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No Shame in My Game: The Working Poor in the Inner City Paperback – April 25, 2000

4.2 out of 5 stars 22 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Harvard anthropologist Katherine S. Newman explodes the myth of America's unmotivated poor in No Shame in My Game, a study of low-wage workers and their job-seeking peers in central Harlem. This is a frontline perspective: in addition to hundreds of interviews, Newman also put her research assistants behind the counters of the fast-food restaurants alongside the study's subjects. The results show that America's largest group of impoverished citizens is not the unemployed, but the working poor. But what will move readers most is the struggling workers themselves, who suffer the indignities, exhaustion, and low compensation of jobs as "burger flippers" because, as one fast-food restaurant employee, Larry, says, "It's my job. You ain't puttin' no food on my table; you ain't puttin' no clothes on my back. I will walk tall with my Burger Barn uniform on." Newman explains how obstacles such as cuts in welfare, lack of health insurance (almost half of employed Americans under the poverty line have no coverage), and substandard education undercut even the most determined efforts of working poor like Larry. Fortunately, she also offers a thick list of old and new potential solutions to this crisis, from Earned Income Tax Credits to new training programs linking private industry to public schools with at-risk youth. An essential, eye-opening read. --Maria Dolan --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

After writing two books on the American middle class (Falling from Grace and Declining Fortunes), Newman delivers an eye-opening look at the urban working poor. First of all, she makes clear that the vast majority want to workAeven when their lives would be made easier by relying on public assistance. Newman, a cultural anthropologist and Harvard urban studies professor (formerly at Columbia, where she launched her research), conducted a two-year study of more than 200 African-American and Latino fast-food industry employees in Harlem. She found a strong commitment to the work ethic, even though these minimum-wage "McJobs" keep workers below the poverty line and offer little hope of advancement. Using case histories and interviews, Newman delves deeply into the aspirations and frustrations of her subjectsAadult or teenage, native-born or immigrantAwho try to make ends meet in a community hard hit by drugs, crime, a shrinking job base and underfunded schools. Among the policy initiatives Newman proposes are school-to-work transition programs, designed to forge close relationships between high school students and prospective employers, and employers' consortia to move inner-city workers into better jobs. She cites the promising results of private-public partnerships in Milwaukee and San Antonio, which combine job training and placement with provision of support services like day care, transportation and health care. Readers numbed by the familiar laments over poverty and by sermons on the bootstrap value of hard work will find Newman's bookAclearly a product of sustained attention paid to the working poorAbracingly refreshing.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 3/26/00 edition (April 25, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375703799
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375703799
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #343,859 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This is a hands-on, front line study of America's working poor, a subject so infrequently covered in news media, with gross misunderstandings and negative stereotypes. Katherine Newman and a group of her graduate students from Columbia University spent years learning virtually ALL there is to know about the lives of workers in a fast food burger chain in Harlem in New York City. Through Newman's very accessible language we get to understand who these workers really are, what makes them settle for the lowest of ranks in the American Society, and what motivates them to go and find and keep these jobs.
Newman's very interesting approach is to take us into the lives of her "subjects", we get to know how and with whom do they live, who do they befriend and socialize with, how did they get their jobs and so much more. Relatively early on Newman makes a very clear point; the lives of the welfare poor and the working poor is so intertwined, and changes in welfare laws particularly those related to families with dependent children can make it virtually impossible for the working poor to carry on working. This conclusion emerges so very clearly as we get to know working poor with children whose ONLY possible childcare option is a welfare receiving relative looking after the family's young.
Newman deals very effectively with the cultural misconceptions about the fast food industry, reading this book you can no longer think of hamburger flippers as unskilled underachievers. Often these are brave people who have rejected the easy money drug culture, or people who have had to compete very hard to get low paying low status employment, or have to travel over an hour each way and leave young children behind.
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Ever want to know what it's like growing up in another world while being in the same country as someone else? Katherine Newman opens the door to a world many people only pass through on their day-to-day trudge--never stopping to ask themselves "What about the person on the other side?"

While there are definitely moments during which Newman tends to patronize her audience, the message is loud and clear and sounds throughout the book. If we are not able to look at our own society and see the struggle many of our fellow citizens go through then how can we ever advance together? There is no doubt that this book servers as an important piece in understanding diversity in our classrooms as well as our workplace--but the book also serves as a good example of understanding the other side and learning to not only appreciate, but incorporate them.

4 Different Stars out of 5.
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It's a good study. She goes back and updates her case studies 5 years later-you can find it in a pod cast interview she does. This is beyond the follow up she does at the back of the book which I believe was a year or two later.
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Format: Paperback
i don't know how anyone can trip on people earning a living period. if you are working then you are working period, makes no difference. taking care of yourself, family,etc.. is to be applauded not looked down upon. this book deals with the social haves and have nots. all jobs in the work force require sacrifice and some more so than others and this book touches on that and of course racial. i really enjoyed reading this book and i feel more people outta check into it. everybody is trying to make it and in these days and times its all very real to the eyes.
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By A Customer on January 3, 2003
Format: Paperback
This is a progessive yet rigorous look at the working poor in the inner city. Like Elijah Anderson, Elliot Liebow, Mitchell Duneier, and Barbara Erenreich, it demonstrates that the poor are more complex than [traditional types] or ideology. Newman is a very insightful scholar who never lets her scholarship get in the way of great writing or balanced analysis. I especially appreciated the way she debunked the notion that these low skilled jobs have nothing to teach.
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Format: Paperback
Newman crafts an exceptional portrait of the working poor in urban America. The main strength of the book is the way it ties the plight of the working poor to the current policy debate. Particularly, the role of wefare reform in American cities. Although she writes before many changes in the social welfare system, she is able to identify issues that are now key. Unfortunately, some of her policy recommendations are not well suited for the setting that she describes. For instance, the recommendation to create employment cooperatives between primary and secondary sector employers seems underdeveloped, and somewhat inpractical. But, this does not detract from the thrust of the work, which identified employment as a central concern in poor communities. This argument represents the end of a long ugly discussion of social pathology in the inner city, and the start of a more productive discussion of poverty as a problem in mainstream America.
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If you know nothing of urban poverty except that it doesn't look appealing while driving past at 65 miles per hour on the interstate, or it looks dangerous in movies - then this book and When Work Disappears by William Julius Wilson are the two books you should pick up.

Through years of interviews and following entry level workers at "Burger Barns" around the boroughs of New York, plus hands on experience working those jobs, the author and her assistants have put together an even-handed, if a bit pie in the sky, account of how the urban poor actually live (and work).

Those anecdotes of people not wanting to work, living off welfare, milking the state- well, yes, they are true, sometimes. But so too are the people who wake at 5 am, take 2 buses to school, leave school to go to work, then head home for an hour of homework and five hours of sleep. The former get the attention in the mainstream media and politics - it is easy to demonize that type. The author gives the attention to the latter.

The book is a bit pie in the sky - it does not hold most of these people responsible for their poor choices. Yes, having children as a teen is a choice. One can abstain from sex, use birth control, practice oral - all those things that most of us did to avoid children in high school (by choice or not). I feel that she should hold some of her examples to account for their behavior and the results it brings, but can forgive the optimism.

In all, this book presents an unseen picture of the struggles and tribulations these people go through working unforgiving, unrespected jobs, in an attempt to better themselves. I certainly have a different idea of the working poor as a result.
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