Saturday, June 17, 2006

The Working Poor

Invisible in America
David K. Shipler

Nonfiction, Sociology

Shipler's book is a portrait of those folks who, for whatever reason, are working but still cannot be called anything but 'poor.' They live paycheck to paycheck, run out of food, live in bad housing or none at all, live without health or dental care, and generally live a life that we think that working should help them transcend. But there the similarities end.

Shipler documents a myriad of reasons for this borderline lifestyle. Many of his subjects blame themselves for bad choices, and their histories agree with their claims; some consider themselves unable to succeed because they have never known what success is like. Some of the people are poor due to misfortune, and some due to fiscal practices that have counselors shaking their heads. One subject chose poverty over never seeing her kids (as she would have had to work almost continuously); her involvement in their lives is vindicated by their studies at top-of-the-line colleges. Others don't know how to interact with their kids at all, and abuse is rampant.

The chapters are documentaries of various lives and show how the problem of poverty - not only fiscal, but emotional, mental, and spiritual - is not easily soluable due to its complexity. There is a noted lack of partisan sniping in the main book, something for which I am grateful, and the little that is present in the introduction and conclusion seems to be from the need to try and come up with some answer, though the book itself states that an answer is not that easy. One can sympathize with the author, though, because poverty is something we'd rather do without.


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