday. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)Suddenly, everybody cares about the poor in America. No longer are they stereotyped as lazy welfare queens who suck up your tax dollars, or those invisible humanoids who serve you burgers and fries, but instead are viewed rightly as people in need of a little help.

Even Mitt Romney -- Mr. 47% -- wants to "lift people out of poverty." In a recent address at the Republican National Committee, Romney said, "The rich have gotten richer, income inequality has gotten worse and there are more people in poverty than ever before under this President."
Twitter lit up. And, I mean lit up! "He wouldn't know poverty if it slapped him in the face."
    Gawker.com piled on: "Comedy has an element of shamelessness, at least he has that going for him." Another: "They actually let this guy win the nomination last time, take a moment to ponder what that really means about the right."
    Seriously, everyone jumped in, including progressive darling Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, who tweeted, "Good to see Mitt Romney suddenly talking about working families. Are corporations still people too, Mitt?"
    It's easy to poke fun at a guy who has an elevator for his cars, even if you think he's sincere in his sudden, public compassion for the working poor.
    I actually think it's a good thing Romney and other Republicans are talking about the difficulties of the working poor.
    It's a lot better than poverty-shaming.
    Let's face it, not many Americans who find themselves in trouble want to jump up and shout, "I don't have any money. I need help."
    I'm sure there are more than a few who don't mind admitting they're poor, or on food stamps or Medicaid, but I'm also sure the vast majority of Americans would be ashamed to admit they're poor or even in present need.
    I experienced a little of that myself in grade school, and then later on, for a time, in college. I clearly remember how ashamed I felt to qualify for the free-lunch program. The other kids -- knew. Sometimes I wouldn't eat so they wouldn't stare. So, when, in 2012, Newt Gingrich suggested children living in poverty work as janitors to instill a "work ethic," it rubbed me the wrong way. My parents were not lazy. They had jobs, we just fell out of the middle class for a time, then, with help, figured it out and rose right back up.
    I'm not going to sit here and tell you I know what it's like to be perpetually poor -- I don't. I just remember how embarrassed I felt when people thought I was poor and my parents were lazy.
    Funny thing is, now that I'm richer than most Americans, I feel a tad embarrassed about that, too. I still consider myself middle class and hard-working, caring and generous.
    Is Romney sincere in wanting to "lift people out of poverty"? Is President Obama just posturing as he proposes initiatives meant to help the working poor that he knows won't pass a Republican Congress? Because these questions are vexing, we tend to focus on them. And we debate their answers endlessly, often without ever coming to any conclusions.
    But I do think it's a victory that both sides now acknowledge that, yes, there is a yawning wage gap; yes, there are too many hard-working Americans living in poverty; and, yes, we must somehow work together to elevate the poor and build a financially strong middle class.