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So Rich, So Poor: Why It's So Hard to End Poverty in America

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Income disparities in our wealthy nation are now wider than at any point since the Great Depression. The structure of today’s economy has stultified wage growth for half of America’s workers—with even worse results at the bottom and for people of color—while bestowing billions on those at the top.

In this “accessible and inspiring analysis” (Angela Glover Blackwell), lifelong anti­–poverty advocate Peter Edelman assesses how the United States can have such an outsized number of unemployed and working poor despite important policy gains. He delves into what is happening to the people behind the statistics and takes a particular look at young people of color for whom the possibility of productive lives is too often lost on the way to adulthood. In a timely new introduction, Edelman discusses the significance of Obama’s reelection—including the rediscovery of the word “poverty”—as well as the continuing attack on the poor from the right.

“Engaging and informative” (William Julius Wilson), “powerful and eloquent” (Wade Henderson), “a national treasure composed by a wise man” (George McGovern), and “a great source for summaries of our country’s antipoverty program” (Publishers Weekly), So Rich, So Poor is crucial reading for anyone who wants to understand the most critical American dilemma of the twenty-first century.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In 1996, Edelman resigned from the Clinton administration in protest against the president’s signing welfare reform legislation. Here, the Georgetown University law professor sharply criticizes the guidelines perpetuating poverty in the U.S., lambasting conservative politicians while ascribing blame for everything from the deteriorating financial situation of single mothers to the current economic crisis. Assiduously detailed and rife with figures carefully selected to support his claims, Edelman provides readers an informative and inclusive analysis of the American wealth distribution and welfare system. However, some may find Edelman’s frequent forays into self-aggrandizement tiresome, while others may see this work as a thinly veiled excuse to praise liberal politicians of his personal acquaintance, as well as members of his own family. Edelman’s tendency to make sweeping generalizations regarding entire segments of the population is sure to resonate with many of his admirers, but will strike neutral parties as lacking in intellectual objectivity. This slim volume is a great source for summaries of our country’s antipoverty program, but despite the author’s expertise in the area, cannot be trusted to offer an unbiased exploration of its effects on society. (May)
Kirkus Reviews
Edelman (Georgetown University Law Center; Searching for America's Heart: RFK and the Renewal of Hope, 2001, etc.) examines the continuing problem of poverty in the United States. The author worked for Robert F. Kennedy on poverty issues and resigned from the Clinton administration because of disagreements over welfare reform. He contends that America has come to a turning point. "We are headed in the wrong direction," he writes. "The hole we are in is getting deeper and deeper. The costs of not doing the right thing now for all of our children are going to get higher and higher." Though a lot has been accomplished since the 1960s--e.g., food stamps, the earned-income tax credit and the indexing of Social Security to inflation--there is still plenty of work to be done. Children are one of the author's major litmus tests. There are more children in poverty than ever, a fact that Edelman partly attributes to the low-wage economy, which has been adopted since the '70s, as well as the resurgence of unprecedented income inequality. "An astonishing 20.5 million people lived in extreme poverty in 2010," writes the author, "up by nearly 8 million in just ten years, and 6 million had no income other than food stamps." Further, there is no state in the country where a worker on the federal minimum wage would be able to pay the rent for a single or two-bedroom apartment. Edelman depicts a growing impoverished population cycling between low-income work and dependence on extended family and friends. Without serious efforts to improve the quality of employment and address community and family issues, the situation will only get worse. Unfortunately, such improvement is questionable in the current political climate. A competent, thorough assessment from a veteran expert in the field.
From the Publisher

"If there is one essential book on the great tragedy of poverty and inequality in America, this is it. Peter Edelman is masterful on the issue. With a real–world grasp of politics and the economy, Edelman makes a brilliantly compelling case for what can and must be done."
—Bob Herbert

"Before we have one more discussion of how America can combat its persistent and growing levels of poverty, could everyone please read this book?"
—Barbara Ehrenreich

"If you are a layperson, [So Rich, So Poor] is a chance to absorb more than you probably ever realized is at the heart of the fight against poverty; if you are someone who has long been involved in the fight against poverty, I have little doubt you will find new ideas, angles, or inspiration in these pages."
—Greg Kaufmann, The Nation

Bloomberg News

"[Edelman’s] compassionate and singular voice awakens our conscience and calls us to action."
—Ethel Kennedy

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781595587855
  • Publisher: New Press, The
  • Publication date: 5/29/2012
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 463,677
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter Edelman is a professor at Georgetown University Law Center. A top adviser to Senator Robert F. Kennedy from 1964 to 1968, he went on to fill various roles in President Bill Clinton’s administration, from which he famously resigned in protest after Clinton signed the 1996 welfare reform legislation. He lives in Washington, D.C.
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Table of Contents

Introduction xi

1 A Snapshot of Our Current Mess 1

2 What We Have Accomplished 7

3 Why Are We Stuck? 25

4 Jobs: The Economy and Public Policy Go South (for Most of Us) 47

5 Deep Poverty: A Gigantic Hole in the Safety Net 81

6 Concentrated Poverty: "The Abandoned" 101

7 Young People: Improving the Odds 137

Conclusion 159

Acknowledgments 163

Notes 165

Index 175

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 22, 2012

    Fascinating and easy to read.

    I was assigned this book for a course in one of my Grad. school classes. This book gives a raw and open account of poverty in the United States. Parts of this book were infuriating to me because I could not believe some of the barriers put in place to restrict the impoverished from overcoming poverty. Exploitative power is shameful. Educational and Worth a read!!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 16, 2012

    Horribly written

    Full of demented ramblings.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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