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Social ills which plague our nation are often ranked by the media like popular songs on a top 10 list. This year it appears that homelessness may lose its No. 1 spot.

A recent report suggests that the public has grown tired of homelessness as a social problem. The reason for our disenchantment, according to the story, has to do with the fact that the homeless just aren't going away.

How the media reports news about our nation's domestic ills often influences our perception of the problem. It also has a significant influence on the way the public makes its charitable donations.

Four years ago missing children was the acknowledged No. 1 issue confronting our nation. The dairy industry was the biggest corporate champion of the cause. Milk carton photos of abducted children became a corporate symbol of concern and captured the public's attention.

Then the media obtained a report suggesting that most missing children were the victims of messy divorces. Soon missing children seemed to drop right off the top 10 list.

Other forgotten causes that come to mind include the unemployed and abused children. So what's hot now? AIDS is certainly up there and retaining at least a spot in the top five. Drug abuse is big, but again the public may be getting tired of "just say no." If I had to pick the new most popular issue, I'd have to say the environment -- a problem that has made a remarkable comeback indeed. Media attention given to the Alaskan oil spill was obviously a big help.

If all of this sounds a little cynical, perhaps it is, because we live in a media environment that makes us capricious observers of our nation's problems. Just like a 10-best-dressed list, we seem to feel the need to order our concerns. This is not to suggest that the media is not helpful or attentive. Most of the social ills are often first brought to our attention by the media.

Maybe we're just getting tired of our problems. They never seem to go away. But the sad reality is that most of our problems don't go away.

If the environment might be considered our new No. 1 cause, "no new taxes" is certainly a big challenger to replace it soon, if you can consider taxes a social cause. The only problem with having "no new taxes" on the list is that it will likely push everything else off.


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