Life on the Edge

More than four decades ago,

More than four decades ago, Michael Harrington held a mirror up to America’s self-image of affluence with his searing picture of poverty, The Other America. Harrington’s book was read widely—by President John Kennedy, among others—and fueled the moral and intellectual resolve behind the 1960s "war on poverty."

After two decades of a mean-spirited "war on the poor," followed by invisibility and neglect, it’s hard to imagine a book about poverty commanding the same attention today. But Barbara Ehrenreich’s compelling personal narrative Nickel and Dimed has remained on best-seller lists for more than two years. Those who admired Nickel and Dimed will find that David K. Shipler’s The Working Poor: Invisible in America takes the narrative to new heights.

The Working Poor is a compassionate and no-nonsense look into the lives of America’s working poor. Shipler is a gifted journalist who’s known for tackling tough topics, including in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book Arab and Jew: Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land. He brings his talents to dramatizing the invisible experiences of the estimated 35 million Americans who live in poverty.

Shipler doesn’t try to shoehorn his narratives into an established framework about poverty. His profiles capture the complex interaction of personal and economic structural forces that contribute to poverty. He spent years getting to know some of his subjects and their circumstances, taking us beyond glib and sweeping theories as their lives and voices speak for themselves. The Working Poor works with an ambitious canvas that includes North Carolina migrant worker camps, big city job-training programs, and Los Angeles garment sweatshops.

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Sojourners Magazine September 2004
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