In his book, The Working Poor: Invisible in America, David K. Shipler investigates the often-ignored plight of working Americans who struggle with poverty. Shipler describes the combination of low-paying, dead end jobs and a vicious cycle of poverty that work together to stifle any hope of a better life for America's invisible working poor. Poor medical care, housing and education, coupled with child and sexual abuse help to create a cycle of poverty that can only be broken with the creation of a political will aimed to end the plight of the working poor, notes Shipler.
In The Working Poor, Shipler presents a thorough portrait of the lives and circumstances of the 35 million working poor in America. These Americans are those who are caught in relatively low paying, dead-end jobs, and who face enormous struggles in order to better their lot in the word. There jobs often offer little in the way of benefits or opportunities in advancement. They are the people that we see every day, but do not acknowledge: the workers in fast food restaurants and bakeries, stockers at major stores, and others who provide menial labor in America.
Ironically, Shipler argues that these very people represent one of America's most cherished values: hard work. However, the American Dream of prosperity and equality continues to elude them no matter how hard they work. Many of the working poor learn to circumvent a flawed system of welfare, while others refuse any financial help.
Often, a minor setback like a temporary illness can send the working poor into a deeper spiral of debt and poverty. Such a setback can deplete financial resources, and as their wages simply provide enough income to survive, they have little hope of ever improving their financial lot.
Shipler clearly presents the almost insurmountable obstacles that the working poor must overcome in order to escape the cycle of poverty.
He notes that a lack of good, affordable housing is an important component of maintaining this cycle of poverty, and notes that the United States' government has repeatedly failed to improve the housing situation. Similarly, Shipler notes that substandard education and health care act as real roadblocks to improving the lot of the working poor, and the at the government plays a large role in failing to meet these basic needs.
The cycle of poverty depicted in The Working Poor is complex and interconnected. Writes Shipler, "Poor health and housing lead to cognitive deficiencies and school problems. Educational failure leads to poverty."
While substandard housing, education, and medical care play a large part in perpetuating the cycle of the working poor, other social factors play a role as well. Shipler argues that patterns of child and substance abuse are disturbingly common in perpetuating the cycle of poverty. Importantly, he notes that these social ills must be addressed before the working poor can hope to improve their lot in life.
Shipler's invisible poor make up a wide range of the American landscape. They are white, black, Asian and Latino, and are made up of American citizens and legal and illegal immigrants. They are male and female, and cover a wide range of ages. They also make up a wide range of occupations, and live in geographically diverse areas. Shipler examines the lives of the working poor who are employed as garment workers in New Hampshire, and itinerant farm workers in North Carolina, and illegal immigrants working as restaurant workers in Los Angeles. He even introduces us to the seedier side of life among the working poor, as he describes drug addicts who try to live productive lives in the streets of Washington, D.C. In all, Shipler paints a portrait of a class of people that crosses boundaries of race, age, occupation and geography.
In The Working Poor, Shipler describes the role of the employer in the problem of the working poor in America. Instead of demonizing the employer, as many authors would have been tempted to do, Shipler instead creates a realistic and balanced portrait of the pressures that many employers face. In an age of increasing globalization, many employers struggle to keep wages low in the face of competition from overseas. Further, they struggle…