October 19, 2012
The Struggle of the Working Poor
Society often describes the impoverished with one word, lazy. Society has taught us that if a person wants to be financially successful, it is a simple process of education and hard work that will equate to a successful income. This is the American dream. If the impoverished simply would get a job instead of being lazy, they would not need to rely on programs like welfare. The impoverished would succeed if they only would apply themselves. However, in an attempt to present another point of view, The Working Poor Invisible in America by David K. Shipler (2004) explored multiple variables this group struggles with daily. Chapter 1, “Money and Its Opposite,” explains the workings and effects of tax payments and refunds, the abuse of the poor by public and private institutions, the spending habits of the working poor, the consumerist culture of the United States, and the omnipresence of money as a guiding factor in the lives of the working poor. Chapter 2, “Work Doesn’t Work,” chronicles the struggles of three working women as they attempt to climb out of poverty through employment. They hold jobs that pay between $6 and $7 per hour and attempt to eke out a living with the additional assistance of welfare checks, food stamps, Medicaid, and other services. However, a slight raise in their pay creates an offsetting loss in benefits. Chapter 3, “Importing the Third World,” addresses the poor immigrant workers, both legal as well as illegal, laboring in sweatshop conditions in the United States. Shipler recounts the working conditions of numerous sewing shops in Los Angeles, where legal and illegal immigrants from Mexico, Honduras, Korea, Vietnam, Ethiopia, Thailand, Cambodia, and other nations work for wages below the federal minimum wage and without overtime pay. Chapter 4, “Harvest of Shame,” tells of the harsh living conditions of migrant farm workers across the United States. They receive low wages—mostly minimum wage; live in deplorable housing; are exposed to hazardous pesticides and herbicides; face little government enforcement of labor laws; are difficult to organize due to the transient nature of their work and the undocumented status of most; and are constantly on the move, which does not allow their children stable access to education. Chapter 5, “The Daunting Workplace,” addresses the diverse challenges the workplace holds for those from the lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder. Many working poor have no work experience, no education, a criminal record, a drug addiction, and a lifelong absence of role models. Dysfunctional families in which no one works, or even ventures outside the neighborhood, have provided no support system or role models. Chapter 6, “The Sins of the Fathers,” begins by unveiling an epidemic of sexual abuse that affects all classes and races in the United States. Both the wealthy and the poor are abused; however, the wealthy tend to have the financial as well as the family resources that enable them to overcome abuse. Chapter 7, “Kinship,” emphasizes the role that kinship plays in overcoming the hardships of poverty. Shipler writes, “Kinship can blunt the edge of economic adversity” (p. 179). He describes a family of five that has faced all forms of hardship and poverty—from job loss to cancer to the death of the mother—yet holds together through bonds of love and caring. He also chronicles the story of a woman who chose to earn significantly less and be plunged into poverty and debt in order to spend time with her children, one of whom eventually attended Dartmouth College. Chapter 8, “Body and Mind,” addresses health issues affecting poor families. Shipler mentions malnourishment, susceptibility to infections, disease, chronic conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, and allergies), premature birth, retarded cognitive and physical development, stress, and...