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Common Frames and How to Use Them

About half of Americans identify as “middle class” or “upper middle class,” while another 30 percent usually self-identify as “working class.” Today, many Americans say that they feel an economic “squeeze,”—that their incomes are not keeping up with their rising costs, especially in the face of the recent recession. Most believe they personally can overcome these problems through sacrifice and hard work and feel that they are not helpless victims or that public programs can or should help them. This is an example of a deeply-held moral belief intersecting with economic reality to create a framework for interpreting the world: middle-class Americans feel that, in difficult circumstances, they and others should work hard in order to succeed. However, their moral framework also makes them sympathetic to workers who try but have little success supporting their families.

In other words, while most people believe that too many people face uncertainty in supporting their families and that large economic forces make it too hard for the average person to get ahead, they are not completely convinced that government or other programs are the answer. They do respect those who struggle and sacrifice to support themselves and are sympathetic about the difficulties struggling families face. Programs for hard-working low-wage workers have more widespread support.

Below are some commonly used frames:

Poverty and Poor People: Since hard work and family are fundamental American values, Americans identify with someone whose work ethic is unquestionable and who strives for a better life for her or his family. Our strong individualistic bias leads us to value work, perseverance, and also ingenuity. As noted, Americans admire their neighbors who struggle against adversity, as most believe that they themselves have struggled.

This is a widely held framework; the people your organization serves will seem deserving to most Americans if and only if they obviously share the values of hard work, personal responsibility, and commitment to family. You can use this frame to choose workers and families to highlight, ensuring they fit this criterion.

Opportunity: Opportunity is a valued American concept. WAP creates opportunity through job creation and training, as well as through reducing energy bills so that program recipients can better afford food, medicine, and other necessities. Americans generally believe that if your work facilitates opportunity, the economy is fairer. Showcase how your program has helped create ways for people to become self-sufficient and contributing members of the workforce.

Government Programs and Organizations: Americans tend to be skeptical of “government” and “programs” per se. They are uncertain about what works in government and how their taxes are spent. Many are discouraged by experience or propaganda that says programs for disadvantaged people don’t work. At the same time, most Americans support government initiatives offering opportunities for education, training, and employment or that provide some security for people in old age or those who are ill or disabled. Therefore, the most effective success story for an organization showcases the responsible, informed leadership and management behind a program. American see responsible leaders as those whose goals are building new jobs and strengthening the economy for the long term; they focus on strengthening the community as a whole.