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The Working Poor: Invisible in America
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The Working Poor: Invisible in America

3.99 of 5 stars 3.99  ·  rating details  ·  3,809 ratings  ·  308 reviews
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 br ...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published January 4th 2005 by Vintage (first published January 4th 2004)
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Will Byrnes
This is a depressing account of many individuals who are afflicted with poverty and are, with exceptions, unable to escape. The book provides considerable ammunition for the view that the poor are kept there by an uncaring and hostile society. From the tales and analyses emerge nuggets of potential policy directions. For instance, there is attention given to the disparity in spending for schooling based on local real estate valuation. Certainly centralizing revenues and then distributing them ac ...more
A manager at Barnes & Nobles told me that this was a great book because it shifted blame for the problems of the poor onto the poor, thus holding them accountable and providing room for personal responsibility. Hardly a compelling case for me! So for a long time, I didn’t read it. But now I have, and what the B&N guy said was a gross oversimplification and misreading. More thoughts here:

It's a great book.
I often get into discussions with my father-in-law about the state of the nation, problems facing workers and companies, and especially the role of the government. My father-in-law will often say the phrase, "People just need to work harder" in response to my queries about how to get people out of poverty or dead-end jobs. Well, I heard that phrase one too many times, so I decided to read David Shipler's book to find out if this "American Dream" is as easy to do as it sounds.

It's not easy at all
Summary: Poverty is caused by complex interactions between personal and societal/business/governmental failures. The poor are affected more strongly by small mistakes/misfortunes that snowball due to lack of safety net.
The most heinous problems to me were sexual abuse/domestic violence.

p. 162 At the extremes of the debate, liberals don’t want to see the dysfunctional family, and conservatives want to see nothing else. Depending on the ideology, destructive parenting is either not a cause or the
If you don't know much about poverty, this book may prove useful to you, but go in with eyes open. Shipler is at his best when he's letting the poor folks he speaks to speak for themselves. However, he is very much a liberal, and while he's talking with poor people we also get sympathetic interviews with bosses, managers, job trainers, "tough love" social workers, and the like. He praises people who shape themselves (and allow themselves to be shaped) into well-behaved, obedient workers set on c ...more
David Quinn
Although there weren't any astonishing revelations (and I'm not sure that's even possible with this subject matter) the author did an excellent job of conveying the fragile interrelationships between education, housing, health, upbringing, transportation, health insurance (etc.) and how one problem can trigger a devastating financial setback. He writes, "For practically every family, then, the ingredients of poverty are part financial and part psychological, part personal and part social, part p ...more
Abby Jean
this is a very good book to read if you know a little about the policy problems facing the working poor and want to get a better idea of the human stories of people affected by them, or if you don't know anything about the daily lives of the working poor and need a good illustration of the thicket of problems trapping them in poverty.

however, if you are looking for a systemic analysis of which policies and procedures create this poverty trap and perpetuate these conditions, this is not the book
If a single cause were identified, a remedy might be readily designed. It would fit neatly into a liberal or conservative prescription. If either the system's exploitation or the victims' irresponsibility were to blame, one or the other side of the debate would be satisfied. If the reasons were merely corporate greed or government indifference or impoverished schools, then liberal solutions would suffice. If the causes were only the personal failures of parents and children, then conservative v
I decided to read this book because it appeared on a list of books that parents wanted banned from a high school reading list since it was "critical of capitalism". Those parents did not actually read this book. What this book is critical of is this: the wealthiest nation in the world cannot find the will to take a holistic, comprehensive, programmatic view of addressing the numerous causes of poverty so that individuals who are standing on the line between poor and destitute can find a way out ...more
This book is not what you would call a pick-me-upper. I had to set it down sometimes, and come back to the stories of so many families fighting on so many fronts. It was exhausting to read about the way so many have to fight just to stay above water and hold their families together (or wishing sometimes they would let some parts of the family go).

It was a reminder that if you are able to spend time reading books for fun (much less spending more time commenting on them online!), you are very ble
This book... was not an easy read. It can be often a bit depressing or unsettling, if only for the stories of real people that it presents to the reader. With that in mind, it tries to take a good, solid, objective look at the issue of poverty in the U.S. and how this group of people survive from day to day. It doesn't try to follow ideology, but instead just examines the lives of people who fit in this demographic and takes an honest look at what they have to endure and fight against daily. It ...more
In 1997, while many Americans appeared to be enjoying the benefits of a soaring economy, author David K. Shipler was on a quest to unveil a faction of society that was hidden in plain sight, America’s working poor. Shipler set out to bring to light the forgotten America, those living at or under the federal government’s official poverty line, employed yet still struggling to survive, day by day. In hopes of vanquishing the invisibility cloak that obscured a lar
I've been on a poverty rage lately, and this book was fuel to that fire. A narrative interlaced with dozens of individual stories, this book lays blame everywhere without having to point it out. Shipler stays out of the political fray for the most part. In fact, he mostly stays out of the preaching business, too. He lays out the facts and research, supplements with personal stories, conversations, and following families for years at a time, but mostly allows me to reach my own conclusions.

He poi
When it comes to issues as complex as poverty, it's often much easier to lean on facile stereotypes than it is to really dig deep and understand the myriad forces that contribute to economic struggle. THE WORKING POOR is an excellent book to combat that inclination, as it simply presents the stories of several different people--black men and women, Korean immigrants, white families in the northeast falling off the bottom of the blue collar ladder--and goes deep to understand how a combination of ...more
My favorite quote: "Workers at the edge of poverty are essential to America’s prosperity, but their well-being is not treated as an integral part of the whole. Instead, the forgotten wage a daily struggle to keep themselves from falling over the cliff. It is time to be ashamed."

I thought the perspective Shipler had was fairly balanced between blaming/pointing at circumstances that are not necessarily the working poor's fault (i.e. attending a poorly funded public school with few resources to ad
I remember the first time I visited the US I was struck by the amount of poverty I saw around me. I hadn't seen anything like it in Australia or the other developed countries I had visited. Since I moved here 7 years ago, I have always been curious how a society that prides itself on the boundless achievements it affords to those who are willing to work hard, could have a stratum of folks that seem so permanently mired in a cycle of poverty.

Through interviews with the working poor and the peopl
Frederick Bingham
An eye-opening portrayal of the difficulty of dealing with poverty in this country told from the perspective of people dealing with it every day. This book about the plight of the working poor in America is good but a little dated. It is copyright 2004, before the real sh*t hit the fan in 2008. The problem of poverty is extremely complex. Each person afflicted with it is different and has their own set of issues, be that addiction, abuse, health problems, lack of education or opportunities, raci ...more
ok so i liked this book. it is mass-market muckraking. the solutions at the end assume a market economy (which is totally safe for mass-market i guess!) so it ends up being a set of harrowing tales of life in or near poverty with the end result being, "well, it's all connected, so we need more funding for ... everything." which like yes! but also, hey, a living wage? he almost-kinda-doesn't really mention the possibility that walmart etc. paying wages as low as they can possibly get away with be ...more
Shipler chronicles the lives and stories of the working poor, examining the interconnected challenges of health, education, community, abuse, hunger, finances and addiction that keep many marginalized individuals at the edge of society. He highlights holistic program approaches that integrate resources to maximize impact, including a medical clinic that employs social workers and lawyers to better advocate for clients. In addition, Shipler exposes the broken systems of public and private assista ...more
Bookmarks Magazine

"Nobody who works hard should be poor in America," writes Pulitzer Prize-winning author Shipler. Few would disagree with that statement, yet even fewer would agree on how to reduce the factors that cause poverty in America. Presenting individual case studies, Shipler exposes the vicious social and economic injustices that define the working poor. (How can you buy false teeth if you don't have a job? But how can you get a job without teeth?) At times, he lets his frustration get the better of him

I can't remember any book I've read where the synopsis was so accurate. This is a brilliantly humane examination of the multiple forces at play for the poor. It's raw, depressing, unflinching and most of all superbly written. Shipler bluntly delves into the lives of the people he's featured in the book, following them over multiple years and offering a comprehensive look at the circumstances that have and continue to shape their lives.
The book doesn't apply to the poor just in America, it's an
A book that moves beyond defending a political theory into the realm of understanding reality. Refreshing and heart-breaking at the same time. If you have an opinion about poverty in America - be it right or left - but haven't read this book your opinion is ill-informed...
Bebe Burnside
This should be a must read in every sociology class, economics class, psychology class, us history class etc. It really hits home about how so much contributes to poverty in this country. Working Poor should be an oxymoron and yet there are so many people in this situation. It's truly heartbreaking and frightening how close so many of us are to being in that situation. Just one bad turn of the dice can send you reeling as many of us know now in this current recession. A well told collection of s ...more
Andrea Patrick
It's a little depressing how little has changed in the 10 years since this book was published, but at least more people have health insurance. I picked up this book because it was recently the victim of an attempted ban by a very wealthy school district in my area. It's a staple of college social work courses and I had seen it tons of times, so I figured I ought to read it and see what the big deal is.

I have no idea how any school district could ban this book. It's really interesting, well-rese
Really fascinating (and heartbreaking) account of how and why people get stuck in a cycle of poverty. Shipler outlines the causes of poverty through interviews with a couple dozen people, and their stories are a patchwork of bad personal choices, bad luck, poor health, poor education, drugs, physical and/or sexual abuse, inherited conditions, government policies, and societal ills that land or imprison these folks in what is for many of them a permanent state. I have found myself thinking about ...more
this book defnitely opened my eyes to as the diverse reason someone may be chronically poor. however, the economist in me held strong to the end. the book suggests an answer for poverty be found in government resources, which I appose. overall, a good read, definitely helped me understand the current situation in the usa. it is very different to be poor in the usa vs. being poor somewhere else, and i understand where the victims are coming from a bit better now.
Renato Buchert
Poverty in America is not an easy subject to write about and dissect. The biggest issue with it is most people who discuss the working poor are politicians who are using them for political capital. There is unfortunately not much REAL interest in the poor.

I was seeking an honest look at the lives of the working poor, and this book gave me exactly that. Sure, it's not a happy one, but the biggest takeaway from this book is that it is not a simple one, either.

Through a series of eloquently narrat
I admit I just started reading this book to see why a local (very wealthy) school district kept having this challenged as a required reading. I also waited until the last minute to read before it had to go back to library so I was skimming the last chapter and skipped the epilogue. that said I found this book very interesting and in some cases. scary. while most of these individuals grew up in poverty and made horrible life choices I realized that in some ways my family could become poor very ea ...more
Wow. Picks up where Nickel and Dimed left off--a far-reaching critique of both liberal and conservative approaches to poverty reduction and a comprehensive look at the diversity of the working poor in America. If you're into Project Runway (come on, fashionista policy wonks, I know you're out there), the section on the political economy of the fashion industry is especially fresh and fascinating.
Jerry Peace
Wonderfully intense and sensitive without being maudlin or judgmental. I disagree with Shipler's conclusions, though. The last ten years have tragically shown that American government is thoroughly bought and paid for by business. Even in the book, bureaucracy was largely ineffective through either ignorance or downright meanness. Profit is always cold and the most help came from individuals to individuals- a priest in North Carolina, a modest feeding program growing into job training, a princip ...more
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David K. Shipler reported for The New York Times from 1966 to 1988 in New York, Saigon, Moscow, Jerusalem, and Washington. He is the author of four other books, including the best sellers Russia and The Working Poor, and Arab and Jew, which won the Pulitzer Prize. He has been a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and has ...more
More about David K. Shipler...
Arab and Jew: Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land, Revised and Updated A Country of Strangers: Blacks and Whites in America Russia: Broken Idols, Solemn Dreams The Rights of the People: How Our Search for Safety Invades Our Liberties Freedom of Speech: Mightier Than the Sword

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