Thursday, December 15, 2005

The Working Poor: Invisible in America by David K. Shipler

Why are some people poor? How can people fail to make a living wage in a prosperous country? Many of the answers you hear are politically influenced. The political right says that the poor are generally lazy and unmotivated. The political left says that the poor are unfortunate and exploited. One side blames the individual and the other blames society. David K. Shipler says that both answers are overly simplistic. In The Working Poor: Invisible in America , he says that the causes of poverty are very complex and there is plenty of blame to go around.

It took Shipler seven years to write The Working Poor. In that time, he interviewed many people defined as poor by economic measurements and witnessed the results of legislation that forced them off the welfare rolls and into the workforce. Ironically, many of these people became poorer, as the costs of work took much of their earnings. After paying for necessary child care, clothes, transportation, cellphones, and such, they often had less. Hunger and homelessness increased.

In The Working Poor Shipler tells many stories, some of which are encouraging. He profiles single mothers forced into the workforce, sweatshop workers, migrant farm laborers, adult victims of child abuse, and school dropouts. He shows that people who have escaped poverty had holistic assistance. They were helped with work training, child care, health care, money management, and more. Most government programs aimed at reducing poverty have failed because they address only one aspect of poverty, not the many needs. They also often train people for jobs that do not exist.

Who should read this book?

1. All elected officials
2. All corporate executives paid 10 or 100 or 1000 times what their employees are paid
3. Chamber of Commerce lobbyists who argue against the minimum wage while earning six figure salaries themselves
4. Social workers, nurses, doctors, teachers, librarians
5. Government workers who decide which applicants are granted aid
6. High school and college students about to enter the workforce
7. Anyone considering illegal immigration
8. Anyone who buys cheap goods at discount stores
9. Anyone who eats at a restaurant
10. Anyone who knows someone who is poor

Have I left anyone out?

Shipler, David K. The Working Poor: Invisible in America. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004. ISBN 0375408908

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