A People's History of Poverty in America

A People's History of Poverty in America

by Stephen Pimpare
     
 

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In this compulsively readable social history, political scientist Stephen Pimpare vividly describes poverty from the perspective of poor and welfare-reliant Americans from the big city to the rural countryside. He focuses on how the poor have created community, secured shelter, and found food and illuminates their battles for dignity and respect.

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Overview

In this compulsively readable social history, political scientist Stephen Pimpare vividly describes poverty from the perspective of poor and welfare-reliant Americans from the big city to the rural countryside. He focuses on how the poor have created community, secured shelter, and found food and illuminates their battles for dignity and respect.

Through prodigious archival research and lucid analysis, Pimpare details the ways in which charity and aid for the poor have been inseparable, more often than not, from the scorn and disapproval of those who would help them. In the rich and often surprising historical testimonies he has collected from the poor in America, Pimpare overturns any simple conclusions about how the poor see themselves or what it feels like to be poor—and he shows clearly that the poor are all too often aware that charity comes with a price. It is that price that Pimpare eloquently questions in this book, reminding us through powerful anecdotes, some heart-wrenching and some surprisingly humorous, that poverty is not simply a moral failure.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

Pimpare (political science, Yeshiva Coll.; The New Victorians: Poverty, Politics, and Propaganda in Two Gilded Ages) has written a concise and distinctive bottom-up history, arguing that there are myths about America's poor that have been around since our country's founding. Some of the myths include the belief that being poor is a moral failure and that the poor are lazy, buy too many "luxury" items, and have more children just to stay on welfare. Pimpare knocks down these myths one by one, lifting us from our ignorance in the process. The book's strength is the use of firsthand accounts from the poor, but while this is not a comprehensive history of policy, policy is not ignored. Pimpare is honest about his viewpoints, which might put off some politically conservative readers. He supports an improved welfare state, noting that historically, the United States has done a bad job of helping the poor, especially in the last 40 years. His arguments are provocative and are welcome in the study of public policy. Recommended for academic libraries.
—Bryan Craig

Kirkus Reviews

Illuminating history of America's poor, disproving many stereotypes while emphasizing that the social safety net varies "depending upon who you are, when you live, and where you live."

As Barbara Ehrenreich showed in Nickel and Dimed (2001), and as social historian Pimpare (American Politics and Social Welfare Policy, Yeshiva Univ.; The New Victorians: Poverty, Politics, and Propaganda in Two Gilded Ages, 2004) accords, the poor are seldom deserving of their status. Most have a steady history of work, at least when it is available; most of the chronically poor are disabled and cannot work, or are under or over working age, so that, as Pimpare wryly puts it, "most poor people are ‘deserving'…due to old age, youth, or infirmity." Those who do work are at the mercy of economic shifts, but then so is everyone. As Pimpare also demonstrates, aspects of poverty are strongly correlated to ethnicity, health, education and many other markers. Substantial numbers of the poor today, as in the past, are homeless; Pimpare reckons that some "14 percent of all Americans are homeless at least once," a count augmented by returning veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. Even the homeless work, he adds, "if not consistently." The consequences of poverty are not just a lack of money or material goods: With poverty comes poor health, obesity ("high-calorie, high-fat, and high-sugar foods are typically cheaper than more nutritionally rich fresh foods"), victimization by crime and violence and often encountering government not through welfare agencies but through the police and prison. Pimpare allows that the absolute rate of poverty has been declining: It was 40 percent in 1900, 25 percent in the mid '50sand less than 15 percent today. Small solace to the poor, though, for, as Pimpare remarks, "Most Americans…aspire to more than mere subsistence." Surrounded by opulence, who can fault them?

A useful counter against those who blame the poor for their bad luck.

From the Publisher

“Reveals not only the terrible want but the sharply punishing indignity of being poor in a culture that celebrates affluence.”
—Frances Fox Piven, author of Poor People’s Movements

“The voices of the poor give valuable insights into the experience of poverty.”
Choice

“A must read for anyone interested in learning the real story of poverty, social welfare policy, and social change.”
—Mimi Abramovitz, Hunter College School of Social Work and the Graduate Center, CUNY

“A concise and distinctive bottom-up history.”
Library Journal

“This book is long overdue. Stephen Pimpare reveals how long-standing American societal prejudices have led to poverty policy that regulates, exploits, and dehumanizes the poor rather than addressing the root causes.”
—Sondra Youdelman, Community Voices Heard

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781595586964
Publisher:
New Press, The
Publication date:
06/07/2011
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
336
Sales rank:
873,421
File size:
576 KB

Meet the Author

Stephen Pimpare is the author of The New Victorians: Poverty, Politics, and Propaganda in Two Gilded Ages (The New Press).

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