Reading Journal Entry: The Working Poor, by David Shipler

David Shipler won the Pulitzer Prize for Arab and Jew: Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land. We have recently started working with him for lectures.

It was interesting to compare this treatment of American poverty to Nickel and Dimed, another take on America's poor by client Barbara Ehrenreich. Barbara limits herself primarily to her own experiences and leavens it with a lot of wry humour. Shipler's treatment is broader and more prescriptive. He provides a survey of the problems of the working poor in America through the medium of a series of personal portraits. He doesn't recite statistics - he tells stories. The struggling individuals he portrays exhibit a marked geographical, cultural, and even economic diversity. Shipler introduces us to poor New Englanders, southerners, city dwellers, farmers, people on their way up, and people on their way down.

The most difficult passages to read were about childhood malnutrition.

There's no easy solution offered here; on the contrary, Shipler devotes a lot of energy to emphasizing the connections between the various problems he addresses, and the shared responsibilities for those problems. There are no rose-colored glasses here: he does not romanticize or whitewash his subjects, but portrays them in their full, flawed humanity.

I am very glad I read the paperback version. The epilogue with addition information on how some of his subjects fared in the months since the hardback release felt like a little bit of a happy ending.

As always when reading books of this kind I experience an aftertaste of guilt about my privileged position. I have it lucky. And I'm not doing enough. It's time to find somewhere to volunteer again.

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