The Working Poor FINAL ESSAY

The Working Poor FINAL ESSAY - The Plight of the Working...

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The Plight of the Working Poor A Critical Review by Rob Linn of The Working Poor by David K. Shipler 1
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In Newport New Hampshire, Lisa Brooks, a single mother got up each morning for her full-time job as a caretaker in a halfway house for mentally ill students. 1 She was only paid $8.21 an hour, which placed her and her four children several thousand dollars below the federal poverty threshold. 2 One day, while Lisa was working, her son came across poisonous mold in their run-down apartment, and suddenly trouble breathing, so he went to the hospital repeatedly; the resulting medical bills were nearly too much for Lisa – she already lived on the brink of insolvency. 3 She overcame, however, and paid them, but it was too late, they had already wrecked her credit rating. When she went to buy a car, the lowest rate she could find was 15.747%. 4 She was imprisoned on the treadmill of poverty – unable to make financial progress, just barely maintaining her standard of living. For this reason, she serves as the archetype of the working poor. In 2001, George W. Bush reinforced the mirage-like qualities of the elusive American dream: “You bet, people who work hard and make the right decisions in life can achieve anything they want in America 5 This oft-repeated fallacy is the underlying theme of The Working Poor. The victims of our deaf nation that spoke with Shipler for the book weren’t out of work – all of them were employed, but yet all were slowly sinking from subsistence to destitution – as they chased the unobtainable American Dream. Forty years after Lyndon B. Johnson’s declaration of war on poverty, it is clear that we, as a nation, are losing the war. In 1969, the bottom 40% of United States citizens earned 15.0% of the total income, yet by 2001, despite phenomenal economic growth, the same percentage earned 11.2%. 6 This change is a cause for concern for Shipler, one that sparked his exploration of America’s working poor – the employed people who are caught in the dream-swallowing trap of poverty. Shipler presents the poverty pandemic as the result of a series of mutually exacerbating, self-perpetuating, cause-and-effect cycles that cause the poor to fall increasingly behind the wealthy. The working poor face a constellation of difficulties that magnify one another: low wages, low education, dead-end jobs, limited abilities, insurmountable loan rates, insufficient savings, unwise spending, stratagemical check-cashing systems, poor housing, poor parenting, lack of healthcare, lack of safe households, exploitative employers, muted political voice, overworked teachers, defeated and unruly students, deteriorating neighborhoods, bureaucrats who cheat the poor and the poor who frequently cheat themselves. 7
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The Working Poor FINAL ESSAY - The Plight of the Working...

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