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An anthropologist's view of inner-city poverty which radically differs from the picture we get of the poor in the media, in the political sphere, and in scholarly studies.
In No Shame in My Game, anthropologist Katherine Newman presents a view of inner-city poverty radically different from that commonly accepted. The all-too-prevalent picture we get of the poor today—in the media, in the political sphere, and in scholarly studies—is of alienated minorities living in big-city ghettos, lacking in values and family structure, criminally inclined, and permanently dependent on government handouts. This is the nightmare image of an underclass of "welfare queens" and deadbeat dads who, supported by the tax dollars of the hardworking middle class, have no desire for employment.
What Newman reveals, however—as she focuses on the working poor in Harlem, one of the country's most depressed urban areas—is a community of people who are committed to earning a living, struggling to support themselves and their families on minimum-wage dead-end jobs, and clinging to the dignity of a regular paycheck, no matter how meager.
For two years, Professor Newman and her assistants followed people in Harlem--from work to school to the streets to their homes—and spent hundreds of hours talking to employees, and their bosses and supervisors, their friends and families. From observations and interviews, we come to understand not only the essential contribution that low-wage earners make to the survival of poor households, but also the ways in which these jobs affect young people's attitudes, prospects, and self-image. Most powerfully, we listen as low-wage earners speak about their jobs, their ambitions, and their values—especially their devotion to family and belief in the work ethic.
This is a too often neglected segment of society, whose members, contrary to popular assumptions, desperately want to work. Despite their best efforts, however, inner-city residents are trapped in communities where there are fourteen applicants for every entry-level job in industries like fast food, where the real value of the minimum wage is at or below 1979 levels, and where there are few opportunities for advancement. Recent shifts in public policy toward the poor have impacted not only public aid recipients but also inner-city workers, who are often members of the same households. The stories Newman brings us speak eloquently about the enormous burdens that child care, health care, and an influx of low-wage job-seekers place on already struggling families.
Finally, Newman proposes how we might, on the federal and local levels, help the working poor by increasing occupational opportunities in depressed urban areas, and by building bridges to better jobs. No Shame in My Game is an incisive, lucid, and vital new contribution to the debate on poverty and work in inner-city communities.