Scientists have discovered a lost tribe in America. They are, for want of a better name, called Poor People.

They have been sighted in such places as Harlem, Anacostia, Watts and -- after the floods -- New Orleans.

At first most people denied they existed, including politicians, the media and many ordinary Americans.

But they saw them from the commuter trains that race through the Poor neighborhoods on their way to Greenwich, Conn. The Poor have been sighted in the slums of Philadelphia and Chicago.

Recently there have been so many of them reported in the Gulf states that the government has appointed a commission to see if they really exist, and if they do, what to do about it.

"We're concerned about Poor People, regardless of race, color or tax bracket," Chairman Josh Decatur said.

"Why did you take so long to discover them?" I asked.

"It is the fault of the media. If they had reported the Poor People's existence, we would have done something about it."

"Rumor has it the government knew about these people for years but never considered them an urgent problem. Why not?"

"They didn't vote."

"So the politicians ignored them until Hurricane Katrina?"

Josh said, "Maybe so, but now they're claiming they knew about Poor People all the time."

I said, "You see a lot of Poor People on television now."

"Poor People are news, which they weren't before. You will continue seeing them until the public gets tired and moves on to something else."

"What does the commission intend to do?"

"We're going to hold poverty hearings. We want to find out who's to blame and report on why it took so long to discover the problem."

"That's not going to be easy," I said. "You're swimming in uncharted waters."

Josh said, "We have subpoena power and can call anyone we think could shed light on the problem."

"Including high officials in the government?"

"Yes, but they won't have to testify under oath."

"It figures."

"Are you optimistic that something will come out of the hearings?"

"As optimistic as the 9/11 Commission was about its report."

"Are you looking for whistle-blowers in the poverty area?"

"Yes. But we don't want anyone who is a poor witness. If you are an expert and you know something is wrong with being Poor, we want to hear about it. Of course, these people must testify under oath."

"Will you also demand documents proving people in the government knew for years what was going on with the poverty-stricken but never did anything about it?"

"Those documents are classified and could affect national security."

"Once you know all the facts, what do you plan to do about it?"

"Give people a tax break, and if they are still unhappy, call out the National Guard."

"I have an idea," I said. "Why don't you commission a 'Grapes of Wrath' statue on the Mall honoring all the Poor People in America?"

"Good suggestion. Then when they come to Washington, they will see that someone cared."

(c) 2005, Tribune Media Services