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Most of the people I write about in this book do not have the luxury of rage. They are caught in exhausting struggles. Their wages do not lift them far enough from poverty to improve their lives, and their lives, in turn, hold them back. The term by which they are usually described, ‘working poor,’ should be an oxymoron. Nobody who works hard should be poor in America.” —from the Introduction
From the author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning Arab and Jew, a new book that presents a searing, intimate portrait of working American families struggling against insurmountable odds to escape poverty.
As David K. Shipler makes clear in this powerful, humane study, the invisible poor are engaged in the activity most respected in American ideology—hard, honest work. But their version of the American Dream is a nightmare: low-paying, dead-end jobs; the profound failure of government to improve upon decaying housing, health care, and education; the failure of families to break the patterns of child abuse and substance abuse. Shipler exposes the interlocking problems by taking us into the sorrowful, infuriating, courageous lives of the poor—white and black, Asian and Latino, citizens and immigrants. We encounter them every day, for they do jobs essential to the American economy.
We meet drifting farmworkers in North Carolina, exploited garment workers in New Hampshire, illegal immigrants trapped in the steaming kitchens of Los Angeles restaurants, addicts who struggle into productive work from the cruel streets of the nation’s capital—each life another aspect of a confounding, far-reaching urgent national crisis. And unlike most works on poverty, this one delves into the calculations of some employers as well—their razor-thin profits, their anxieties about competition from abroad, their frustrations in finding qualified workers.
This impassioned book not only dissects the problems, but makes pointed, informed recommendations for change. It is a book that stands to make a difference.
“People going to business school will, almost inevitably, hire the working poor. Wouldn’t it be nice if they understood something about the interlocking problems many of the their employees will bring to the job? What’s happened is that families have failed and have passed the problems to the schools. Schools have failed and have passed the problems to employers. Employers are rarely equipped to deal with the issues, especially the complex need for “soft skills”—punctuality, anger management, diligence, communication, following orders, etc. Business owners are usually just buffeted by the inadequacy of their workforce, enduring high turnover, discipline problems, management difficulties. This book will give employers, or future employers, insights into the issues they’ll confront and may help them figure out how to provide the training and services to alleviate the headaches.” —from “On Business,” a conversation with the author
“This is one of those seminal books that every American should read and read now.” —Ron Suskind, New York Times Book Review
“The Working Poor...should be required reading not just for every member of Congress, but for every eligible voter.” —Washington Post Book World
“The Working Poor is a powerful exposé that builds from page to page, from one grim revelation to another, until you have no choice but to leap out of your armchair and strike a blow for economic justice.” —Barbara Ehrenreich, author, Nickel and Dimed
"Through a combination of hard facts and moving accounts of hardships endured by individuals, David Shipler's new book fills in the gaps and denounces the many myths of the politically drawn caricatures and stereotypes of workers who live in poverty in America. His call to action powerfully argues that we must simultaneously address the full range of interrelated problems that confront the poor instead of tackling one issue at a time. It is a compelling book that will shift the terms of and reinvigorate the debate about social justice in America."
“The 'working poor' ought to be an oxymoron, because no one who works should be impoverished. In this thoughtful assessment of poverty in twenty-first century America, David Shipler shows why so many working Americans remain poor, and offers a powerful guide for how to resuscitate the American dream. A tour de force of a forgotten land.”
—Robert B. Reich, University Professor, Brandeis University, and former U.S. Secretary of Labor