The Working Poor in America

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The Working Poor in America The concept of the "working poor" has gained prominence in the post-welfare reform era. As welfare rolls shrunk, the focus shifted from the dependent poor to the working poor. It was obvious that without substantial outside support, even families with full-time low-wage workers were still earning less than the official poverty line. And while American society purports that anyone can prosper if they work hard enough, it became apparent that with inadequate opportunity or bad luck, a growing number of families could not attain the American dream, or even break the cycle of poverty. The new challenge for American social policy is to help the working poor lift themselves out of poverty. That's why progressives who supported ending welfare as we know it have set a new goal -- the government should "make work pay" so that no one who works full time is poor. After substantial decreases in the 1990s, poverty rates stopped their decline in 2000 and have actually started to again creep upward. The great conundrum of how one simultaneously alleviates the multiple causes of poverty has become a central obstacle to poverty reduction. Into this debate comes author David Shipler, a former New York Times Pulitzer Prize winner, with an aptly titled look at the state of poverty in America today, The Working Poor. Shipler's book is more anecdotal and descriptive than analytical and prescriptive. Yet it is a valuable portrait of poverty in America, just as Michael Harrington's landmark book, The Other America, was in 1962. While he does not offer many concrete solutions, Shipler provides readers with an intimate glimpse of the plight of the working poor, whose lives are in sharp contrast to the images of excess w... ... middle of paper ... ... funding and direction, including those of local government and philanthropy, are critical to tailoring programs to the specific needs of local communities, and should be leveraged through federal funding. The final ingredient is responsibility, both personal and collective. Individuals must be empowered to improve their own lives, and the community must support the effort rather than look the other way, or looking past the working poor, who can so easily blend into the background. Shipler concludes the book with these thoughts: "Workers at the edge of poverty are essential to America's prosperity, but their well-being is not treated as an integral part of the whole. Instead, the forgotten wage a daily struggle to keep themselves from falling over the cliff. It is time to be ashamed." No, it is time to move past the ideology and make work pay for all Americans.
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