Missing Class: Portraits of the Near Poor in America

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"This book is ... about the millions of people who hold down two or three jobs ... and struggle to find time to read to their kids ... It's about the people who have made it out of poverty, but for how long? ... Through meticulous research, Katharine and Victor tell the personal stories of nine families ... You'll find yourself rooting, as I did, for each and every one of them. In sharing their lives and struggles, these families have done more to educate than any set of statistics or government report ever could. Policymakers, journalists, think tanks, and people of good conscience everywhere must take notice ... [The Missing Class] is a call to action to change America ... Like other books that transformed our nation, [it] will inspire us to work for ... an America where the family you were born into or the color of your skin never controls your destiny."
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Impoverishment, unfortunately, doesn't begin at the poverty line. Government definitions of poverty might be comforting, but floating slightly above that line are members of "the missing class," the 57 million Americans (including more than 20 percent of the nation's children) who struggle month after month with housing, education, and health care costs. This pioneering work explores the serious predicaments of families in the still precarious niche between the "working poor" and the middle class.
Publishers Weekly

In this compassionate and clear-eyed analysis, sociologist Newman and journalist Chen posit that the middle class gains of the 1990s have been imperiled by the recent rollback of New Deal-style government aid. Millions of Americans climbed above the poverty line at the end of the 20th century, but since then, the risk of falling back has grown substantially. This policy-oriented collection of case studies addresses the plight of the 57 million near-poor, a largely overlooked "missing class" just out of reach of public assistance. Despite decent wages, the authors argue, the near-poor are saddled with various burdens that keep them hovering one disaster away from outright poverty and put their children at high risk of sliding down the economic ladder. Drawing on interviews conducted from 1995 to 2002 with families and public service professionals in the New York area, the authors chart in alternately uplifting and dismal detail the distinct perspectives of several low-income households. While they don't address those entering the missing class from above and perhaps too easily extrapolate from their conclusions, Newman and Chen contribute significantly to the dialogue on America's widening inequities. (Sept.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
The lives of nine families just barely scraping by in four New York City neighborhoods. Puerto Ricans in Sunset Park, Dominicans in Washington Heights, African-Americans in Fort Greene and Clinton Hill, they all fall into the authors' "missing class": the 57-million Americans (one fifth of the population) living just above the truly poor but below the middle class. Newman (Sociology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.; A Different Shade of Gray: Mid-Life and Beyond in the Inner City, 2003, etc.) and Chen (editor of INTHEFRAY Magazine) got to know these families and their neighborhoods well between 1995 to 2002. Assisted by a fieldwork research team, they interviewed employers, teachers, community leaders, police and various service providers in addition to the family members themselves. What characterizes the missing class, the authors conclude, is precariousness: a single incident, such as the loss of a job, an accident, illness or divorce, can plunge its members downward into poverty. They work hard, sometimes holding down two jobs, but they don't have bank accounts, don't own their homes and have little or no health insurance. Most run continuous balances on their credit cards, paying high interest rates and large fees. They lack the time to supervise their children and are often saddled with the additional responsibility of poverty-stricken relatives who ask for money or move in. In nearly overwhelming detail, Newman and Chen create a grim picture of what life is like without a safety net. These "forgotten but vital" Americans deserve respect for what they have already accomplished, the authors assert, and they need society's support in housing, education, health care and job trainingif they are to keep hold of the gains they have made. The concluding chapter examines specific strategies for facilitating home and car ownership, encouraging savings, bringing grocery stores to underserved neighborhoods, reducing school dropout rates and making college accessible and affordable. The many fragmented individual stories tend to blur together, but the message comes through loud and clear. Agent: Lisa Adams/Garamond Agency
From the Publisher
In this compassionate and clear-eyed analysis . . . Newman and Chen contribute significantly to the dialogue on America's widening inequities. —Publishers Weekly

"The Missing Class is a call to action to change America."—Senator John Edwards

"At last, a focus on people who struggle from month to month with housing, health care and education costs but don't fit into the government's comfortingly minimalist definition of poverty. Newman and Chen give us a vivid, close-up, and often moving look at the urban 'near poor.' An excellent follow-up to Newman's essential body of work on America's economic anxieties."—Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed

"Just above the artificial 'poverty line,' millions of hard-working people struggle invisibly to gain a foothold on the promise of the American Dream. Their raw hardships and persistent hopes, collected in this book of unflinching portraits, ought to sound the alarm for an America grown complacent."—David Shipler, author of The Working Poor: Invisible in America

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807041390
  • Publisher: Beacon
  • Publication date: 9/5/2007
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Katherine Newman is professor of sociology and James Knapp Dean of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences at Johns Hopkins University. Author of ten books on middle-class economic instability, urban poverty, and the sociology of inequality, Newman has taught at the University of California-Berkeley, Columbia, Harvard, and Princeton.

Victor Tan Chen is the founding editor and president of INTHEFRAY Magazine (http://inthefray.org/), an award-winning publication that seeks to question, inform, and inspire conversations about identity and community. His work has appeared in numerous publications, including Newsday and the Minority Law Journal, and in the book Chutes and Ladders. He is a Harvard doctoral candidate in sociology and social policy.

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Table of Contents

Foreword   Senator John Edwards     ix
The Missing Class     1
Whose Neighborhood Is This Anyway?     11
The American Dream, in Monthly Installments     47
The Sacrificed Generation     83
In Sickness and in Health     119
Romance without Finance Is a Nuisance     149
On the Edge: Plunging Out of the Missing Class     177
Missing Class Mobility     203
Acknowledgments and a Note on Methods     227
Notes     231
Index     253
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