"Nobody who works hard should be poor in America," writes Pulitzer Prize winner David Shipler. Clear-headed, rigorous, and compassionate, he journeys deeply into the lives of individual store clerks and factory workers, farm laborers and sweat-shop seamstresses, illegal immigrants in menial jobs and Americans saddled with immense student loans and paltry wages. They are known as the working poor.
They perform labor essential to America's comfort. They are white and black, Latino and Asian--men and women in small towns and city slums trapped near the poverty line, where the margins are so tight that even minor setbacks can cause devastating chain reactions. Shipler shows how liberals and conservatives are both partly right-that practically every life story contains failure by both the society and the individual. Braced by hard fact and personal testimony, he unravels the forces that confine people in the quagmire of low wages. And unlike most works on poverty, this book also offers compelling portraits of employers struggling against razor-thin profits and competition from abroad. With pointed recommendations for change that challenge Republicans and Democrats alike, The Working Poor stands to make a difference.
- New York Times Notable Books of the Year
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 (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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1 . Eye-Opening
Posted June 03, 2010 by Darcia , New Port RicheyDavid K. Shipler tackles this difficult subject with compassion and honesty. This is not one of those books that is boring to read, with endless facts and figures. Shipler engages his readers with his conversational style of writing. He introduces us to some of the working poor, tells us of their hardships and their victories.
Most people are not poor because they are stupid or lazy. Many of us, in fact, are one bad choice or one serious illness away from being part of the working poor. This book sheds light on a subject that has too long been swept under the carpet. I believe everyone in the U.S. should read this one.
January 03, 2005
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Excerpt from The Working Poor by David K. Shipler
Chapter One Money and Its Opposite You know, Mom, being poor is very expensive. —Sandy Brash, at age twelve Tax time in poor neighborhoods is not April. It is January. And “income tax” isn’t what you pay; it’s what you receive. As soon as the W-2s arrive, working folks eager for their checks from the Internal Revenue Service hurry to the tax preparers, who have flourished and gouged impoverished laborers since the welfare time limits enacted by Congress in 1996. The checks that come from Washington include not only a refund of taxes withheld, but an additional payment known as the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is designed to subsidize low-wage working families. The refunds and subsidies are sometimes banked for savings toward a car, a house, an education; but they are often needed immediately for overdue bills and large purchases that can’t be funded from the trickle of wages throughout the year. Christie, a child-care worker in Akron, earned too little to owe taxes but got $1,700 as an Earned Income Credit one year, which enabled her to avoid the Salvation Army’s used-furniture store and instead buy a new matching set of comfortable black couches and loveseats for her living room in public housing. Caroline Payne’s check went for a down payment on her house in New Hampshire. “I used my income tax and paid a thousand down,” she said proudly. When she sold it five and a half years later and her daughter lent her money to rent a truck for her move, she planned to pay her back “when I get my taxes.” “I’m waitin’ for my income tax to come in so I can pay my real estate taxes,” said Tom King, a single father and lumberjack who lived in a trailer on his own land. Debra Hall, who had started at a Cleveland bakery, was keen with anticipation after filing her first tax return. “I’ll get $3,079 back! What am I gonna do with it? Pay all my bills off,” she declared, “and I haven’t had anything new in the house. Do some good with it, that’s for sure. Minor repairs on my car. The bills are first, for my credit [rating], to get all my back debts paid. It will be well spent.” The Earned Income Tax Credit is one of those rare anti-poverty programs that appeal both to liberals and conservatives, invoking the virtue of both government help and self-help. You don’t get it unless you have some earned income, and since its payments are linked to your tax return, you don’t get it unless you file one. That leaves out low-wage workers—especially undocumented immigrants—who get paid under the table in cash and think they’re better off avoiding the IRS. By filing, however, they would end up ahead, because they’d get to keep everything they earned and would receive a payment on top of that. The benefits kick in at fairly high levels—at earnings of less than $33,692, for example, for a worker who supported more than one child in 2003. At the lower income levels, the Earned Income Tax Credit can add the equivalent of a dollar or two an hour to a worker’s wage. Enacted in 1975, the program was expanded under Presidents Reagan, Bush, and Clinton, and in 2003 paid more than $32 billion to 18 million households. Treasury officials worry about erroneous claims, honest or fraudulent, which may rise to 27 to 32 percent of the total.1 On the other hand, an estimated 10 to 15 percent of those eligible don’t file for it,2 partly because employers and unions often don’t tell workers that it exists. The presidents of two local unions in Washington, D.C., for example, one representing janitors and the other parking garage attendants, had never hear