Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Working Poor: Invisible in America” as Want to Read:
The Working Poor: Invisible in America
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Working Poor: Invisible in America

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  5,137 ratings  ·  389 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)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Working Poor, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Working Poor

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.03  · 
Rating details
 ·  5,137 ratings  ·  389 reviews


More filters
 | 
Sort order
Start your review of The Working Poor: Invisible in America
Will Byrnes
Oct 26, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Alison
Dec 11, 2007 rated it really liked it
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:

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:

http://alisonkinney.com/2015/07/24/da...

It's a great book.
...more
Dan
Nov 15, 2007 rated it liked it
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
...more
Tom
Oct 16, 2010 rated it it was ok
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
sleeps9hours
Jul 31, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
...more
Terri Lynn
I liked this book pretty well. The author spent a lot of time talking with people of different races and backgrounds about their poverty and also with social workers who help them and with their employers. Poverty was self-imposed in all cases. These people dropped out of school, had a stack of illegitimate kids they couldn't support, got involved in crime, used alcohol and drugs and even when they got jobs, they'd just fail to go in to work or orientations and not call in. They made bad life ch ...more
David Quinn
Feb 25, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Sarah
Jan 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
...more
Laura Harrison
Mar 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
Sad, tragic and honest. Goes well with the best-seller Nickeled and Dimed.
Abby Jean
Jun 20, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2011, summer-project
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 n
...more
Urmila
Jan 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
...more
Deborah
Oct 03, 2010 rated it really liked it
BOOK CRITIQUE FOR CLASS ASSIGNMENT:
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
...more
Paul
Oct 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: social-justice
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
Leslie
May 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Let’s assume you’re poor, undereducated, lacking job skills, and working part-time in a minimum-wage job. What should you do ? Have a baby. Maybe 2 or 3. Or half a dozen. That will make things better, right ? And almost every single working poor person in this book of case studies does exactly that. I don’t get it.
Sara
Sep 29, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
3.5 stars, not particularly groundbreaking, very readable look at poverty, with the angle of the working world. If you have never read anything on the subject, easy intro.
Megan
Jul 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
3.5, tentatively on the 4 side.

RTC
Annie Steiner
Mar 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book was amazing start to finish. It offered me a view into a lifestyle that I was not privy to. It offered solutions that did not attack or belittle any political party. But what grabbed me the most was the stories each chapter and section told. My heart broke for these individuals.
Jen
Mar 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book made me feel uncomfortable, which is probably partly the point. The poverty line is a tough one to cross, particularly in a country that isn't really interested in helping people get up and out of a welfare state. Too often, it's easy to say "they just need to work harder", or "stop buying iPhones or cable (or insert other "luxury" here)". It's not as simple as not having cable. A single mother has a job, and her kids are in child care. One day, the car won't start after work. The kids ...more
Alyssa
Dec 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: common-read
A fascinating read. I probably never would have picked it up if it weren't for work, but Shipler does a great job of humanizing the individuals he interviews without pitying them or setting them up as martyrs. There was a lot more narrative than I expected from this kind of non-fiction, but I was really drawn into each person's story.

I would be interested to hear more of his opinions on the current state of the working poor, since the book was originally published in 2004 and edited in 2016.
Stephen
Sep 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
"Like my daddy used to say -- 'Son, life's hell to pay for when you're poor -- cause always just outside the door's another Hard Time.'" (Jerry Reed)

The United States is simultaneously one of the richest and poorest countries in the world, a land marked by both obscene waste and desperate poverty. Explanations vary as to the cause of the widening income gap; some blame a deteriorating culture, others globalized free trade, and still others maintain it's a classic case of exploitation
...more
Jennifer
Oct 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Vanessa
Jan 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
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
...more
Frederick Bingham
Feb 12, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Miranda
Mar 04, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Melanie
2.5 stars.

I wanted to like it, and I stuck with it a lot longer than I should've (40% of the way), but then I couldn't take it anymore and started skimming.

This book is hard to read. He'll spend a chapter on a specific type of people, like migrant workers, and pop from story to story with no segue. You'll read six pages about Mark and Lisa, then one paragraph later you'll be reading about Hernando, but they have nothing in common other than low wage poverty in the garment
...more
Justine
Jul 23, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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.
...more
Megan
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
...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

...more
Kendra
Aug 22, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: sociology
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
Zaphoddent
Sep 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Mental Health and...: Politics, Eugenics and Surviving While Disabled 1 2 Jul 15, 2019 07:35PM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America
  • Class Matters
  • Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools
  • When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present
  • Rachel and Her Children: Homeless Families in America
  • What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America
  • $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America
  • Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream
  • Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market
  • Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer--and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class
  • Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal
  • The Dollmaker
  • Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage
  • The Best of Enemies: Race and Redemption in the New South
  • American Dream: Three Women, Ten Kids, and a Nation's Drive to End Welfare
  • The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy
  • Tomorrow's Bread
  • Les Origines du totalitarisme / Eichmann à Jérusalem
See similar books…
64 followers
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
“Wo rkers 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.” 1 likes
“Time magazine found in a 2000 survey that 19 percent of Americans thought they were in the top 1 percent of wage-earners, and another 20 percent expected to be in the future. “So right away you have 39 percent of Americans who thought that when Mr. Gore savaged a plan that favored the top i percent, he was taking a direct shot at them,” wrote David Brooks, a senior editor at The Weekly Standard.3” 1 likes
More quotes…