“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.
About the Author
David K. Shipler worked for the New York Times from 1966 to 1988, reporting from New York, Saigon, Moscow, and Jerusalem before serving as chief diplomatic correspondent in Washington, D.C. He has also written for The New Yorker, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times. He is the author of three other books—Russia: Broken Idols, Solemn Dreams; Arab and Jew: Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land (which won the Pulitzer Prize); and A Country of Strangers: Blacks and Whites in America. Mr. Shipler, who has been a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution and a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, has taught at Princeton University, at American University in Washington, D.C., and at Dartmouth College. He lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland.
“This is one of those seminal books that every American should read and read now.”
—New York Times Book Review
“The Working Poor...should be required reading not just for every menber of Conbress, 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