The Working Poor: Invisible in America

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Overview

“Nobody who works hard should be poor in America,” writes Pulitzer Prize winner David Shipler. Clear-headed, rigorous, and compassionate, he journeys deeply into the lives of individual store clerks and factory workers, farm laborers and sweat-shop seamstresses, illegal immigrants in menial jobs and Americans saddled with immense student loans and paltry wages. They are known as the working poor.

They perform labor essential to America’s comfort. They are white and black, Latino and Asian--men and women in small ...

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Overview

“Nobody who works hard should be poor in America,” writes Pulitzer Prize winner David Shipler. Clear-headed, rigorous, and compassionate, he journeys deeply into the lives of individual store clerks and factory workers, farm laborers and sweat-shop seamstresses, illegal immigrants in menial jobs and Americans saddled with immense student loans and paltry wages. They are known as the working poor.

They perform labor essential to America’s comfort. They are white and black, Latino and Asian--men and women in small towns and city slums trapped near the poverty line, where the margins are so tight that even minor setbacks can cause devastating chain reactions. Shipler shows how liberals and conservatives are both partly right–that practically every life story contains failure by both the society and the individual. Braced by hard fact and personal testimony, he unravels the forces that confine people in the quagmire of low wages. And unlike most works on poverty, this book also offers compelling portraits of employers struggling against razor-thin profits and competition from abroad. With pointed recommendations for change that challenge Republicans and Democrats alike, The Working Poor stands to make a difference.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This is clearly one of those seminal books that every American should read and read now." —The New York Times Book Review

" An essential book. . . . It should be required reading not just for every member of Congress, but for every eligible voter." —The Washington Post Book World

“Sensitive, sometimes heart-rending . . . . A vivid portrait of the struggle of the working poor to acquire steady, decently paid employment.” –Commentary

"Insightful and moving. . . . Shipler writes with enormous grace [and] he captures the immense frustration endured by the working poor as few others have." —The Nation

"Welcome and important. . . . Shipler manages to see all aspects of poverty—psychological, personal, societal—and examine how they're related. . . . There is much here to ponder for conservatives and liberals alike." —The Seattle Times

The New York Times
As a witness Mr. Shipler is indefatigable. Interviewing cashiers and seamstresses, burger flippers and migrant workers a dozen or more times, he has gotten them to open up and share the grim realities of their lives … by exposing the wretched condition of these invisible Americans, he has performed a noble and badly needed service. — Michael Massing
The Washington Post
The Working Poor and Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed, a book that eloquently covers some of the same ground, should be required reading not just for every member of Congress, but for every eligible voter. Now that this invisible world has been so powerfully brought to light, its consequences can no longer be ignored or denied. — Eric Schlosser
Publishers Weekly
This guided and very personal tour through the lives of the working poor shatters the myth that America is a country in which prosperity and security are the inevitable rewards of gainful employment. Armed with an encyclopedic collection of artfully deployed statistics and individual stories, Shipler, former New York Times reporter and Pulitzer winner for Arab and Jew, identifies and describes the interconnecting obstacles that keep poor workers and those trying to enter the work force after a lifetime on welfare from achieving economic stability. This America is populated by people of all races and ethnicities, whose lives, Shipler effectively shows, are Sisyphean, and that includes the teachers and other professionals who deal with the realities facing the working poor. Dr. Barry Zuckerman, a Boston pediatrician, discovers that landlords do nothing when he calls to tell them that unsafe housing is a factor in his young patients' illnesses; he adds lawyers to his staff, and they get a better response. In seeking out those who employ subsistence wage earners, such as garment-industry shop owners and farmers, Shipler identifies the holes in the social safety net. "The system needs to be straightened out," says one worker who, in 1999, was making $6.80 an hour-80 cents more than when she started factory work in 1970. "They need more resources to be able to help these people who are trying to help themselves." Attention needs to be paid, because Shipler's subjects are too busy working for substandard wages to call attention to themselves. They do not, he writes, "have the luxury of rage." 40,000 first printing. (Feb. 6) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
KLIATT
When customers are served by associates in a store or restaurant, enter a freshly cleaned hotel room, or choose freshly picked foods at the grocery store, they benefit from the labor of the working poor. Shipler has interviewed persons of many colors and ethnicities to put together a picture of what their lives are like. He notes the effect on their lives of kinship groups, corporations, social attitudes, emergencies, job training programs, family dysfunction, foreign competition, and other impacts. He is chary of theories and ideologies that would put them in neat categories and of judgments that assign blame for their poverty. He looks at the decisions individuals have made (or not made), and the policies and blocks, public and private, that bar access to better living standards. The book is well written, the anecdotes revealing; Shipler does better than most at putting a human face on the statistics that list those who live on the lowest wages in the US. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2004, Random House, Vintage, 329p. notes. index., Ages 15 to adult.
—Edna Boardman
Library Journal
A book by a Pulitzer Prize winner (Arab and Jew), with an announced first printing of 40,000 copies by a prestigious trade publisher and prepub kudos by Bill Bradley and Robert Reich, is sure to capture a certain amount of media attention. If this happens, it will be well deserved. Shipler is informed and impassioned about the plight of the surprisingly diverse and numerous Americans who work but still walk the official poverty line. This conundrum is complex and rife with interlocking problems, including dead-end jobs that offer little or no healthcare benefits and depressing home and workplace environments. Not the least of these burdens is the widely held belief that poverty is related to indolence. Shipler takes a many-faceted view of this Sisyphean bind, and in his final chapter, "Skill and Will," he offers some thoughts on solutions. His writing style is highly effective and often moving, such as when he notes that our forgotten wage earners engage in "a daily struggle to keep themselves from falling over the cliff." Recommended for all collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 10/1/03.]-Ellen D. Gilbert, Princeton, NJ Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A damning report on poverty in America. In The Mystery of Capital (2000), economist Hernando de Soto wondered why the Third World's poor lack the fungible assets that their American counterparts hold-assets that keep them from being, well, so poor. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Shipler (A Country of Strangers, 1997) reveals that this may be illusory: for many of the men and women he portrays here, any property of worth has been mortgaged and remortgaged, and when it is sold, often in a hurry and for less than it's worth, any proceeds go to paying down the mountains of debt that the poor accumulate. These American poor-natives and immigrants alike-"suffer in good times and bad," writes Shipler. They are sometimes the victims of addiction, ignorance, and bad choices; in most instances, however, the working poor are single mothers and single wage-earners with several children and few options. The larger culture misunderstands the causes of poverty, Shipler argues, "and is therefore uncertain about the solutions," though the solutions are there: in a surprising moment, a Wal-Mart manager in rural New England reveals that the store could easily afford to pay its employees two dollars an hour more. (One of his interview subjects made $6 an hour in a Vermont factory in the mid-1970s; 25 years later, now a Wal-Mart clerk, she was up to $6.80.) Traveling from big box stores to Los Angeles sweatshops to farms to public-housing projects, Shipler offers memorable portraits of the women and men who figure as afterthoughts in just about every politician's vision of the American future-even though, Shipler notes, had the poor voted, Al Gore would have been swept into office in 2000: "an upsurge inlow-income numbers would have overcome even Florida's biased registration and balloting system." A sobering work of investigation, as incisive-and necessary-as kindred reports by Michael Harrington, Jacob Riis, and Barbara Ehrenreich. First printing of 40,000. Agency: ICM
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375708213
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/4/2005
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 76,339
  • Product dimensions: 7.94 (w) x 5.12 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

David K. Shipler worked for the New York Times from 1966 to 1988, reporting from New York, Saigon, Moscow, and Jerusalem before serving as chief diplomatic correspondent in Washington, D.C. He has also written for The New Yorker, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times. He is the author of three other books–Russia: Broken Idols, Solemn Dreams; the Pulitzer Prize–winning Arab and Jew: Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land; and A Country of Strangers: Blacks and Whites in America. Mr. Shipler, who has been a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution and a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, has taught at Princeton University, at American University in Washington, D.C., and at Dartmouth College. He lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland.
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One
Money and Its Opposite
You know, Mom, being poor is very expensive. —Sandy Brash, at age twelve

Tax time in poor neighborhoods is not April. It is January. And “income tax” isn’t what you pay; it’s what you receive. As soon as the W-2s arrive, working folks eager for their checks from the Internal Revenue Service hurry to the tax preparers, who have flourished and gouged impoverished laborers since the welfare time limits enacted by Congress in 1996. The checks that come from Washington include not only a refund of taxes withheld, but an additional payment known as the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is designed to subsidize low-wage working families. The refunds and subsidies are sometimes banked for savings toward a car, a house, an education; but they are often needed immediately for overdue bills and large purchases that can’t be funded from the trickle of wages throughout the year.

Christie, a child-care worker in Akron, earned too little to owe taxes but got $1,700 as an Earned Income Credit one year, which enabled her to avoid the Salvation Army’s used-furniture store and instead buy a new matching set of comfortable black couches and loveseats for her living room in public housing.

Caroline Payne’s check went for a down payment on her house in New Hampshire. “I used my income tax and paid a thousand down,” she said proudly. When she sold it five and a half years later and her daughter lent her money to rent a truck for her move, she planned to pay her back “when I get my taxes.”

“I’m waitin’ for my income tax to come in so I can pay my real estate taxes,” said Tom King, a single father and lumberjack who lived in a trailer on his own land.

Debra Hall, who had started at a Cleveland bakery, was keen with anticipation after filing her first tax return. “I’ll get $3,079 back! What am I gonna do with it? Pay all my bills off,” she declared, “and I haven’t had anything new in the house. Do some good with it, that’s for sure. Minor repairs on my car. The bills are first, for my credit [rating], to get all my back debts paid. It will be well spent.”

The Earned Income Tax Credit is one of those rare anti-poverty programs that appeal both to liberals and conservatives, invoking the virtue of both government help and self-help. You don’t get it unless you have some earned income, and since its payments are linked to your tax return, you don’t get it unless you file one. That leaves out low-wage workers—especially undocumented immigrants—who get paid under the table in cash and think they’re better off avoiding the IRS. By filing, however, they would end up ahead, because they’d get to keep everything they earned and would receive a payment on top of that. The benefits kick in at fairly high levels—at earnings of less than $33,692, for example, for a worker who supported more than one child in 2003. At the lower income levels, the Earned Income Tax Credit can add the equivalent of a dollar or two an hour to a worker’s wage.

Enacted in 1975, the program was expanded under Presidents Reagan, Bush, and Clinton, and in 2003 paid more than $32 billion to 18 million households. Treasury officials worry about erroneous claims, honest or fraudulent, which may rise to 27 to 32 percent of the total.1 On the other hand, an estimated 10 to 15 percent of those eligible don’t file for it,2 partly because employers and unions often don’t tell workers that it exists. The presidents of two local unions in Washington, D.C., for example, one representing janitors and the other parking garage attendants, had never heard of the Earned Income Tax Credit until I mentioned it to them. And I have not yet come across a single worker or boss who knew that with a simple form called a W-5, filed with the employer, a low-wage employee could get some of the payments in advance during the year. When I mentioned the W-5 to Debra Hall and she then asked at her bakery, the woman who handled the payroll waved her away impatiently and said she knew nothing about it. Later, the tax preparer told Debra it was better just to wait and get the payment in one lump sum after she filed her return.

It sure is better—if you’re the preparer. With cunning creativity, the preparers have devised schemes to separate low-wage workers from as much of their refunds and Earned Income Credits as feasible. The marvel of electronic filing, the speedy direct deposit into a bank account, the high-interest loan masquerading as a “rapid refund” all promise a sudden flush of dollars to cash-starved families. The trouble is, getting money costs money.

The preparers operate from sleazy check-cashing joints and from street-level outposts of respectable corporations. They do for a hefty fee what their clients could do for themselves for free with the math skills and the courage to tackle a 1040, or with a computer and a bank account to speed filing and receipt. But most low-wage workers don’t have the math, the courage, or the computer, and many don’t even have the bank account. They are so desperate for the check that they give up a precious $100 or so to get everything done quickly and correctly. “You get so scared,” said Debra Hall, who paid $95 to have her simple return done after ending twenty-one years of welfare. “I don’t know why it’s so scary, but I’d rather have it done right the first time.”

She was probably wise, because another disadvantage of being poor is that you’ve been more likely since 1999 to face an audit by the IRS. In that year, 1.36 percent of the returns filed by taxpayers making under $25,000 were audited, compared with 1.15 percent of those making $100,000 or more. The scrutiny was instigated by Republican congressional leaders who feared abuses of the Earned Income Tax Credit. In the face of bad publicity, the IRS shifted the balance in 2000 by auditing 0.6 percent of those under $25,000 versus 1.0 percent of those over $100,000. Thereafter, the audit rate tilted back and forth, to .86 and .69 percent, respectively, in 2001, then to .64 and .75 in 2002.3 In other words, as the IRS lost enforcement personnel, it dramatically reduced its scrutiny of well-to-do taxpayers, whose returns were once audited at the rate of 10 percent. This despite the fact that audits at the upper levels of income naturally tend to recover more dollars in lost revenue.

Evon Johnson never dared do another return herself after the IRS charged her $2,072 in taxes, penalties, and interest. Newly arrived from Honduras, she was working from 5 a.m. for a cleaning service in Boston that never withheld taxes and never sent her a W-2. She didn’t know they were supposed to do either. “I did my taxes, I fill it out, fine,” she said. But not so fine, evidently. “Three years after or four years after, IRS contact me saying that I owe them . . . like, $2,072. ‘Why do I owe you?’ And they say: because I didn’t declare my taxes. I say I did. . . . They say no. . . . I sent them a letter saying I was sending them $1,072 I think it was, ’cause I didn’t have no money at the time, and I was going to make small installments for the rest of the money. . . . You know what they did? I had a bank account, and they took the money from my bank account—every penny I had.” Ever since, she has happily paid $100 a year to a tax preparer, $100 a year for peace of mind. “I don’t want the IRS back on me,” she explained. “He do it and he sign it and put everything, so if any mistake, he gonna be the one who will have to deal with them.”

By the end of February, H&R Block’s storefront office on a dismal stretch of Washington’s 14th Street looked like a well-used campaign headquarters a week after Election Day. Most computer screens were dark, and the place was quiet and cavernous. All the desks were empty but one, occupied by Claudia Rivera, who used to prepare returns without charge at a library in Virginia. She and the manager, Carl Caton, didn’t have much to do now that the rush had passed, so they were happy to sit at a keyboard and explain.

Each form the taxpayer needed carried a fee: $41 for a 1040, $10 for an EIC (the Earned Income Credit), $1 for each W-2, and so on. Electronic filing cost another $25. So a simple return with two W-2s filed electronically would run $78. But it didn’t stop there. Block had a smorgasbord of services for people who lived on the edge. If you had no bank account, your refund could be loaded onto an ATM card that charged $2 per withdrawal. Or a temporary account could be opened into which the IRS payment could be deposited for a fee of $24.95. If you were enticed by Block’s offer of a “rapid refund” and wanted a check in a day or two, you paid H&R Block an additional $50 to $90, depending on the amount you were getting. The fee on 14th Street could be as much as $50 on a $200 refund, up to $90 for $2,000 or more.4

This was actually a loan, and for a very short time. Filing electronically usually gets you a check in two and a half weeks, according to the IRS, and five days sooner if it’s deposited directly into a bank account. At the most, then, the “rapid refund” loan, issued a day or two after filing, would run about fifteen days, which made the $90 fee on a $2,000 payment equivalent to an annual interest rate of 108 percent. At the least, the loan could run as little as four days, propelling the annualized rate to 410 percent on $2,000, and 2,281 percent on $200. (The highest percentage is incurred if the timing occurs perfectly: the return is filed by the IRS’s weekly deadline of noon Thursday, the loan check is not issued until after banks close Friday, the taxpayer can’t put it into his account until Monday, and the IRS is fast enough to deposit the refund directly with the lending bank the following Friday.)5

After a spate of lawsuits, a federal judge in Norfolk ordered Block to stop using the misleading term “rapid refund” in advertising loans, but Block continued with the ads by redefining “rapid refund” as a reference to electronic filing only. The company called its loan program a “refund anticipation loan,” a distinction lost on many of the low-wage workers who ventured into Block offices in search of a rapid refund. In 2000 such loans went to 4.8 million taxpayers.

Among all the working people I interviewed who used the loan service, not one understood the terms or the options. Hector and Maribel Delgado, who earned about $28,000 a year picking and packing vegetables in North Carolina, were stunned when I sat with them in their trailer, looked over their tax return, and explained how it all worked. They had paid Block $109 to prepare their return, file it electronically, and give them an advance on their payment from the IRS of $1,307.05. The form they had signed disclosed a finance charge of 69.888 percent annually, but they had not understood it. Even as Block employees presented a contract in fine print, they were trained to avoid the word “loan,” and say “two-day refunds” instead, a Maryland judge found in hearing a lawsuit on the lending practices. And the refund loans were lucrative enough to provide 8 percent of Block’s entire profits in 1999, mainly because a Block subsidiary owned a 49.99 percent interest in the loans, made by Household Bank.

Something else illicit happened to the Delgados in the Block offices. Although they filed electronically in January, a time when the IRS promises checks within a couple of weeks, “We were told we’d have to wait six to eight weeks,” Maribel said. This was patently false. “We needed the money to pay bills,” she explained. “We send one part to Mexico, another part to here. We usually send $100 every two weeks to Mexico. We have a big family.”

In 2000, after facing a decade of class-action lawsuits alleging misleading lending practices, H&R Block agreed to a $25 million settlement without admitting any wrongdoing. The only practice the company changed was to present the federally required truth-in-lending disclosures earlier in the process, according to a spokeswoman. Do employees at least explain the terms verbally? “A lot of it depends on questions customers ask,” she said. “If they ask questions, preparers are supposed to answer.” Many customers simply do not know what questions to ask.

Poverty is like a bleeding wound. It weakens the defenses. It lowers resis- tance. It attracts predators. The loan sharks operate not only from bars and street corners, but also legally from behind bulletproof glass. Their beckoning signs are posted at some 10,000 locations across the country: “Payday Loans,” “Quick Cash,” “Easy Money.” You see them in check-cashing joints and storefront offices in poor and working-class neighborhoods. They have organized themselves into at least a dozen national chains, and they charge fees equivalent to more than 500 percent annualized interest.

They also provide a much needed service. Say you’re short of cash, and the bills are piling up, along with some disconnection notices. Payday is two weeks away, and your phone and electricity will be shut off before then. The guy at the local convenience store, who has a booth for cashing checks, throws you a lifeline. If you need $100 now, you write him a check for $120, postdated by two weeks. He’ll give you the $100 in cash today, hold your check until your wages are in your bank account, and then put the check through. Or you can give him the $120 in cash when you get it, and he’ll return your check. Either way, 20 percent interest for two weeks equals 1.428 percent a day, or 521 percent annually.

If you’re still stuck after payday, if your paycheck doesn’t quite cover your needs, or if your check for $120 bounces, no problem. The guy behind the bulletproof glass will gladly roll over your loan—for another $20. This pattern prevails in Illinois, for example, where state examiners found that rollovers made up 77 percent of all payday loan transactions. The average customer had ten such renewals, which meant paying fees totaling up to twice the amount borrowed.6 Eventually, you may have to borrow from another payday loan merchant to pay the fees at the first. And so on and on and on.

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Table of Contents

Preface

Introduction
At the Edge of Poverty

Chapter One
Money and Its Opposite

Chapter Two
Work Doesn’t Work

Chapter Three
Importing the Third World

Chapter Four
Harvest of Shame

Chapter Five
The Daunting Workplace

Chapter Six
Sins of the Fathers

Chapter Seven
Kinship

Chapter Eight
Body and Mind

Chapter Nine
Dreams

Chapter Ten
Work Works

Chapter Eleven
Skill and Will

Epilogue

Notes
Index

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First Chapter

Chapter One
Money and Its Opposite
You know, Mom, being poor is very expensive. —Sandy Brash, at age twelve

Tax time in poor neighborhoods is not April. It is January. And "income tax" isn't what you pay; it's what you receive. As soon as the W-2s arrive, working folks eager for their checks from the Internal Revenue Service hurry to the tax preparers, who have flourished and gouged impoverished laborers since the welfare time limits enacted by Congress in 1996. The checks that come from Washington include not only a refund of taxes withheld, but an additional payment known as the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is designed to subsidize low-wage working families. The refunds and subsidies are sometimes banked for savings toward a car, a house, an education; but they are often needed immediately for overdue bills and large purchases that can't be funded from the trickle of wages throughout the year.

Christie, a child-care worker in Akron, earned too little to owe taxes but got $1,700 as an Earned Income Credit one year, which enabled her to avoid the Salvation Army's used-furniture store and instead buy a new matching set of comfortable black couches and loveseats for her living room in public housing.

Caroline Payne's check went for a down payment on her house in New Hampshire. "I used my income tax and paid a thousand down," she said proudly. When she sold it five and a half years later and her daughter lent her money to rent a truck for her move, she planned to pay her back "when I get my taxes."

"I'm waitin' for my income tax to come in so I can pay my real estate taxes," said Tom King, a single father and lumberjackwho lived in a trailer on his own land.

Debra Hall, who had started at a Cleveland bakery, was keen with anticipation after filing her first tax return. "I'll get $3,079 back! What am I gonna do with it? Pay all my bills off," she declared, "and I haven't had anything new in the house. Do some good with it, that's for sure. Minor repairs on my car. The bills are first, for my credit [rating], to get all my back debts paid. It will be well spent."

The Earned Income Tax Credit is one of those rare anti-poverty programs that appeal both to liberals and conservatives, invoking the virtue of both government help and self-help. You don't get it unless you have some earned income, and since its payments are linked to your tax return, you don't get it unless you file one. That leaves out low-wage workers—especially undocumented immigrants—who get paid under the table in cash and think they're better off avoiding the IRS. By filing, however, they would end up ahead, because they'd get to keep everything they earned and would receive a payment on top of that. The benefits kick in at fairly high levels—at earnings of less than $33,692, for example, for a worker who supported more than one child in 2003. At the lower income levels, the Earned Income Tax Credit can add the equivalent of a dollar or two an hour to a worker's wage.

Enacted in 1975, the program was expanded under Presidents Reagan, Bush, and Clinton, and in 2003 paid more than $32 billion to 18 million households. Treasury officials worry about erroneous claims, honest or fraudulent, which may rise to 27 to 32 percent of the total.1 On the other hand, an estimated 10 to 15 percent of those eligible don't file for it,2 partly because employers and unions often don't tell workers that it exists. The presidents of two local unions in Washington, D.C., for example, one representing janitors and the other parking garage attendants, had never heard of the Earned Income Tax Credit until I mentioned it to them. And I have not yet come across a single worker or boss who knew that with a simple form called a W-5, filed with the employer, a low-wage employee could get some of the payments in advance during the year. When I mentioned the W-5 to Debra Hall and she then asked at her bakery, the woman who handled the payroll waved her away impatiently and said she knew nothing about it. Later, the tax preparer told Debra it was better just to wait and get the payment in one lump sum after she filed her return.

It sure is better—if you're the preparer. With cunning creativity, the preparers have devised schemes to separate low-wage workers from as much of their refunds and Earned Income Credits as feasible. The marvel of electronic filing, the speedy direct deposit into a bank account, the high-interest loan masquerading as a "rapid refund" all promise a sudden flush of dollars to cash-starved families. The trouble is, getting money costs money.

The preparers operate from sleazy check-cashing joints and from street-level outposts of respectable corporations. They do for a hefty fee what their clients could do for themselves for free with the math skills and the courage to tackle a 1040, or with a computer and a bank account to speed filing and receipt. But most low-wage workers don't have the math, the courage, or the computer, and many don't even have the bank account. They are so desperate for the check that they give up a precious $100 or so to get everything done quickly and correctly. "You get so scared," said Debra Hall, who paid $95 to have her simple return done after ending twenty-one years of welfare. "I don't know why it's so scary, but I'd rather have it done right the first time."

She was probably wise, because another disadvantage of being poor is that you've been more likely since 1999 to face an audit by the IRS. In that year, 1.36 percent of the returns filed by taxpayers making under $25,000 were audited, compared with 1.15 percent of those making $100,000 or more. The scrutiny was instigated by Republican congressional leaders who feared abuses of the Earned Income Tax Credit. In the face of bad publicity, the IRS shifted the balance in 2000 by auditing 0.6 percent of those under $25,000 versus 1.0 percent of those over $100,000. Thereafter, the audit rate tilted back and forth, to .86 and .69 percent, respectively, in 2001, then to .64 and .75 in 2002.3 In other words, as the IRS lost enforcement personnel, it dramatically reduced its scrutiny of well-to-do taxpayers, whose returns were once audited at the rate of 10 percent. This despite the fact that audits at the upper levels of income naturally tend to recover more dollars in lost revenue.

Evon Johnson never dared do another return herself after the IRS charged her $2,072 in taxes, penalties, and interest. Newly arrived from Honduras, she was working from 5 a.m. for a cleaning service in Boston that never withheld taxes and never sent her a W-2. She didn't know they were supposed to do either. "I did my taxes, I fill it out, fine," she said. But not so fine, evidently. "Three years after or four years after, IRS contact me saying that I owe them . . . like, $2,072. ‘Why do I owe you?' And they say: because I didn't declare my taxes. I say I did. . . . They say no. . . . I sent them a letter saying I was sending them $1,072 I think it was, 'cause I didn't have no money at the time, and I was going to make small installments for the rest of the money. . . . You know what they did? I had a bank account, and they took the money from my bank account—every penny I had." Ever since, she has happily paid $100 a year to a tax preparer, $100 a year for peace of mind. "I don't want the IRS back on me," she explained. "He do it and he sign it and put everything, so if any mistake, he gonna be the one who will have to deal with them."

By the end of February, H&R Block's storefront office on a dismal stretch of Washington's 14th Street looked like a well-used campaign headquarters a week after Election Day. Most computer screens were dark, and the place was quiet and cavernous. All the desks were empty but one, occupied by Claudia Rivera, who used to prepare returns without charge at a library in Virginia. She and the manager, Carl Caton, didn't have much to do now that the rush had passed, so they were happy to sit at a keyboard and explain.

Each form the taxpayer needed carried a fee: $41 for a 1040, $10 for an EIC (the Earned Income Credit), $1 for each W-2, and so on. Electronic filing cost another $25. So a simple return with two W-2s filed electronically would run $78. But it didn't stop there. Block had a smorgasbord of services for people who lived on the edge. If you had no bank account, your refund could be loaded onto an ATM card that charged $2 per withdrawal. Or a temporary account could be opened into which the IRS payment could be deposited for a fee of $24.95. If you were enticed by Block's offer of a "rapid refund" and wanted a check in a day or two, you paid H&R Block an additional $50 to $90, depending on the amount you were getting. The fee on 14th Street could be as much as $50 on a $200 refund, up to $90 for $2,000 or more.4

This was actually a loan, and for a very short time. Filing electronically usually gets you a check in two and a half weeks, according to the IRS, and five days sooner if it's deposited directly into a bank account. At the most, then, the "rapid refund" loan, issued a day or two after filing, would run about fifteen days, which made the $90 fee on a $2,000 payment equivalent to an annual interest rate of 108 percent. At the least, the loan could run as little as four days, propelling the annualized rate to 410 percent on $2,000, and 2,281 percent on $200. (The highest percentage is incurred if the timing occurs perfectly: the return is filed by the IRS's weekly deadline of noon Thursday, the loan check is not issued until after banks close Friday, the taxpayer can't put it into his account until Monday, and the IRS is fast enough to deposit the refund directly with the lending bank the following Friday.)5

After a spate of lawsuits, a federal judge in Norfolk ordered Block to stop using the misleading term "rapid refund" in advertising loans, but Block continued with the ads by redefining "rapid refund" as a reference to electronic filing only. The company called its loan program a "refund anticipation loan," a distinction lost on many of the low-wage workers who ventured into Block offices in search of a rapid refund. In 2000 such loans went to 4.8 million taxpayers.

Among all the working people I interviewed who used the loan service, not one understood the terms or the options. Hector and Maribel Delgado, who earned about $28,000 a year picking and packing vegetables in North Carolina, were stunned when I sat with them in their trailer, looked over their tax return, and explained how it all worked. They had paid Block $109 to prepare their return, file it electronically, and give them an advance on their payment from the IRS of $1,307.05. The form they had signed disclosed a finance charge of 69.888 percent annually, but they had not understood it. Even as Block employees presented a contract in fine print, they were trained to avoid the word "loan," and say "two-day refunds" instead, a Maryland judge found in hearing a lawsuit on the lending practices. And the refund loans were lucrative enough to provide 8 percent of Block's entire profits in 1999, mainly because a Block subsidiary owned a 49.99 percent interest in the loans, made by Household Bank.

Something else illicit happened to the Delgados in the Block offices. Although they filed electronically in January, a time when the IRS promises checks within a couple of weeks, "We were told we'd have to wait six to eight weeks," Maribel said. This was patently false. "We needed the money to pay bills," she explained. "We send one part to Mexico, another part to here. We usually send $100 every two weeks to Mexico. We have a big family."

In 2000, after facing a decade of class-action lawsuits alleging misleading lending practices, H&R Block agreed to a $25 million settlement without admitting any wrongdoing. The only practice the company changed was to present the federally required truth-in-lending disclosures earlier in the process, according to a spokeswoman. Do employees at least explain the terms verbally? "A lot of it depends on questions customers ask," she said. "If they ask questions, preparers are supposed to answer." Many customers simply do not know what questions to ask.

Poverty is like a bleeding wound. It weakens the defenses. It lowers resis- tance. It attracts predators. The loan sharks operate not only from bars and street corners, but also legally from behind bulletproof glass. Their beckoning signs are posted at some 10,000 locations across the country: "Payday Loans," "Quick Cash," "Easy Money." You see them in check-cashing joints and storefront offices in poor and working-class neighborhoods. They have organized themselves into at least a dozen national chains, and they charge fees equivalent to more than 500 percent annualized interest.

They also provide a much needed service. Say you're short of cash, and the bills are piling up, along with some disconnection notices. Payday is two weeks away, and your phone and electricity will be shut off before then. The guy at the local convenience store, who has a booth for cashing checks, throws you a lifeline. If you need $100 now, you write him a check for $120, postdated by two weeks. He'll give you the $100 in cash today, hold your check until your wages are in your bank account, and then put the check through. Or you can give him the $120 in cash when you get it, and he'll return your check. Either way, 20 percent interest for two weeks equals 1.428 percent a day, or 521 percent annually.

If you're still stuck after payday, if your paycheck doesn't quite cover your needs, or if your check for $120 bounces, no problem. The guy behind the bulletproof glass will gladly roll over your loan—for another $20. This pattern prevails in Illinois, for example, where state examiners found that rollovers made up 77 percent of all payday loan transactions. The average customer had ten such renewals, which meant paying fees totaling up to twice the amount borrowed.6 Eventually, you may have to borrow from another payday loan merchant to pay the fees at the first. And so on and on and on.
Read More Show Less

Interviews & Essays

An Interview with David K. Shipler

Barnes & Noble.com: You have written about Russia, Arabs and Jews in the Middle East, and blacks and whites in America. What made you want to write this book?

David K. Shipler: After many years overseas working as a foreign correspondent for The New York Times, I came back to America and continued to write about foreign policy. I finally began to feel that I wanted to write about the country I was living in, and I delved into the most vexing problems we face. So I began to deal with race relations and wrote Country of Strangers: Blacks and Whites in America. This book led me, naturally, to the problem of poverty, which I have always felt was a scar on America's well-being. I see The Working Poor: Invisible in America as the second in a trilogy about America. The next book will be about civil liberties in America. It is my way of trying to understand my own country.

B&N.com: There is a striking phrase in your book. You suggest that because the working poor have so many difficulties to endure, they do not have the "luxury of rage." What do you mean by that?

DKS: One might suppose that because people trapped in poverty have to work so hard, they would be angry. Perhaps some of them are, but they don't express the anger one might expect them to express, to their employers or political leaders. Nor do they express their anger at the economy or the government in general for not helping them adequately. They don't get angry at the system of privilege or the private enterprise system. Rather, most people I followed for some time were so consumed with their own personal trials that they had no energy left for rage. They were just trying to make ends meet on very low wages, trying to juggle childcare, transportation difficulties, hardships at the workplace, housing problems, and so forth. They simply didn't have room in their lives to express anger at the circumstances they found themselves in. Those few people who did show rage misdirected it, I thought. They were short tempered with their children, they were angry with their partners or spouses or other relatives, they were sometimes angry at their coworkers or the grocer who runs the corner store. Sometimes they got mad at their bosses, but that is as far as the rage reached.

B&N.com: How do you define for contemporaries what it means to be a member of the "working poor"? Is this a term that must be redefined every generation?

DKS: Poverty is a collection of characteristics that define a life. The most obvious is income. And that is a measure the federal government uses. Right now a single adult with three children has to earn more that $18,725 a year to be above the poverty level. That comes out to $9 per hour if the person has a full-time job of 40 hours a week for 52 weeks a year. It is fair to say that some people earning $19,000 a year are still poor, even though, technically, they are not poor according to the government. The federal poverty measurement does not vary by region, and that is one of its flaws. It is an inadequate tool for many reasons. There is no regional variation, and the formula used for it was developed back in the 1950s, when the average American family spent one-third of its income on food. Now Americans spend a much lower percentage on food and a much higher percentage on housing. Poverty is financial, but it is also relative and psychological. If you really want to understand the essence of poverty, you must understand the notion of income with debt. Families might rise above poverty with a job but still be in debt, and that debt precludes them from getting decent car loans or mortgages to buy motor homes.

Then there are the relativity questions. I asked the people if they were poor. Some said no because their families are rich in love. And there were some, not especially poor, who were above the poverty line but had a huge amount of debt and could not get ahead because of that. They had no hope. Lack of hope and its corollary of not being able to participate fully in society are also psychological aspects of poverty. Because of television, many poor people have desires for material things similar to those of the middle class. Seeing these things creates a gap between expectations and abilities to have them, and this creates frustrations. People cannot afford to buy what is advertised, use and abuse credit cards, and get into financial trouble. They feel they have failed, and it leads to a cycle of frustration and self-denunciation.

B&N.com: What do today's working poor have in common with the working poor of previous eras, and what is different about them?

DKS: Maybe we have become more sensitive to the fact that so many in America have worked but remain in poverty. Many have worked under the table even though they are on welfare. This is not really new, but we are tuning in to it. In the American ethic, work is moral. We attach virtue to hard work because, in our American dream and our American myth, we believe anyone can prosper in the land of opportunity. The opposite of this is the belief that people who don't work hard have a sense of immorality attached to them. So, there is an element of condescension toward the poor. What I wanted to do was to defang the criticism of the poor. I wanted to concentrate on what the American ethic says they must do. That is, that they must work. But they still are not making it.

B&N.com: You show that sweatshops are not only overseas but also here at home. Where did you find them? And who works in them?

DKS: Sweatshops in L.A. are in the garment district. They exist elsewhere, too. There are a lot of people in sewing shops in L.A. who are often undocumented immigrants. They are afraid to complain about their harsh working conditions because they are afraid of being deported. I met one woman from Mexico who was paid 3/4 of a cent for each fly that she sewed into a pair of jeans. It was done on an assembly-line basis. She was fast, but she had to do 100 flies to get just 75 cents. In order to make just minimum wage -- in California, it is $5.75 per hour -- she had to sew a fly into a pair of pants in less than 5 seconds. She was in her late 40s and worked with only a few breaks. Also, there isn't always work at her factory. Sometimes the boss just calls the workers and tells them to stay home because there is not enough work that day.

B&N.com: Exactly who are the working poor in terms of gender, age, ethnic groups, and race? What regions are they from? Are they predominantly rural or urban? And how many are immigrants?

DKS: It is hard to get that kind of data. You have to match the wage with family numbers to determine who is poor. Many people work fewer than 40 hours a week. There are working poor in every part of the country. They are in Idaho and New Hampshire. I found them in the rural towns of New Hampshire, the tobacco fields of North Carolina, the sweatshops of Los Angeles, the inner city of Washington, D.C., and the slums of Boston. I saw it in malnutrition clinics for people, in factories, among blacks, whites, Asians, Latinos. There were also union members who were stuck in working poverty. For example, I saw Ethiopian parking garage attendants in Washington, D.C., who were unionized, yet they were still part of the working poor.

B&N.com: Why is it so difficult for the working poor to get out of poverty? Why is the problem so intractable?

DKS: I chose people who were at the edge of poverty and wanted to see if they could get out. Getting out is not like showing a passport at the border. Instead, you have to traverse a broad landscape like a minefield where people are shooting at you and one misstep can kill you. I think the point here is that, for families who are trying to get out of poverty, a single reversal in almost any aspect of their lives can be catastrophic. For someone in the middle class or above, a car breaking down can be annoying. But for someone who depends on that car to get to an essential job, its breaking down can result in a long absence from work with the result of getting fired. That is how such things can be catastrophic for the working poor.

B&N.com: The economic problems breed social problems of tremendous magnitude for the working poor such as drug abuse, domestic abuse, and debt. But aren't a lot of these problems also prevalent, though in a different manner, in the middle class?

DKS: Many of the problems the poor have can be found among middle-class and affluent people as well. The difference is that the poor have less insulation from the problems and less wherewithal and less financial ability and less education to partition, so to speak, such problems off from the rest of their lives. One example is that sexual abuse is a widespread problem among poor working women. Now, if a child is abused in the upper classes, she has therapy and can come out of it whole. The same can be said about attention deficit disorder. A poor child might get treatment but suffers from the financial inability to pay for a therapist. Even if a working poor family has insurance, there are limits on how it can be used. The working poor often do not know how to use insurance, and often do not understand the intricacies of insurance claims.

Certain problems the working poor face interact with one another and magnify one another. A chain reaction takes place. For example, I knew a young mother in New Hampshire who lives in an old, drafty, damp apartment in a wooden house. The conditions there exacerbate her son's asthma. Twice he was rushed to a hospital because he couldn't breathe. Insurance wouldn't cover the ambulance, and she didn't have the experience or knowledge on how to appeal it. The ambulance charges were $490, and this went on to her credit report. When she applied for a mobile home, she was denied. When she had to replace her dying car she could not get credit for a reasonable car loan. She went to a used car lot, but she was charged 15-3/4 percent for a car there. They did not do a credit check. The car had 82,000 miles, cost $5,800, and required an additional $100 to $200 a month to keep it in repair. This is what I mean by the "chain reaction." The bad housing leads to bad credit and a crummy car.

B&N.com: It often seems that people don't care about the working poor.

DKS: People care. People are reacting to my book. It is important to remember that low-income people don't vote in high numbers. As income drops, so does voting. If more people with family incomes less than $25,000 voted, politicians would have to fight for their votes. But it is a vicious circle. Many I spoke to said they didn't vote because it didn't matter to them.

B&N.com: What is the main idea you want your readers to take from your book?

DKS: I want them to look for human stories about real people caught in real problems so that these folks can be seen -- because they are not seen now. I hope readers will think seriously about the problems in a constructive way so that they can be informed about what should be a very important discussion in this country.

B&N.com: What will be your next project?

DKS: As I said earlier, I have begun working on a book on civil liberties in the United States. Race and poverty are among the two most difficult problems we face. It will be several years before I finish this next book. The whole reason for doing these books is to learn. My basic motivation is to try to figure things out for myself. It is a great pleasure for me because the greatest thing about life is to learn.

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Customer Reviews

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 53 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 25, 2013

    Making the Invisible Noticed After researching the many

    Making the Invisible Noticed

    After researching the many well written books on poverty and homelessness in America, I decided to read The Working Poor: Invisible in America by David Shipler. Throughout the book, the author describes how many Americans get trapped in poverty, struggling all their life to escape. Without proper education and skills, combined with difficult housing situations, the working poor population of America often never stop working entry level jobs, making monthly payments and surviving off less than desirable conditions. Shipler immersed himself in the topic and performed years of research and observation on the working poor families in America, and by reading this book I think that one can not only further learn about the difficult living conditions of millions of fellow Americans, but it will also help the reader further appreciate how much entry level workers do at their jobs everyday.
    While I was reading this book, I noticed a few powerful messages and themes. The first thing that struck out as very interesting to me was how the author describes the lack of goods of entry level workers, even though they deal with these items everyday. Examples of this are a man that works at a car wash, but can not afford a car himself; a school teacher that can not afford schooling or babysitting for her own children while she is at work. The second major theme that I noticed as I read this book is how nearly impossible it is to escape from poverty once a family is in this situation. To pay the bills and get food on the table for the whole family, often times families have to borrow money to pay for everything that their minimum wage income does not cover. Once they have some debt, it just keeps growing, and this sucks someone into a never-ending cycle. To make more money, one must gain more skills or more education; the difficult thing is, to gain these things, it costs a lot of money, concluding that it is very difficult to escape poverty in America.
    I really liked how the author did a lot of research and involved himself in the culture of the topic. This helps spread the message and stories straight from the source: the millions of working poor Americans. I didn’t dislike much about this book, but if I had to list one thing, it would be how it was a little hard for me to keep a valid attention span while in the middle of the book, but only at rare times.
    Someone should read this book because it really helps one understand that there are millions of other Americans going through similar struggles. I would also recommend the book Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich, to anyone that enjoyed The Working Poor: Invisible in America.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 18, 2008

    review

    When i first started reading this book, i thought it was going to be one of those boring books, that talks about how much people make, and a bunch of numbers that i didnt care to read about. I was definitely proved wrong. It really gives you a different perspective on the economy and poverty. There are a large majority of people out there that go to work everyday just to barely get by. I enjoyed this book because in reality you always hear how well off people are, how they have these good paying jobs, and for once its a book talking about how the lower class is surviving and the stories behind the faces you see everyday. It shows how no matter who you are, everyone has there failures in life, some bigger than others, but it doesnt mean you can't overcome them and still set out to be the best you are able to be. The life stories in this book are inspiring and touching,it makes you think twice about how you view someone. It lets you know how the American System works, how screwed up it is, and how most companies will try and get away with paying there workers as little as possible. Nothing will ever be changed, unless we as a nation try and do something to change it ourself.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 11, 2007

    A job very well done!

    Mr. Shipler is as interesting to listen to as to read! It is quite apparent that the federal poverty level is not accurate to conceal the continued downward spiral of the what was once the middle class. The average pay for an employee of walmart Lowe's Target or Home Depot is probably what the minimum wage should be.Many companies overstate the value of benefits to employees to exaggerate their 'overall value', a combination of wages plus benefits(many of which the employee cannot afford to partake of) which makes even your average retail worker look like they are 'doing good' but in reality are not. I know of many who barely have enough to eat and some who have been homeless while working(working very hard i might add) let alone save for retirement or a home. Until America wakes up to the suffering within it, the ranks will continue to grow with functionally poor workers.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 20, 2013

    Having to read this book for my economics class, I¿m glad I did

    Having to read this book for my economics class, I’m glad I did so. I would have never thought anyone would have to go through what I read in the book. Having to have to worry about how to feed their kids, how to make it to work on time, not having enough money to pay bill, is a sad truth that many go through dad by day. It was an eye opener to appreciate my family and education that I receive each day. Not to take anything for granted because many don’t have the opportunities that I have. The stories Shipler shares in his book is exactly what no one wants to grow up and have to worry about. This book did an excellent job depicting the many lives in America that are right on the poverty line that are in a constant struggle. For me it wasn’t just an assignment that I had to do but a reality that could await for anyone if one is not wise in the choices they make in life. After every page that I read, I took it as a mini lecture of life. To learn from the mistakes others have made is very important.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 20, 2013

    When I first got this book I thought it was going to be boring,

    When I first got this book I thought it was going to be boring, but I judged it wrong. I really like it because the
    people he writes about are the ones who sew your clothes, do your gardening, pick up your crops, and hand you
    your coffee at the local convenience store. They are your neighbors, your fellow citizens, maybe some of them are
    even your friends. And relatives. 

    The working poor, invisible in America tries to discover why in a land of plenty we have so many who go without
     the very basics like food, shelter, education and health care. Those who do without are working are working the
    very jobs others say they should take.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 14, 2012

    Mitt Romney and Carl Rove should read this book before making an

    Mitt Romney and Carl Rove should read this book before making any more comments about a world sbout which they know nothing. The majority of the 47% are working with their hands and trying to survive on wages most of us would find too small to imagine. Shipler allows us through his interviews and their reports to travel to a foreign land, the land of hrad work with few rewards.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 25, 2011

    Highly Recommended--Reality lies within its pages!!

    The Working Poor by David K. Shipler, really explains how people in America that are on the border of the poverty line or under the federal poverty line struggle to maintain an honest living. While some people in the middle class or upper class take things for granted we never stop to realize that some people who really have nothing in comparison are struggling to stay alive. Although some of the people made some bad choices in the past, this book describes their struggles to try to get back on a steady route. But they are average people black, white, asian, latinos who are trying to earn an honest living and trying to pay their bills and work full time rather than go on welfare. So I highly recommend you read this book because in the end you will be able to understand and follow the lives of a few people and were they are now.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 30, 2009

    Not bad

    I honestly do not remember much about this book just a couple of months after reading it. I guess that says enough about it.

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 23, 2008

    I´m Impressed By All Readers Reviews !

    Presently The U.S. Is Facing Economic BailOut Of The Big Money Entities Resulting From 'InAppropriate Mortgage and Credit Practices'. I am looking forward to reading this book. Thank you for the time that all of the readers put into submittng a review on this subject...

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 29, 2007

    A reviewer

    What the reader must consider is that all too often the workers Shipler speaks of are worse off than those they serve. There is a very good chance that if a worker at the hotel you stay in, restaurant you eat at, or the Walmart,Lowe's,Home Depot,etc. you shop at has that job as their only income with no spouse to help, pension,side business, investments,inheritance,etc. they may be struggling to have a basic place to live, eat or maintain a car. I know several who have lived out of motels or their cars or skip meals or drive cars illegally not because they want to but because they cannot afford not to. The employers mentioned pay low, usually offer little or no overtime and have bonus plans that amount to little practical help. Many people in these jobs are subject to restricted job opportunities or are facing the hostility so endemic to workers over 40 in the marketplace and are as such captive workers for these businesses. Many of these workers have most impressive backgrounds but are simply out of luck and forced to help customers who are light years beyond them in financial stability.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 14, 2006

    The problem cannot be overstated!

    This is an excellent,well-written book! Companies often do not pay or offer good benefits because of poor profits but consider this: 1)1 car repair, 2 hours with an attorney, or the deductible on some employee health plans can equal most if not the entire 40 hour week paycheck for a Walmart,Menard's, Home Depot, Target, Lowe's,Days Inn,Holiday Inn,Shaws,McDonalds,Wendy's,7-11,regal Cinema,Blockbuster Video,Citizens or Bank of America and many,many more employees. 2)Companies are now integrating productivity,timekeeping and scheduling software together.By having select employees work harder and harder and harder, the productivity expectations go up and up causing fewer people to be working and servicing customers. Witness Lucent Technologies, Home Depot and others and you will see the trend. 3) Employees of Dunkin Donuts and Home Depot and more do not get regular employee discounts.Nor do they get commissions on sales. 4) Some companies such as a major retailer permit ongoing harassment by not balancing workloads(making some individuals work much harder than others)to skew productivity data,ultimately ending in job loss and poorer service to customers 5) Many employers in the USA apparently feel the worker should be happy to eat at all or have a home at all for their efforts at work. Does American business and policymakers care about their workers? Why do some companies allow hard dedicated workers to be harassed and languish while their detractors have virtual no show jobs? 6) More and more companies are using and implementing 'demerit' or 'point' systems for any deviation from work schedules no matter what the reason. Take an extra 1/2 hour to help a customer at a major retailer and the employee suffers because of it. Why are companies applying military discipline on civilian workers? Ponder this when you walk into a major retailer. 7) Why do businessmen allow salary multiples in the hundreds,thousand or tens of thousands to every dollar earned by a low -level employee? When is enough enough? The bible tells us when plowing our fields to leave some left over for the poor. Are businessmen doing this? 8)In Deuteronomy every 7 years debts should be extinguished. But our revolving credit system is based on years upon years of payback time all the while generating substantial interest and fees. Our system is designed to mask deceptions in the true modern poverty level by allowing people to acquire credit to offset income deficiences and perpetuating the illusion of supplemental income for DECADES.Do not address the poverty level and people will absorb the hit with credit. The country looks much more solid financially and egos are boosted for bragging rights as we point fingers at the poor nations of the world.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 28, 2006

    Whats holding back americas poor

    As I read about the many stories of poverty and suffering, in this book. I realized that some times the hard work and the dreams of success are some times not enough to stay out of poverty in America. This book portrays the poor as people who either have made very bad chooses in life or have just given up all together, with the occasional person who works hard and is over powered by sickness or other misfortune. I would like to believe that there are more people who have worked hard but have come across difficulties along the way, forcing them into poverty. The points made in the book are still very interesting and worth taking a look at. I would recommend this book to someone interested in the learning more about the roles of the poor in our economy, or about the politics involved in the poor of america.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 31, 2014

    when I first started to read this book I wasn't interested but t

    when I first started to read this book I wasn't interested but than I started reading about the families that go through crisis and go through daily struggles just to make ends meet for their families. going to a job that only pays 4 dollars an hour and getting welfare checks get taken away everytime they get paid for on their checks which isn't much more that they get its an amazing book and I recommend it to everyone

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  • Posted March 9, 2014

    A "sister" book to Barbara Ehrenreich's "Nickel a

    A "sister" book to Barbara Ehrenreich's "Nickel and Dimed".  Both books feature detailed accounts of approximately 1/3 of America's workers still not making a living wage after doing jobs most of us haven't done since high school.  Necessary before you talk about poverty in America.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2013

    Highly recommended.

    I like the approach used to write about such an important topic in current economic times.

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  • Posted March 20, 2013

    i love this book

    i love this book

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 7, 2012

    This book was very eye opening and really showed me the true dif

    This book was very eye opening and really showed me the true difficulties of the working poor in America. Not only did this book teach me things i never knew but it made me realize that we take the simple things for granted. These people simply want to get their children through school and have fun going to the movies just like any middle class family. This book really showed me how difficult it is to climb the ladder of wealth. What upsets me is that no matter how hard these people try, they usually can't seem to get a raise and that is very unfair and upsetting to me.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 2011

    Esther

    A good message people work so hard but get so little

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 4, 2011

    You much check it out!!!

    While reading, I realized that many hard working people have to go through suffering to survive in this world. It does not matter where you come from or where you live, everyone has their ups and downs. This book portrays the lives of people holding themselves to not fall into poverty or who are in poverty. Either they made wrong choices or they had no other choice in life. The people in the book have to live from paycheck to paycheck. I recommend this book because the author analyzes the situations of real working poor people and makes you think about what this people have to go through every single day.

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  • Posted November 6, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    An Informative Book

    David Shipler does a great job in terms of investigating those who work but are still poor. He shows that poverty can affect anyone. This book reaffirms the insights that most Americans have, that the solution to our economic and social woes lay somewhere between the Republican and Democratic platform.

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