Alison's Reviews > The Working Poor: Invisible in America

The Working Poor by David K. Shipler
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Dec 15, 07

Read in December, 2007

The guy at Barnes & Nobles, where I was trading in a complete Shakespeare, which I already had, for this, which I didn't, told me that this was a great book because it shifted some blame for the problems of the poor onto the poor, thus holding them accountable and providing room for personal responsibility. I had already fought with the guy once, which was why I held my tongue this time and didn't mention that he was hardly making a compelling case to me. So for a long time, I didn't actually read it. But now I have, and what the B&N guy said was a gross oversimplification. Rather, what Shipler does is to link the formation and transmission of emotional and psychological problems in individuals to systemic problems, showing how they interplay to form patterns of poverty, i.e., growing up poor puts you at risk to develop problems that will interfere with your ability to be educated, have relationships, deal with authority, and find, much less hold down, a job, which in turn leads to poverty, while being white, coming from an intact family, having good physical health, speaking English, and having role models are all things that can lessen your risk, though even then it's precarious. So it's not about personal responsibility; it's about how the personal and the political intertwine. I already thought these things, so I didn't really have any eureka moment; what makes the book so compelling for me, and better than Nickel & Dimed, for example, is the quality of the writing and the many stories that came out of Shipler's interviews. It's such a good book that I wonder how some asshole like that B&N manager could come away from it with entirely the wrong conclusions.
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