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

Sasha Abramsky. Nation, $26.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-56858-726-4
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.)
Reviewed on: 07/08/2013
Release date: 09/01/2013
Paperback - 355 pages - 978-1-56858-460-7
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