The American Way of Poverty: How the Other Half Still Lives

Overview


A New York Times Notable Book of the Year

Fifty years after Michael Harrington published his groundbreaking book The Other America, in which he chronicled the lives of people excluded from the Age of Affluence, poverty in America is back with a vengeance. It is made up of both the long-term chronically poor and new working poor—the tens of millions of victims of a broken economy and an ever more dysfunctional political system. In many ways, ...

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Overview


A New York Times Notable Book of the Year

Fifty years after Michael Harrington published his groundbreaking book The Other America, in which he chronicled the lives of people excluded from the Age of Affluence, poverty in America is back with a vengeance. It is made up of both the long-term chronically poor and new working poor—the tens of millions of victims of a broken economy and an ever more dysfunctional political system. In many ways, for the majority of Americans, financial insecurity has become the new norm.

The American Way of Poverty shines a light on this travesty. Sasha Abramsky brings the effects of economic inequality out of the shadows and, ultimately, suggests ways for moving toward a fairer and more equitable social contract. Exploring everything from housing policy to wage protections and affordable higher education, Abramsky lays out a panoramic blueprint for a reinvigorated political process that, in turn, will pave the way for a renewed War on Poverty.

It is, Harrington believed, a moral outrage that in a country as wealthy as America, so many people could be so poor. Written in the wake of the 2008 financial collapse, in an era of grotesque economic extremes, The American Way of Poverty brings that same powerful indignation to the topic.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - David K. Shipler
[Abramsky] travels the United States meeting the poor, whose wrenching tales he inserts in tight vignettes among data-driven analyses and acute dissections of government programs…Abramsky has written an ambitious book that both describes and prescribes. He reaches across a wide range of issues—including education, housing and criminal justice—in a sweeping panorama of poverty's elements. Assembling them in one volume forces him to be superficial on occasion, but that price is worth paying to get the broad scope. In considering solutions, it's crucial to understand how the disparate problems of poor families interact in mutual reinforcement…Abramsky has invited serious rethinking and issued a significant call to action.
Publishers Weekly
Destitution, squalor, loneliness, and despair are the distinctive features of lower-class America in this searing exposé. Recalling Michael Harrington's The Other America, journalist Abramsky (Inside Obama's Brain) meets and profiles an extraordinary range of people and predicaments: indigent retirees at food pantries; Mexican migrant laborers in desert shantytowns; a middle-class professional woman reduced to prostitution after a spell of unemployment; low-wage workers unable to make ends meet and forced into a daily "‘eat or heat'" dilemma. He shows us the persistence of brute hunger, homelessness, and deprivation, but also sensitively probes the psychic wounds—of being too poor to sustain friendships and social life, of feeling like a worthless cast-off in a society that worships wealth. The author sharply critiques the skimpy benefits and humiliating regulations of current welfare programs and lambastes conservatives who want to further shred the safety net. His prescription for a "Robin Hood" program—a laundry list of new entitlements, minimum-wage hikes, public works, and the like—lacks focus, but has the inestimable virtue of throwing money at people who sorely need it. Abramsky's is a challenging indictment of an economy in which poverty and inequality at the bottom seem like the foundation for prosperity at the top. Photos. Agent: Jim Levine, Levine Greenberg Agency. (Sept.)
From the Publisher

"Abramsky has written an ambitious book that both describes and prescribes. He reaches across a wised range of issues-including education, housing and criminal justice- in a sweeping panorama of poverty's elements. Assembling them in one volume forces him to be superficial on occasion, but that price is worth paying to get the broad scope... Abramsky has invited serious rethinking and issued a significant call to action."
David Shipler, New York Times Book Review

"[An] extraordinary book... extremely well researched and thorough..."
Los Angeles Review of Books

"Abramsky's approach is both heartbreaking in its look at the humans who are affected and inspiring in his explanations of how poverty can be addressed and improved... The American Way of Poverty is likely to cause fear--almost no one is exempt from unplanned disasters--but it is also likely to motivate: there are answers; this country can and should improve. Well researched and documented, Abramsky's eye-opening book should be required reading for all U.S. citizens."
Shelf Awareness

"[A] searing exposé... Abramsky's is a challenging indictment of an economy in which poverty and inequality at the bottom seem like the foundation for prosperity at the top."
Publishers Weekly, (starred review)

“[This] portrait of poverty is one of great complexity and diversity, existential loneliness and desperation—but also amazing resilience…Abramsky’s well-researched, deeply felt depiction of poverty is eye-opening, and his outrage is palpable. He aims to stimulate discussion, but whether his message provokes action remains to be seen.”
Kirkus Reviews

"Abramsky's portraits of the poor illustrate three striking points: the isolation, diversity-people with no jobs and people with multiple jobs-and resilience of the poor. Drawing on ideas from a broad array of equality advocates, Abramsky offers detailed policies to address poverty, including reform in education, immigration, energy, taxation, criminal justice, housing, Social Security, and Medicaid, as well as analysis of tax and spending policies that could reduce inequities."
Booklist

"Sasha Abramsky takes us deep into the long dark night of poverty in America, and it’s a harrowing trip. His research and remarkable insights have resulted in a book that is stunning in its intensity."
Bob Herbert, Distinguished Senior Fellow at Demos and former Op-Ed columnist for the New York Times

"Incisive and necessary, The American Way of Poverty is a call to action."
Lynn Nottage, Pulitzer-prize-winning playwright

“This is a devastating, passionate, and important investigative work.”
Joe Sacco, author of Palestine, Footnotes in Gaza, and co-author of Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt

"This urgent and compassionate inquiry breaks the pact of silence in which politicians refuse to talk about poverty and journalists refuse to investigate it. The spirit of Studs Terkel lives on in Sasha Abramsky. He listens to ordinary Americans speak hauntingly about their struggles to survive in a social welfare system designed by Franz Kafka. Every page reports an outrage, a chord in what might have become a requiem for the American Dream, were it not for Abramsky’s conviction that change is possible."
Raj Patel, author of Stuffed and Starved and The Value of Nothing

"Sasha Abramsky writes compellingly and correctly that poverty is the 'canary' in the coal mine of our democracy. Moving stories are the fabric of the story of what we face as a nation as income disparity continues to increase. But this is more than a lament! It is a policy roadmap to reclaiming the most vibrant part of our nation: 'We the People.'”
Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, Executive Director of NETWORK and leader of the Nuns on the Bus

Kirkus Reviews
An updating of Michael Harrington's influential 1962 report on poverty, The Other America, written in the hope that it, too, will launch a new war on poverty. For 18 months, freelance journalist Abramsky (Inside Obama's Brain, 2009, etc.), creator of the oral history project Voices of Poverty, traveled across more than half the states in the country to talk with the newly poor and the long-term destitute. These interviews, many of which can be heard on the project's website, form the bulk of the first part of the book, "The Voices of Poverty." They are accompanied by data from documented sources and hard statistics and by the author's analysis of what he discovered as he looked into such issues as jobs, wages, health care, housing and education. His portrait of poverty is one of great complexity and diversity, existential loneliness and desperation--but also amazing resilience. In the second section, "Building a New and Better House," Abramsky calls for basic changes in the economic landscape to reduce poverty. He bases his proposal on four major revenue sources: a public-works fund; an educational-opportunity fund; a poverty-mitigation fund backed by a financial transaction tax and energy profit taxes; and higher taxes on capital gains and high-end incomes and inheritances. He spells out in some detail just how this money could be used to bring about a more equitable social compact in America. The author sees this as a moral imperative that will require an informed, proactive electorate and a citizen-led push for reform. Abramsky's well-researched, deeply felt depiction of poverty is eye-opening, and his outrage is palpable. He aims to stimulate discussion, but whether his message provokes action remains to be seen.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781568584607
  • Publisher: Nation Books
  • Publication date: 8/26/2014
  • Edition description: First Trade Paper Edition
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 212,719
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author


Sasha Abramsky is a freelance journalist and a part-time lecturer at the University of California at Davis. His work has appeared in the Nation, The Atlantic Monthly, New York magazine, The Village Voice, and Rolling Stone. Originally from England and a graduate of Oxford University, he has since adopted his mother’s homeland of America and now lives in Sacramento, CA with his wife, daughter and son. He has a master’s degree from Columbia University School of Journalism. In 2000 he was awarded a Soros Society, Crime, and Communities Media Fellowship, and he is currently a Senior Fellow at the New York City-based Demos think tank.
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