accurately describes the problem of the working poor in America and its causes and potential solutions.
An Analysis of David Shipler's essay
An Analysis of Stuart Tannock's essay
Conclusions based on the points made in the two essays. Comparison of the essays and concluding statements as to which one is the stronger of the two and why.
While Shipler focuses on the definition of poverty in America and how those who are working full-time jobs in low paying industries often still can not make ends meet (as well as the reasons for them being "stuck" in these low paying jobs), Tannock takes the approach of looking at one of the lowest paying sectors of all, the service industry, and looking how the industry as a whole contributes to poverty in America. So Shipler's essay can be said to put the bulk of the blame for poverty among the working class in this country on the individual workers, while Tannock's essay puts the blame on one particular employment industry. While both authors have their points, and back up those points with well-researched, well-worded arguments, it is Tannock's essay that stands out as the one pointing most closely to the truth of the matter. When compared to each other, the arguments behind Shipler's essay are not as strong and do not hold up as well next to the arguments presented in Tannock's essay.
The Working Poor and the Service Sector in America: A Symbiotic Relationship
Authors David Shipler and Stuart Tannock both take on the problem of poverty among the working class in America in their essays, though each comes at the issue from a slightly different angle. While Shipler focuses on the definition of poverty in America and how those who are working full-time jobs in low paying industries often still can not make ends meet (as well as the reasons for them being "stuck" in these low paying jobs), Tannock takes the approach of looking at one of the lowest paying sectors of all, the service industry, and looking how the industry as a whole contributes to poverty in America. So Shipler's essay can be said to put the bulk of the blame for poverty among the working class in this country on the individual workers, while Tannock's essay puts the blame on one particular employment industry. While both authors have their points, and back up those points with well-researched, well-worded arguments, it is Tannock's essay that stands out as the one pointing most closely to the truth of the matter. When compared to each other, the arguments behind Shipler's essay are not as strong and do not hold up as well next to the arguments presented in Tannock's essay. This paper will examine both essays and show why the arguments presented by Tannock are the stronger of the two and how they relate the most intimately to the true causes of poverty among the working class in America.
In David Shipler's essay, "At the Edge of Poverty," which is part of his book, The Working Poor: Invisible in America, he shows how many Americans do have full-time jobs, but are still unable to make ends meet, or at the very least are considered poor by American standards. One of the first things he discusses, however, is the fact that no one has come up with a consistent definition of poverty. He points out several different sources of definitions of poverty, and all of them provide different explanations of the condition. He also demonstrates through real-world examples that the definition of poverty is subjective. It all depends on where you live and the standards of living in your location. For example, in some parts of the world, living in a trailer and having running water would be considered being wealthy, or at least well off. In America, however, living in the same conditions might make a person be considered poor, especially if that person was unable to afford some of the luxuries that are expected as de facto elements of being American, such as big screen televisions and cell phones. Having running water in America is considered par for the course, even for poor people, whereas in other countries, it may be a luxury.
"A rural Russian is not considered poor if he cannot afford a car and his home has no central heating; a rural American is," Shipler states in his essay (Shipler 8). He makes it clear that we are talking about American standards of poverty, not those of other countries. He further uses examples of working poor in America who also see things this way. One of these examples is a man who has several children and was unable to provide them with the material things they wanted on the salary from his low-paying job alone; looking for a solution, he turned to selling drugs. This was not to pay for basic expenses, but to pay for material expenses that made the family more comfortable and lifted them out of the American definition of poverty for not having certain material things. He spent three years in prison for dealing drugs, but he and his wife bought a nice house in the suburbs on the proceeds of the drug money, and he seemed satisfied with that (Shipler 8).
Shipler also talks extensively about the American dream of working hard and being able to lift yourself out of poverty, as compared to the more common reality of the Anti-American Dream, which is that people are often stuck in a cycle of poverty based on the circumstances into which they were born. These circumstances can lead them to bad choices, such as a bad work ethic, that causes them to constantly be fired from jobs, or to drop out of high school so they can't get a higher paying job. It can also lead them into circumstances where they simply can't get ahead because their poverty leads them to have bad credit which leads them to have a higher interest rate on things like car loans and mortgages, so they end up paying higher bills each month than people who are not poor. This cycle keeps them in poverty. Shipler is quick to point out that while poverty in America is based partly on personal choices, those choices are often based on the circumstances of a person's birth into poverty, so the cycle continues. It is only when someone who is among the working poor is shown that they can be successful at something does their mindset change to one of belief in their ability to change things for themselves, and only then can they begin to lift themselves out of poverty, as many seem to do. Blaming both the individual and the society that placed the individual in his or her particular circumstances, Shipler has no clear solution to the problem of poverty in America.
Stuart Tannock takes a much different approach to the problem in his essay, "On the Front Lines of the Service Sector," in his book, Youth at Work: The Unionized Fast Food and Grocery Workplace. In this essay, Tannock places much of the emphasis on young workers in the service sector. These are traditionally high-stress, low-paying jobs that are filled mainly by young people in high school or college, and sometimes by the mentally challenged or disabled. Those who can stick it out in these over-worked, under-paid jobs for any length of time can often be promoted to management positions where they can put much of the responsibility of their jobs on the entry-level service workers underneath them. However, the entire service industry is designed to keep those working in it at the levels of the working poor, and with little means of escape for those who lack the education, skills, or motivation to move on to higher paying jobs. Those who get out do; those who can not become part of the underclass of American society talked about in Shipler's essay.
From having to deal with rude, belligerent, and sometimes violent customers who have no respect for the service worker to dealing with demanding and demeaning bosses and sometimes ridiculous and counter-productive corporate policies, usually always with the threat of losing their jobs for even minor infractions hanging over their heads, these service industry workers are some of the most put-upon in American society. Not only that, but their jobs are physically demanding, and often result in injuries that can keep even young people just starting out in the workforce from obtaining higher level, better paying jobs later. Talking about a 24-year-old grocery store clerk who had missed four months of work due to tendonitis in the shoulder from repetitive movements on the job, Tannock says, "Although she was back on the job, she continued to feel pain and numbness in her shoulder and arms, as well as aches down her back. Her shoulder movement is now restricted -- she is no longer able to braid her own hair." (Tannock 55)