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The Working Poor: Invisible in America Paperback – January 4, 2005

4.3 out of 5 stars 159 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The Working Poor examines the "forgotten America" where "millions live in the shadow of prosperity, in the twilight between poverty and well-being." These are citizens for whom the American Dream is out of reach despite their willingness to work hard. Struggling to simply survive, they live so close to the edge of poverty that a minor obstacle, such as a car breakdown or a temporary illness, can lead to a downward financial spiral that can prove impossible to reverse. David Shipler interviewed many such working people for this book and his profiles offer an intimate look at what it is like to be trapped in a cycle of dead-end jobs without benefits or opportunities for advancement. He shows how some negotiate a broken welfare system that is designed to help yet often does not, while others proudly refuse any sort of government assistance, even to their detriment. Still others have no idea that help is available at all.

"As a culture, the United States is not quite sure about the causes of poverty, and is therefore uncertain about the solutions," he writes. Though he details many ways in which current assistance programs could be more effective and rational, he does not believe that government alone, nor any other single variable, can solve the problem. Instead, a combination of things are required, beginning with the political will needed to create a relief system "that recognizes both the society's obligation through government and business, and the individual's obligation through labor and family." He does propose some specific steps in the right direction such as altering the current wage structure, creating more vocational programs (in both the public and private sectors), developing a fairer way to distribute school funding, and implementing basic national health care.

Prepare to have any preconceived notions about those living in poverty in America challenged by this affecting book. --Shawn Carkonen --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

This guided and very personal tour through the lives of the working poor shatters the myth that America is a country in which prosperity and security are the inevitable rewards of gainful employment. Armed with an encyclopedic collection of artfully deployed statistics and individual stories, Shipler, former New York Times reporter and Pulitzer winner for Arab and Jew, identifies and describes the interconnecting obstacles that keep poor workers and those trying to enter the work force after a lifetime on welfare from achieving economic stability. This America is populated by people of all races and ethnicities, whose lives, Shipler effectively shows, are Sisyphean, and that includes the teachers and other professionals who deal with the realities facing the working poor. Dr. Barry Zuckerman, a Boston pediatrician, discovers that landlords do nothing when he calls to tell them that unsafe housing is a factor in his young patients' illnesses; he adds lawyers to his staff, and they get a better response. In seeking out those who employ subsistence wage earners, such as garment-industry shop owners and farmers, Shipler identifies the holes in the social safety net. "The system needs to be straightened out," says one worker who, in 1999, was making $6.80 an hour80 cents more than when she started factory work in 1970. "They need more resources to be able to help these people who are trying to help themselves." Attention needs to be paid, because Shipler's subjects are too busy working for substandard wages to call attention to themselves. They do not, he writes, "have the luxury of rage."
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (January 4, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375708219
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375708213
  • Product Dimensions: 4.9 x 0.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (159 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #15,818 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

David K. Shipler

Pulitzer Prize-Winning Author and Former Foreign
Correspondent of The New York Times
Writes online at The Shipler Report, http://shiplerreport.blogspot.com/

Born Dec. 3, 1942. Grew up in Chatham, N.J. Married with three children. Graduated from Dartmouth in 1964. Served in U.S. Navy as officer on a destroyer, 1964-66.

Joined The New York Times as a news clerk in 1966. Promoted to city staff reporter, 1968. Covered housing, poverty, politics. Won awards from the American Political Science Association, the New York Newspaper Guild, and elsewhere.

From 1973-75 served as a New York Times correspondent in Saigon, covering South Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand. Reported also from Burma.

Spent a semester in 1975 at the Russian Institute of Columbia U. studying Russian language and Soviet politics, economics and history to prepare for assignment in Moscow. Correspondent in Moscow Bureau for four years, 1975-79; Moscow Bureau Chief from 1977-79. Wrote the best-seller Russia: Broken Idols, Solemn Dreams, published in 1983, updated in 1989, which won the Overseas Press Club Award in 1983 as the best book that year on foreign affairs.

From 1979-84, served as Bureau Chief of The New York Times in Jerusalem. Was co-recipient (with Thomas Friedman) of the 1983 George Polk Award for covering Lebanon War.

Spent a year, 1984-85, as a visiting scholar at the Brookings Institution in Washington to write Arab and Jew: Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land, which explores the mutual perceptions and relationships between Arabs and Jews in Israel and the West Bank. The book won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction and was extensively revised and updated in 2002. Was executive producer, writer and narrator of a two-hour PBS documentary on Arab and Jew, which won a 1990 Dupont-Columbia award for broadcast journalism, and of a one-hour film, Arab and Jew: Return to the Promised Land, which aired on PBS in August 2002.

Served as Chief Diplomatic Correspondent in the Washington Bureau of The New York Times until 1988. From 1988-90 was a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, writing on transitions to democracy in Russia and Eastern Europe for The New Yorker and other publications.

His book A Country of Strangers: Blacks and Whites in America, based on five years of research into stereotyping and interactions across racial lines, was published in 1997. One of three authors invited by President Clinton to participate in his first town meeting on race.

His book, The Working Poor: Invisible in America, was a national best-seller in 2004 and 2005. It was a finalist for the 2005 National Book Critics Circle Award and the New York Public Library Helen Bernstein Award. It won an Outstanding Book Award from The Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights at Simmons College and led to awards from the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, the New York Labor Communications Council, and the D.C. Employment Justice Center. He has written two books on civil liberties, the first published in 2011, The Rights of the People: How Our Search for Safety Invades Our Liberties and the second, Rights at Risk: The Limits of Liberty in Modern America, in 2012.

Shipler has received a Martin Luther King Jr. Social Justice Award from Dartmouth and the following honorary degrees: Doctor of Letters from Middlebury College and Glassboro State College (N.J.), Doctor of Laws from Birmingham-Southern College, and Master of Arts from Dartmouth College, where he served on the Board of Trustees from 1993 to 2003. Member of the Pulitzer jury for general nonfiction in 2008, chair in 2009. Has taught at Princeton and American University, as writer-in-residence at U. of Southern California, a Woodrow Wilson Fellow on about fifteen campuses, and a Montgomery Fellow and Visiting Professor of Government at Dartmouth.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Edit of 20 Dec 07 to state that this is a book of lasting value that must be kept in print, and to add links.

This book complements Barbara Ehrenreich's book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America Ehrenreich's is much easier to read and makes the same broader points. Where this book excels is in the details that in turn lead to policy solutions. I will go so far as to say that if John Kerry and John Edwards do not get hold of an executive summary of this book, and integrate its findings into their campaign as a means of mobilizing the working poor in the forthcoming election, then they will have failed to both excite and serve what the author, David Shipler, calls the "invisible."

Invisible indeed. How America treats its working poor--people working *very* hard and being kept in conditions that border on genocidal labor camps, is our greatest shame.

The most important point made in this book, a point made over and over in relation to a wide variety of "case studies", is that one cannot break out of poverty unless the **entire** system works flawlessly. To hard work one must add public transportation, safe public housing, adequate schooling and child care, effective parenting, effective job training, fundamental budgeting and arithmetic skills, and honest banks, credit card companies and tax preparation brokers, as well as sympathetic or at least observant employers. The author is coherent and compelling in making the point that a break or flaw in any one of these key links in the chain can break a family.
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Format: Hardcover
The Working Poor: Invisible in America by David K. Shipler is nowhere near as dry as one might expect from the title. It is a very readable analysis of the many complex issues facing the "working poor" in America. The author takes a relatively even-handed approach politically, but he does not fail to let you know what he thinks about various policies, using real life stories from the perspective of employees, employers in the private and public sector to illustrate his points. Rather than being all about how 'America is a land of opportunities if you only try hard enough' or 'the poor are oppressed; there's nothing anyone can do,' Shipler strikes a balance. He recognizes that there is never a one-size-fits-all approach, and that there are many parties with a stake in the policy process. In a society where there is so often a rush to judgment and a desire for simple solutions, Shipler takes the time to explore the different pieces of the puzzles, stripping each back as if peeling an onion... And ironically, the deeper in he takes you, the more of a big picture you see.
I highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone who seeks to understand the class system of the United States.
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Format: Hardcover
A glance at the back dust cover is not promising. Yet Shipler's book deserves a read. The profiles are well written, informative, varied, exhaustive, complex and illustrative. Compassion for the subjects is elicited and deserved. Some subjects struggle and do get by, if barely, due more to informal charity and kinship than by government (anti-)poverty programs. Their stories are especially noteworthy. Shipler's meticulous candor supplants Ehrenreich's solipsistic book, "Nickled and dimed in America." Praised for its vicarious, first-hand account of other people's poverty, "Dimed" had no basis for useful insight. The life of poverty is no game, no short-term social experiment. Not pretending to be poor, Shipler is much more thorough; his first-hand journalistic research covers years, not months. He is objective and not judgmental yet his compassion shines through his words.
Shipler uses Churchill's description of democracy as the worst form of government to explain why capitalism is the worst form of economic policy - except when compared to all others that have been tried from time to time. A wise analogy. Yet the final analysis and public policy recommendations are difficult to make or to decipher. Shipler acknowledges that the major cause of poverty can be attributed to a single source: bad personal choices. Of course, no one chooses to be poor (some journalists excepted), but people repeatedly make independent, self-serving or selfish, short-sighted, unfortunate choices, including walking away from the mother or father of their children, from their families, from educational opportunities, from their religious values, and from disciplined work habits. And they walk all too easily into a trap: teenage pregnancy, drug and domestic abuse, and endless hours in front of the television.
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Format: Paperback
Let me start by saying what I liked and appreciated about this book before I go on to say what I didn't. First of all, it's great that most of the focus has been placed on individual families and circumstances. He's not just rattling off statistics; he's actually taking you to the living rooms and workplaces of real human beings and for the most part letting them tell their own story. It is also clear that Shipler does not have a political agenda; he acknowledges the failings of both the left and right to address this issue on pretty equal terms. The author is not blaming the individuals in question entirely for their situations, nor is he completely blaming society or "the system;" rather, he shows in an extrodinarily clear and sober manner the variety of circumstances which cause poverty and which continually leave those afflicted in its grasp.

The main problem that I have with this book is that I feel it left out a lot of people and a lot of problems that could have easily been addressed. For one, most of the people in the book are urban minorities, and that seems to be where most of the focus lies. There's not a lot of emphasis on the rural poor (with the notable exception of migrant farm workers) among whom circumstances are quite different and in many ways even harder than those of the urban poor. In addition, Shipler is constantly noting the lack of education among poor people but doesn't ever mention the fact that ever-rising and insane tuition costs prevent many perfectly capable *middle-class* people of getting to college in the first place, thus rendering them just as poor as the people who started out that way.
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