Pam Fessler

Pam Fessler is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where she covers poverty and philanthropy.

In her reporting, Fessler covers homelessness, hunger, and the impact of the recession on the nation's less fortunate. She reports on non-profit groups, how they're trying to address poverty and other social issues, and how they've been affected by the economic downturn. Her poverty reporting was recognized by a 2011 First Place Headliner Award in the human interest category.

Previously, Fessler reported primarily on homeland security, including security at U.S. ports, airlines, and borders. She has also reported on the government's response to Hurricane Katrina, the 9/11 Commission investigation, and such issues as Social Security and election reform. Fessler was also one of NPR's White House reporters during the Clinton and Bush administrations.

Before becoming a correspondent, Fessler was the acting senior editor on the Washington Desk and oversaw the network's coverage of the impeachment of President Clinton and the 1998 mid-term elections. She was NPR's chief election editor in 1996, and coordinated all network coverage of the presidential, congressional, and state elections. Prior to that role, Fessler was the deputy Washington editor and Midwest National Desk editor.

Before coming to NPR in 1993, she was a senior writer at Congressional Quarterly magazine. Fessler worked at CQ for 13 years as both a reporter and editor, covering tax, budget, and other news. She also worked as a budget specialist at the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, and was a reporter at The Record newspaper in Hackensack, NJ.

Fessler has a Masters of Public Administration from the Maxwell School at Syracuse University and a bachelor's degree from Douglass College in New Jersey.

The nation's poverty rate rose last year to 15.1 percent, the highest level in 17 years, according to new data from the Census Bureau. The agency's latest poverty report, released Tuesday, shows that 46 million people were poor and that the median income dropped last year by more than two percent to about $49,445.

Not unexpectedly, the continued lack of jobs was the main cause.

Despite the bad economy, the number of Americans who struggled to get enough to eat did not grow last year, and in some cases declined, according to new government data. Still, a near-record number — almost 49 million people — were affected.

Federal officials say an increase in government food aid kept the numbers from going even higher.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

For decades, Labor Day weekend has meant the Jerry Lewis telethon for muscular dystrophy. But this year, for the first time in 46 years, Jerry Lewis won't be on the show. The 85-year-old comedian has been dropped from the program for reasons that are still unclear.

Jerry Lewis will not participate in any way — live or pre-recorded — in this Sunday's telethon for muscular dystrophy. That's the final word, says the comedian's publicist, Candi Cazau. She says she spoke with Lewis last night and he dispelled rumors that he might record a song today that would air as part of the show.

Monday marks 15 years since President Clinton signed an overhaul of the nation's welfare system into law. The president said the measure wasn't perfect, but provided a historic opportunity to fix a system that didn't work.

"Today we are ending welfare as we know it," he said in a Rose Garden ceremony on Aug. 22, 1996. "But I hope this day will be remembered not for what it ended, but for what it began."

What it was supposed to begin was a program that would get the poor into the workforce and end their dependence on public aid.

There's long been a big gap between the wealth of white families and the wealth of African-Americans and Hispanics. But the Great Recession has made it much worse — the divide is almost twice what it used to be.

That's according to a new study by the Pew Research Center, which says that the decline in the housing market is the main cause.

Voters going to the polls next year — and even some this year — will encounter lots of new rules. Photo ID requirements and fewer options for early voting are among the biggest changes.

They're part of a wave of new laws enacted by Republican-controlled legislatures this year. Supporters say the rules are needed to ensure honest elections.

But Democrats say it's part of a concerted GOP campaign to suppress the vote. They say minorities, students, the poor and disabled — those most likely to vote Democratic — will be hurt the most.

The typical speakers bureau can get a celebrity, a politician or a media pundit to address your group for a few thousand, or maybe tens of thousands of dollars. But one speakers bureau made up of men and women who have been homeless will provide someone for only $40.

And the speech could be just as compelling as one given by high-priced talent.

Food banks around the country are trying to keep their shelves stocked as more people in the U.S. struggle to get enough to eat. Increasingly, that means finding new ways to salvage food that would otherwise go to waste.

One innovation is being tested at the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee. In a back room at the food bank's warehouse in Gray, Tenn., dented and crushed cans containing everything from green beans to beets are piled high on a counter.