The Working Poor – Invisible In America

Several years ago I read a book that I had seen refered to in numerous articles and on different websites. It was about poverty in America in the late 1950’s and was written by Michael Harrington.

In the book, The Other America – Poverty in the United States (1962),Harrington brought the plight of America’s poor to the attention of the rest of the nation. In it he wrote about people – of all colors and ages, with different skills, abilities, and educational backgrounds, in different regions of the country – who struggled with poverty in the land of plenty and opportunity.

The Other America is said to have had great influence on the Kennedy and Johnson administrations and on America’s “War on Poverty.”

Another book that I have read that puts faces on poverty in America, especially those of working women, is Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickle and Dimed – On (Not) Getting By In America (2001). After I read Barbara’s book, whenever I would see women getting off of city busses to go to work as maids in local motels, or the ladies on the custodial staff at the school where I work who clean windows and wipe down cafeteria tables, or the waitresses at restaurants where we sometime go out to eat, I would think to myself, “These are the women that Barbara wrote about.”

I have just begun to read another book about poverty in America. It, too, puts faces on the poor and struggling among us. This book is The Working Poor – Invisible In America (2004) by David Shipler.

Shipler begins his book with these words in the Preface –

 … ‘working poor,’ should be an oxymoron. Nobody who works should be poor in America.” (p.ix)

As anyone who is reading this post knows, there are millions of Americans who live in poverty, and millions of them are hard working men and women with families. They are the citizens of “the other America … who live in the economic underworld of American life” (The Other America, p.2), the “forgotten America … (who) live in the shadow of prosperity, in the twilight between poverty and well-being.” (The Working Poor, p.3)

David’s book is about the citizens of this “Forgotten America” – the working poor – whether they are “climbing out of welfare, drug addiction, or homelessness,” or those who have “been trapped for life in a perilous zone of low-wage work.” (p.3)

The people in David’s book are real people. Their stories are true.  As you read about these men and women your heart will either be stirred with compassion for them or hardened with judgment.

But watch out. David also tells about the systems, exploiters, and users who take advantage of people who are poor and struggling to make a better life for themselves and their families. Those stories will also stir your heart with compassion for the exploited and revolt against those who prey on the needy and disadvantaged.

Although I have only read a couple of chapters of the book thus far, my thoughts have been turned toward a number of my personal friends, and many students enrolled in the public school where I work, who can be counted among the working poor.

My prayer is that as I read this book and think about my friends and students who are citizens of the “Forgotten America,” that I will become more sensitive and caring for them and their needs in life. And, that I will become more of an advocate for them, the poor, and working poor in my community and our country.

As I read through The Working Poor I intend to share quotes from the book that catch my attention, so check back with me every couple of days for some quotes and comments.

Also, please check out some of my earlier posts on poverty, homelessness, and labor that can be found by clicking on the categories list on the right-hand sidebar of this blog.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Economics, Homelessness, Labor, Politics, Poverty, Social-Economic Justice, Uncategorized

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