The Working Poor: Invisible in new arrival popular America outlet online sale

The Working Poor: Invisible in new arrival popular America outlet online sale

The Working Poor: Invisible in new arrival popular America outlet online sale

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From the author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning Arab and Jew, an intimate portrait unfolds of working American families struggling against insurmountable odds to escape poverty.

As David K. Shipler makes clear in this powerful, humane study, the invisible poor are engaged in the activity most respected in American ideology—hard, honest work. But their version of the American Dream is a nightmare: low-paying, dead-end jobs; the profound failure of government to improve upon decaying housing, health care, and education; the failure of families to break the patterns of child abuse and substance abuse. Shipler exposes the interlocking problems by taking us into the sorrowful, infuriating, courageous lives of the poor—white and black, Asian and Latino, citizens and immigrants. We encounter them every day, for they do jobs essential to the American economy.

This impassioned book not only dissects the problems, but makes pointed, informed recommendations for change. It is a book that stands to make a difference.

Review

"This is clearly one of those seminal books that every American should read and read now." -- The New York Times Book Review

" An essential book. . . . It should be required reading not just for every member of Congress, but for every eligible voter." -- The Washington Post Book World

“Sensitive, sometimes heart-rending . . . . A vivid portrait of the struggle of the working poor to acquire steady, decently paid employment.” – Commentary

"Insightful and moving. . . . Shipler writes with enormous grace [and] he captures the immense frustration endured by the working poor as few others have." -- The Nation

"Welcome and important. . . . Shipler manages to see all aspects of poverty--psychological, personal, societal--and examine how they''re related. . . . There is much here to ponder for conservatives and liberals alike." — The Seattle Times

From the Back Cover

"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.

About the Author

DAVID K. SHIPLER reported for The New York Times from 1966 to 1988 in New York, Saigon, Moscow, Jerusalem, and Washington, D.C. He is the author of six previous books, including the best sellers Russia and The Working Poor, as well as Arab and Jew, which won the Pulitzer Prize. He has been a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution and a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and has taught at Princeton, American University, and Dartmouth. He writes online at The Shipler Report.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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 heard of the Earned Income Tax Credit until I mentioned it to them. And I have not yet come across a single worker or boss who knew that with a simple form called a W-5, filed with the employer, a low-wage employee could get some of the payments in advance during the year. When I mentioned the W-5 to Debra Hall and she then asked at her bakery, the woman who handled the payroll waved her away impatiently and said she knew nothing about it. Later, the tax preparer told Debra it was better just to wait and get the payment in one lump sum after she filed her return.

It sure is better—if you’re the preparer. With cunning creativity, the preparers have devised schemes to separate low-wage workers from as much of their refunds and Earned Income Credits as feasible. The marvel of electronic filing, the speedy direct deposit into a bank account, the high-interest loan masquerading as a “rapid refund” all promise a sudden flush of dollars to cash-starved families. The trouble is, getting money costs money.

The preparers operate from sleazy check-cashing joints and from street-level outposts of respectable corporations. They do for a hefty fee what their clients could do for themselves for free with the math skills and the courage to tackle a 1040, or with a computer and a bank account to speed filing and receipt. But most low-wage workers don’t have the math, the courage, or the computer, and many don’t even have the bank account. They are so desperate for the check that they give up a precious $100 or so to get everything done quickly and correctly. “You get so scared,” said Debra Hall, who paid $95 to have her simple return done after ending twenty-one years of welfare. “I don’t know why it’s so scary, but I’d rather have it done right the first time.”

She was probably wise, because another disadvantage of being poor is that you’ve been more likely since 1999 to face an audit by the IRS. In that year, 1.36 percent of the returns filed by taxpayers making under $25,000 were audited, compared with 1.15 percent of those making $100,000 or more. The scrutiny was instigated by Republican congressional leaders who feared abuses of the Earned Income Tax Credit. In the face of bad publicity, the IRS shifted the balance in 2000 by auditing 0.6 percent of those under $25,000 versus 1.0 percent of those over $100,000. Thereafter, the audit rate tilted back and forth, to .86 and .69 percent, respectively, in 2001, then to .64 and .75 in 2002.3 In other words, as the IRS lost enforcement personnel, it dramatically reduced its scrutiny of well-to-do taxpayers, whose returns were once audited at the rate of 10 percent. This despite the fact that audits at the upper levels of income naturally tend to recover more dollars in lost revenue.

Evon Johnson never dared do another return herself after the IRS charged her $2,072 in taxes, penalties, and interest. Newly arrived from Honduras, she was working from 5 a.m. for a cleaning service in Boston that never withheld taxes and never sent her a W-2. She didn’t know they were supposed to do either. “I did my taxes, I fill it out, fine,” she said. But not so fine, evidently. “Three years after or four years after, IRS contact me saying that I owe them . . . like, $2,072. ‘Why do I owe you?’ And they say: because I didn’t declare my taxes. I say I did. . . . They say no. . . . I sent them a letter saying I was sending them $1,072 I think it was, ’cause I didn’t have no money at the time, and I was going to make small installments for the rest of the money. . . . You know what they did? I had a bank account, and they took the money from my bank account—every penny I had.” Ever since, she has happily paid $100 a year to a tax preparer, $100 a year for peace of mind. “I don’t want the IRS back on me,” she explained. “He do it and he sign it and put everything, so if any mistake, he gonna be the one who will have to deal with them.”

By the end of February, H&R Block’s storefront office on a dismal stretch of Washington’s 14th Street looked like a well-used campaign headquarters a week after Election Day. Most computer screens were dark, and the place was quiet and cavernous. All the desks were empty but one, occupied by Claudia Rivera, who used to prepare returns without charge at a library in Virginia. She and the manager, Carl Caton, didn’t have much to do now that the rush had passed, so they were happy to sit at a keyboard and explain.

Each form the taxpayer needed carried a fee: $41 for a 1040, $10 for an EIC (the Earned Income Credit), $1 for each W-2, and so on. Electronic filing cost another $25. So a simple return with two W-2s filed electronically would run $78. But it didn’t stop there. Block had a smorgasbord of services for people who lived on the edge. If you had no bank account, your refund could be loaded onto an ATM card that charged $2 per withdrawal. Or a temporary account could be opened into which the IRS payment could be deposited for a fee of $24.95. If you were enticed by Block’s offer of a “rapid refund” and wanted a check in a day or two, you paid H&R Block an additional $50 to $90, depending on the amount you were getting. The fee on 14th Street could be as much as $50 on a $200 refund, up to $90 for $2,000 or more.4

This was actually a loan, and for a very short time. Filing electronically usually gets you a check in two and a half weeks, according to the IRS, and five days sooner if it’s deposited directly into a bank account. At the most, then, the “rapid refund” loan, issued a day or two after filing, would run about fifteen days, which made the $90 fee on a $2,000 payment equivalent to an annual interest rate of 108 percent. At the least, the loan could run as little as four days, propelling the annualized rate to 410 percent on $2,000, and 2,281 percent on $200. (The highest percentage is incurred if the timing occurs perfectly: the return is filed by the IRS’s weekly deadline of noon Thursday, the loan check is not issued until after banks close Friday, the taxpayer can’t put it into his account until Monday, and the IRS is fast enough to deposit the refund directly with the lending bank the following Friday.)5

After a spate of lawsuits, a federal judge in Norfolk ordered Block to stop using the misleading term “rapid refund” in advertising loans, but Block continued with the ads by redefining “rapid refund” as a reference to electronic filing only. The company called its loan program a “refund anticipation loan,” a distinction lost on many of the low-wage workers who ventured into Block offices in search of a rapid refund. In 2000 such loans went to 4.8 million taxpayers.

Among all the working people I interviewed who used the loan service, not one understood the terms or the options. Hector and Maribel Delgado, who earned about $28,000 a year picking and packing vegetables in North Carolina, were stunned when I sat with them in their trailer, looked over their tax return, and explained how it all worked. They had paid Block $109 to prepare their return, file it electronically, and give them an advance on their payment from the IRS of $1,307.05. The form they had signed disclosed a finance charge of 69.888 percent annually, but they had not understood it. Even as Block employees presented a contract in fine print, they were trained to avoid the word “loan,” and say “two-day refunds” instead, a Maryland judge found in hearing a lawsuit on the lending practices. And the refund loans were lucrative enough to provide 8 percent of Block’s entire profits in 1999, mainly because a Block subsidiary owned a 49.99 percent interest in the loans, made by Household Bank.

Something else illicit happened to the Delgados in the Block offices. Although they filed electronically in January, a time when the IRS promises checks within a couple of weeks, “We were told we’d have to wait six to eight weeks,” Maribel said. This was patently false. “We needed the money to pay bills,” she explained. “We send one part to Mexico, another part to here. We usually send $100 every two weeks to Mexico. We have a big family.”

In 2000, after facing a decade of class-action lawsuits alleging misleading lending practices, H&R Block agreed to a $25 million settlement without admitting any wrongdoing. The only practice the company changed was to present the federally required truth-in-lending disclosures earlier in the process, according to a spokeswoman. Do employees at least explain the terms verbally? “A lot of it depends on questions customers ask,” she said. “If they ask questions, preparers are supposed to answer.” Many customers simply do not know what questions to ask.

Poverty is like a bleeding wound. It weakens the defenses. It lowers resis- tance. It attracts predators. The loan sharks operate not only from bars and street corners, but also legally from behind bulletproof glass. Their beckoning signs are posted at some 10,000 locations across the country: “Payday Loans,” “Quick Cash,” “Easy Money.” You see them in check-cashing joints and storefront offices in poor and working-class neighborhoods. They have organized themselves into at least a dozen national chains, and they charge fees equivalent to more than 500 percent annualized interest.

They also provide a much needed service. Say you’re short of cash, and the bills are piling up, along with some disconnection notices. Payday is two weeks away, and your phone and electricity will be shut off before then. The guy at the local convenience store, who has a booth for cashing checks, throws you a lifeline. If you need $100 now, you write him a check for $120, postdated by two weeks. He’ll give you the $100 in cash today, hold your check until your wages are in your bank account, and then put the check through. Or you can give him the $120 in cash when you get it, and he’ll return your check. Either way, 20 percent interest for two weeks equals 1.428 percent a day, or 521 percent annually.

If you’re still stuck after payday, if your paycheck doesn’t quite cover your needs, or if your check for $120 bounces, no problem. The guy behind the bulletproof glass will gladly roll over your loan—for another $20. This pattern prevails in Illinois, for example, where state examiners found that rollovers made up 77 percent of all payday loan transactions. The average customer had ten such renewals, which meant paying fees totaling up to twice the amount borrowed.6 Eventually, you may have to borrow from another payday loan merchant to pay the fees at the first. And so on and on and on.

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AUTISTIC WEREWOLFTop Contributor: Photography
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A BOOK FULL OF INSIGHTS MY GRANDFATHER TOLD ME EXISTED THAT I NEVER YET KNOWN PERSONALLY - BY THE GRACE OF ALMIGHTY GOD!
Reviewed in the United States on November 17, 2013
Lives of chronic pain, compromise and dreams unfulfilled are what come to life in The Working Poor: Invisible in America. I am a black man who grew up in what was in fact a ghetto alas not quite. One very old white woman stayed in her home on our block well into my... See more
Lives of chronic pain, compromise and dreams unfulfilled are what come to life in The Working Poor: Invisible in America. I am a black man who grew up in what was in fact a ghetto alas not quite. One very old white woman stayed in her home on our block well into my adulthood and most of us watched out for her. She eventually died of natural causes.

I grew up thinking we were poor because; we did not have torrents of money flowing from every orifice. We could not buy anything on impulse or whim. My family was better off than most because; we owned our home outright. We ALMOST always had a car even if at times it was a raggity hoopdy piece of car. Our lights, phone and water were never turned off due to lack of payment. I have autism and I have a disabled sibling and we got the very best medical care money could buy at the time. I routinely saw doctors who were trying to figure out my autism, cerebral palsy and other disabilities.

When we needed to be hospitalized we were in the best semi private rooms when they were available this was the 1960''s you know. We took regular vacations to awesome places each summer. We were always warm, properly clothed and well cared for. There was much love in my home growing up. We always had more than enough to eat. We each had a small allowance of money each week so we could buy candy, soda and the other things of childhood. Christmas was always full of toys and new clothes. Thanksgivings and Easter in my childhood home were always a grand old times to stuff ourselves and share with family friends extended family. We always had enough food and good cheer to share it with friends I brought home from institutions where I volunteered. During my childhood my family was never able to afford travel by plane, expensive cars or a shower of hugely expensive gifts which is how I felt rich people live.

My grandfather who raised me was the one haunting voice in my life on the subject of poverty. Since he lived through the depression he was my first and only poverty expert growing up. My grandfather constantly told me we were clueless about real poverty. My grandfather used to tell me that poverty was looking into the refrigerator and seeing only the bare light bulb and maybe some water in a bottle. My grandfather used to get mad when we would look in the refrigerator brimming with delicious leftovers and cry out there is nothing to eat in the house. My grandfather would retort nothing to eat means a house where their is nothing. My grandfather knew that what we meant was their was no quick easy heat and eat junk food available. My grandfather would look at us in amazement then break down and fix us leftovers and he''d make them taste fantastic.

So for all these years, what I thought was my life of poverty wasn''t poverty at all according to my father. For most of my 54 years I never knew what my grandfather meant when he said we weren''t really "Poor" until I read, The Working Poor: Invisible in America by David K. Shipler. As I read The Working Poor: Invisible in America it was as if I heard its words spoken in my grandfathers voice. For the first time in my life on reading The Working Poor: Invisible in America I had a much better understanding of the true face of poverty. No book can ever do justice to the true suffering poverty brings but The Working Poor: Invisible in America is a great place to start your journey toward understanding. The Working Poor: Invisible in America is not a book of answer it is a book of questions born of insight. I was once on Section 8 housing and disability and even still I never knew true poverty. My lights, phone, water were always on paid and kept up to date. I managed my tiny monthly check so well, I eventually qualified for a low interest national department store credit card. I did not have even a basic understanding of poverty until I read The Working Poor: Invisible in America.
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Sal Nudo
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
An eye-opening book
Reviewed in the United States on October 3, 2013
"The Working Poor" by David Shipler is not an easy read. Densely written, it covers the lives of many poor people living in the U.S., struggling to subsist. The book''s title is apt, because in many cases people in poverty truly do work. They work hard in their menial jobs... See more
"The Working Poor" by David Shipler is not an easy read. Densely written, it covers the lives of many poor people living in the U.S., struggling to subsist. The book''s title is apt, because in many cases people in poverty truly do work. They work hard in their menial jobs where they often aren''t promoted; they work hard to escape brutal pasts; in short, lots of them work hard to keep their lives together.

Shipler conveys in a stark way how common social issues can lead to poverty and how various problems within poor families affect each other negatively, like dominoes falling down. A woman who is sexually abused as a child may have a habit of picking bad men later in life or getting pregnant as a teenager, which leads to monetary problems in adulthood. Hardened men with rough, criminal pasts may have difficulty getting hired for jobs and experience low self-esteem. A lady who suffers through a lifetime of poverty forgoes dental work, leading to a mouth with no teeth, hindering her chances of getting promoted at work. Then there are the babies and kids who are severely malnourished because food is a more flexible expense -- these hardships just scratch the surface of Shipler''s book.

Shipler reveals that poverty is prevalent across ethnicities. Some of these people have made foolish decisions in life that have resulted in bad outcomes. Sometimes, however, social policies are out of whack or companies fleece the poor, leading to further degradation. Shipler shows how those who don''t have money problems can be condescending, unforgiving and cruel, though he also writes about people who extend helping hands. Luckily, the author doesn''t lionize the poor or overly criticize the powers that be. He simply tells one dismal story after another, presenting hidden lives in a matter-of-fact way that resonates.

I found Chapter 9, "Dreams," to be interesting. It talks about bright-eyed poor kids in less than ideal schools. One of the teachers, labeled in the book as "Mrs. C," relates how the students under her tutelage were constantly late, not motivated and rowdy in class due to never getting attention at home. They received poor grades because of these issues, possibly depriving themselves of decent futures in already difficult circumstances.

Parents who fail to help their children with homework or who don''t convey the importance of education hinder the prospects of their offspring, according to Shipler. Oftentimes these parents had miserable experiences when attending school themselves. Teachers interviewed in the book discuss how they are rudely treated by certain parents and students alike -- one said she feared for her life. Conversely, many parents fail to communicate with teachers at all, skipping parent-teacher conferences no matter how poorly their son or daughter may be doing academically or behaviorally.

In students'' defense, many poor ones are malnourished and must deal with issues at home that would make learning at school very hard.

Shipler found some teachers in low-income schools who were subpar, simply not good at relating information to students. Others covered material too fast, leaving many students in the class befuddled and blank.

The last few chapters have stories of help, hope and success. The formula for achievement is given, though the author admits it''s often elusive: a close family with two wage earners; self-confidence and the ability to find and hold a job; and strength when things go off course.

Shipler says a major issue like poverty should be attacked all at once, not piecemeal. Figuring it out will take lots of sacrifice, political will and a willingness to redistribute money. He encourages poor people to vote, saying it would make a huge difference in who is elected and by what margins, but he knows many at this income level are disinterested in and disillusioned by politics.

This book was written in 2004, so it would be interesting to know how much of the policy discussed within it has changed, and whether poverty in the U.S. has increased or decreased in succeeding years. It''s obviously not a feel-good book, but it definitely makes you think about helping those in need.
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Laurie
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Informative Book
Reviewed in the United States on January 4, 2014
Before you get deep into the details recorded in this book -- and the book is ALL about the details -- there are some important points you need to keep in mind. The author mentions them in the beginning but then they seem to get dropped as the details of people''s live keep... See more
Before you get deep into the details recorded in this book -- and the book is ALL about the details -- there are some important points you need to keep in mind. The author mentions them in the beginning but then they seem to get dropped as the details of people''s live keep emerging:

1) What we call "poverty" in the United States equates to a very wealthy lifestyle in many other nations.

2) Human beings are free agents and they are capable of making choices. However limited our choices may be by circumstances or experience, we CAN still choose.

3) Part of the premise of this book is that "perception is reality." While our poor are not poor by standards of other countries, they and the American culture perceive them as poor and that is the problem.

If you keep those ideas fresh in your mind while you allow yourself to become immersed in the VOLUMES of touching personal examples the author records in this book, I think you will gain a great deal from reading it. It''s quite obvious that poverty is not one single condition that we can solve by throwing money at it and providing opportunities and benefits to the poor. How impoverished people use those benefits and how they are accustomed to dealing with their conditions IS based on myriads of factors including but not limited to: immigrant status, family and culture, education, intelligence, emotional abuse, addictions -- anything from smoking and junk food to heroin, physical illness, choices, et cetera, et cetera. The author makes this very clear and he takes you through countless stories -- one after the other -- of impoverished people who apparently cannot rise above their circumstances in part because these kinds of factors.

Another thing he continually re-emphasizes is that rising above poverty usually means getting into a "perfect storm" kind of situation. All the important elements -- financial, emotional, intellectual, job opportunity and LUCK (of having no major tragedies happening to interfere) need to be there. I agree with his assessment here. The kind of economy we have right now does not make it easy for one of the working poor to make it, Horatio Alger style, on just determination and hard work alone. It''s wrong for anyone to assume that if only a person pulls themselves up by their bootstraps they can make it, because America is the Land of Opportunity. We need to quit falling back on this myth.

That being said, I found myself going through an entire range of emotions because of the human examples in the book. I felt literally EVERY emotion -- anger, sadness, joy, disgust, horror, empathy, sympathy. A lot of the time I was frustrated, because so often an objective observer can see things that the people inside the situations themselves cannot see. Get used to feeling frustrated because that was the one unifying theme throughout. This is not a book with a lot of easy answers.

Although I suspect the author is a liberal in his political leanings, he has been an accurate reporter in this book and an honest seeker. He''s shown all sides of the question of the working poor and he''s revealed that it''s an enormously complicated web of problems, not easily resolved either by left or right style solutions.

Sometimes, the author can be a bit inconsistent if it''s opinions you are looking for. For example, he defends the need for television access. He states that this is often the only affordable and accessible entertainment available for poor families, so even if it does cost a couple hundred dollars a month for them to keep it, he thinks it''s a worthwhile investment. At another point in the book, he blames television advertising for creating the consumer culture that induces poor people to waste the little money they have on things they don''t need. While this somewhat contradictory position is consistent with reality, I think it might be better for the poor to turn OFF the TV and find other avenues for amusement -- ones that don''t involve exposure to multiple advertisements and fictional cultural expectations.

The reader needs to be able to think about these stories, read between the lines, remember that often the people are speaking for themselves and what you are getting is what they will tell an interested interviewer about their situation. What people report about their situation, or what they perceive about it, is not necessarily the truth. The reader needs to sift, be objective and then be able to apply their own judgment. Otherwise you''re in danger of being sunk in the emotions.

The main thing I got out of this book (perhaps NOT the author''s intent!) is that, in Jesus'' words "the poor will always be with us."
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Neil Cotiaux
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Horatio Alger Is Dead
Reviewed in the United States on January 20, 2007
Unless, perhaps, you''re in entertainment or technology. By sticking with his subjects, earning their respect and engaging in painstaking research, David Shipler has connected the dots in "The Working Poor" to give us a comprehensive, emotionally powerful synopsis of the... See more
Unless, perhaps, you''re in entertainment or technology. By sticking with his subjects, earning their respect and engaging in painstaking research, David Shipler has connected the dots in "The Working Poor" to give us a comprehensive, emotionally powerful synopsis of the multiple causes of poverty in America. Using the life narratives of diverse subjects (all but one of whom I found entirely sympathetic), Shipler rarely points fingers but instead explains how a combination of his subjects'' family histories and character traits, relative lack of formal education, living conditions, incessant agonizing over work-parenting balance, and minimal to nonexistent cash flow collide with varying policies within the public and private sectors along with the employers, coworkers and bureaucrats with whom they deal.

Reading Shipler''s research, it is clear there is no "one size fits all" solution to the condition of the working poor. For that reason, the author''s concise summary of key policy debates can be excused. This book is meant to elicit thought first, then understanding, then action.

Based on my own interactions with the working poor and after having read this moving work, I offer the following observations:

1) More free classes on parenting skills are needed to help create a better environment for at-risk infants and young people.

2) Government must step up its commitment to clean, safe, affordable housing in new and innovative ways. Too much is spent on defense and not enough on domestic programs. Affordable housing needs additional support from both the legislative and executive branches at the Federal and State levels. Homeownership education programs for first-time homebuyers appear in good supply, but the stock of accessible housing needs work.

3) Free financial literacy instruction in the vernacular of the street or in an immigrant''s native tongue must be widely offered. Stock market board games sponsored by local companies in high schools sound nice but don''t address the proper issues - needs versus wants, saving versus spending, developing a budget, etc.

4) Reading is a core foundation. "Reading aloud" and reading instruction at the preschool level is essential. It helps develop a core competency, and it (hopefully) demonstrates that someone cares.

5) Customized bundles of social services delivered by a local coalition of volunteers, nonprofits and for-profits should increasingly be built into new housing supply. Bring parenting, financial literacy, housing maintenance, etc., skills to at-risk individuals and families where they live. Gather a (somewhat) captive audience in familiar, non-threatening surroundings. The "community stability" aspect of affordable housing is starting to catch on, and this trend must be encouraged.

6) Reform school funding formulas to make the calibre of instruction more equitable across districts.

7) Place the snowballing cry for universal access to college education in the proper perspective. Where should finite government resources go - to support vulnerable children getting started in life or to those more ready to enter the halls of ivy? Fund the sons and daughters of the working poor first, and let them find their way. They may find their way through JobsCorps, an apprenticeship or some other route; perhaps college. Let''s not put the cart before the horse.

Just recently, a middle-aged woman among the working poor whom I know, doing well in her job, was presented by her employer with the opportunity to open a 401K as her year-end bonus. The employer assumed this would be a good way to help her save. Her response? She needed money for new tires for her old car, and she needed it now. The employer ended up providing this woman with a scaled-back bonus and a starter 401K. Several weeks later, my friend left her car keys in the ignition as she ran into a convenience store. When she returned, she found the car gone. Reporting the incident to the police, she was cited for a section of the municipal code that states motorists may not leave keys in the ignition, and she was promptly fined $100. She wanted to fight this misdemeanor but said she couldn''t afford a lawyer. A friend gave her the $100 to pay her fine. She has more recently declared bankruptcy. Her only vice is smoking.

Shipler is right on the money. We are facing a class epidemic in America. The first line of defense in this fight may not be government. It may simply be a growing number of fellow Americans who bother to take the extra five or ten minutes necessary to read to a child, caution a parent on his or her attitudes, run down the street and buy basic groceries, or make a forgivable loan. Micro, then macro. Macro may take too long.
15 people found this helpful
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ECMich
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
The working poor
Reviewed in the United States on January 10, 2009
This is a very well-written book. I suppose this is not a surprise from a Pulitzer Prize winning author. Like other reviewers mentioned, he tried not to take side. For example, in the last chapter, he wrote "The villains are not just exploitative employers but also... See more
This is a very well-written book. I suppose this is not a surprise from a Pulitzer Prize winning author. Like other reviewers mentioned, he tried not to take side. For example, in the last chapter, he wrote "The villains are not just exploitative employers but also incapable employee,...,not just bureaucrats who cheat the poor but also the poor who cheat themselves." On the other hand, I have a feeling that the author does think that much of the responsibility belongs to the society. For example, he wrote "The responsibility that she had demonstrated as a homeowner had lifted the value and, ironically, had stolen her equity. She had maintained and improved the house sensibly for the long term. She still owe $34,000 on the first mortgage, and the second mortgage $19,000 carried a pre-payment penalty, which forced her to pay just over $20,000 to get out of it. The federal grants of $17,000 for lead paint removal and new siding required pro-rated reimbursement if the house was sold within ten years and five years respectively, she had to pay back nearly $16,000." after telling us a sad story about the house owner who had to sell her house. I cannot understand why the author felt that the equity was stolen from her. Did the author feel that the mortgage don''t have to be paid back? Did the author feel that the federal grants should be forgiven even though she stay there less than the required number of years? As another example, he wrote "So much of modern American culture now comes through television that the poor would be further marginalized without the board access that cable provides." after mentioning one of his interviewee monthly expenses. I disagree with the author on this. I have a number of friends/family members that do not have cable and they seem to be doing just fine. Moreover, one can get six channels, including PBS, over the air.

In summary, I was hooked on this book and I finished reading it in a few days. I think after you have read this book, many of you will probably complain less about your own life.
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Byron
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
The Dark Side of Democracy
Reviewed in the United States on January 4, 2006
I just read this book for the third time in the last two years. Every time I come away even more moved then before by the vivid, haunting portrait Shipler paints of truly remarkable people working up against daunting odds to make remarkable things happen under among the... See more
I just read this book for the third time in the last two years. Every time I come away even more moved then before by the vivid, haunting portrait Shipler paints of truly remarkable people working up against daunting odds to make remarkable things happen under among the worst of circumstances. Forget Nickel and Dimmed and all of the other pop culture books detailing the plight of America''s working poor published in recent years. This is the real thing. Shipler tells stories in harrowing and heroic detail of people who can''t seem to get a break let alone a piece of the so-called American dream, no matter how hard they try time and again. The picture that emerges of employers and business (i.e. banks, credit card providers, furniture rental companies and others) as well as government is unconscienable. The public and private sectors are portrayed here as systematically exploiting, almost taunting the determination of the people profiled at every turn. As much as this book depresses and angers me at times, the stories of extraordinary courage, pride and perseverance are also inspiring, even empowering. You can''t come away from reading this book without feeling changed and mobilzed. Shipler does more than detail the problems, misconceptions, barriers, etc. He offers an intelligent, persuasive guide for what all of us can be doing to bring about systemic changes that finally put an end to the myriad of economic injustices that far too many of our fellow citizens are forced to accept as "the cost of living." As Robert Reich observes: "The ''working poor'' ought to be an oxymoron, because no one who works should be impoverished."
12 people found this helpful
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P. Hicks
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Everyone Should Read This Book...NOW
Reviewed in the United States on August 19, 2019
Wow. This book, I can''t say enough about it. I feel that everyone should read it. Especially in the political climate that we are currently in. This book helps paint a picture of all the forces at work as people are struggling to make ends meet. Extremely well done. Highly... See more
Wow. This book, I can''t say enough about it. I feel that everyone should read it. Especially in the political climate that we are currently in. This book helps paint a picture of all the forces at work as people are struggling to make ends meet. Extremely well done. Highly recommended.
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AKS
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Humanizes this segment of the population and cuts through easy partisan truths.
Reviewed in the United States on June 9, 2021
You won''t find a better book to ground the discussion the "the poor" in America. This book humanizes its subjects through interviews that follow people in different situations over many years. The author''s detailed analysis shows flaws in the system and in the subjects... See more
You won''t find a better book to ground the discussion the "the poor" in America. This book humanizes its subjects through interviews that follow people in different situations over many years. The author''s detailed analysis shows flaws in the system and in the subjects themselves in a way that will correct biases all over the political spectrum. This book would make a great companion to a more high-level analysis of the social safety net because it focuses on the lived experiences of real people over the course of the life cycle.
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Tracy Aitken
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Buy this book.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on June 12, 2017
A fine price of work and recommended to anyone interested in the state of present day America. It makes one grateful to live in the UK - although our benefit system has, and still is open to abuse I remain thankful that such a safety net exists for the poor and vulnerable...See more
A fine price of work and recommended to anyone interested in the state of present day America. It makes one grateful to live in the UK - although our benefit system has, and still is open to abuse I remain thankful that such a safety net exists for the poor and vulnerable in our society. No country as wealthy as the United States should have citizens living in the conditions described in this book. Almost 50 years ago Robert F Kennedy visited poor communities in Mississippi where he found people living in tar paper shacks and in one case a whole family living in a burnt out car. That conditions have barely improved for some is a devastating indictment of years of neglect of those most in need. Do buy this book - it is a stark reminder of the failure of politics, politicians and simple compassion.
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Yang Liu
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Fantastic insight into the lives of some people who are ...
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on July 9, 2017
Fantastic insight into the lives of some people who are trying their best and stumbling through life. It''s a great book that makes you think about look twice about things in everyday life.
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Vasiliki Charalampidou
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Very good copy! I'' m really pleased with the condition ...
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on April 28, 2015
Very good copy!I'' m really pleased with the condition of my new book!
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wends
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Five Stars
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on November 21, 2015
Brilliant
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Timothy Barson
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Great deal, great condition
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on August 5, 2015
Arrived in better nick than expected. Ridiculously good deal.
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