The Working Poor Quotes, Pt.1

A couple of posts ago I shared with you that I had recently started reading The Working Poor by David Shipler. I am slowly progressing through his book about those who live, work, and exist in the “perilous zone of low-wage work.”

What I would like to do over the course of several posts is share some quotes from the book that have caught my attention, appealed to my interests, or just simply put into words my own emotions and sympathies with respect to and for those who are counted among the working poor.

In this post the quotes come from the introduction, “At The Edge Of Poverty,” and chapters 1 and 2, “Money and Its Opposite” and “Work Doesn’t Work,” respectively.


“Tired of wishes, Empty of dreams.” (Carl Sandburg) (p.3)

“While the United States has enjoyed unprecedented affluence, low-wage employees have been testing the American doctrine that hard work cures poverty.” (p.4)

“By global or historical standard, much of what American consider poverty is luxury.” (p.8)

“When the poor or newly poor are asked to define poverty, however, they talk not only about what’s in the wallet but what’s in the mind or the heart.” (p.10)

 “We don’t feel poor very poor. We feel poor when we can’t go to the doctor or fix the car.’ ” (p.10)

With respect to the quote immediately above, my family and I feel the same way. And it’s not only when we have the medical, vehicle, and home repair needs represented in the quote, it is also when full-time employed, financially comfortable friends talk about vacations, pay raises, and the things that they are able to do for their children. (We are glad for those friends and their families, but when they talk about these things, we are reminded of all of the things that we can not do as a family or provide for our children.)

“You know, Mom, being poor is very expensive.” (Sandy Brash, at age twelve) (p.13)

“In the 1990s … lenders ‘relaxed the old standards of sound lending by luring customers into debt waters well over their head, but they didn’t relax the old strict standards of loan repayment. The result: Easy-money lenders point fingers at the subprime class they helped create, then punish those borrowers with significantly higher interest rates and fees.’ ” (p.24)

“So slight are the margins between government assistance and outright destitution that small lies take on large significance in the search for survival.” (p.42)

” … unless employers can and will pay a good deal more for society’s essential labor, those working hard at the edge of poverty will stay there. And America’s rapturous hymn to work will sound a sour note.” (p.46)

“Working at the edge of poverty means working on the coldest side of corporate America.” (p.62)

Shipler asked a Wal-Mart manager if his store made enough profit to absorb a pay increase from $6.25 to $8.oo an hour for the store’s hourly wage earners. The answer was, “There would be.”

When asked if the wage increases would have any effect on the store, the manager replied

” ‘We’d have to cut corners on other things like, you know, we may not be able to put all the pretty balloons up all over the store. The non-necessities we’d have to cut back on.’ Three days later Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., announced a net income of $5.58 billion for 1996, up 26 percent from the previous year.” (p.65)

“Wages are set by the marketplace, and you cannot expect magnanimity from the market-place. It is the final arbiter from which there is no appeal.” (p.71)

“In the house of the poor … the walls are thin and fragile, and troubles seep into one another.” (p.76)


More quotes from The Working Poor to come.

Explore posts in the same categories: Books, Economics, Labor, Poverty, Uncategorized

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