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

The Working Poor by David K. Shipler
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's review
Sep 12, 2009

really liked it
Read in September, 2009

This books describes typical situations of people that are working, but are still poor, and talks about many related issues: how people get into that situation, how many people get out of it and how that happens, and how we can reduce the amount of that in the future.

The idea that people in America can pull themselves up by their bootstraps is attractive to most of us. A lot of people view that as the essential American story. Unfortunately, the reality is that it's a pretty rare event.

If your situation is relatively comfortable (if you don't think you'll ever have to worry about basic necessities, like whether you'll be able to afford food for your family), chances are that you've had a lot of things go your way. It's easy to focus on the things we don't have, but if you were born in America, if you were able to go to school, if you didn't have to worry about getting food or being physically abused, then you're the beneficiary of good circumstances.

A person that hasn't ever been in a stable situation might not have the basic skills that go along with regular employment. Someone that's been abused regularly is going to have trouble interacting with coworkers or the public in a normal way.

And even someone that does have the basic skills might not have the opportunity to find a regular job. If you don't have regular transportation, finding employment can be difficult or impossible. If a potential employer demands hourly availability that shifts week-to-week -- as many low-wage jobs do -- someone that has to care for a child or family might be able to take that job.

Even when someone in one of those situations is able to find regular employment, the benefits it provides might be barely enough to sustain them at a low standard of living. Most low-wage jobs don't have much of a potential for raises or advancement.

In the end, this book is pretty depressing. It paints a disturbing picture, and doesn't show any easy solutions. I want to live in a society that gives people the means to raise their station in life, and I think the US can be that society, but it isn't simple.

The book does a pretty good job of describing the situation people can face, and the related issues. It seemed to rely a little too much on anecdotes for my taste, and I think it could have gone into a little more depth. Overall, it is a good treatment of the subject and worth reading.

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