cover image From Cradle to Grave: The Human Face of Poverty in America

From Cradle to Grave: The Human Face of Poverty in America

Jonathan Freedman. Atheneum Books, $20 (245pp) ISBN 978-0-689-12126-5

In a work impressive for the compact and readable way it depicts government's failure to fully support the social needs of its citizens, Freedman, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, has interviewed people across the nation whose experiences he sees as emblematic of the way elected representatives--both federal and local--have not kept faith with their poorer constituents. Often the official answer to need was either indifference or the imposition of a cruel choice--as when a husband had to abandon his family so they could qualify for welfare, or when a family had to dispossess itself of its home to get Medicaid. Starting with prenatal care, the author illustrates how Americans have lacked social support at each stage of life. Freedman has a knack for uncovering the most telling statistics, nailing the legislative events that changed lives and finding the plucky, grassroots programs that have helped the people he describes. What America needs, argues Freedman, is not a safety net but rather a stair railing from birth to old age. Such a support system ``can prevent people from having to fall all the way down the stairs before they get help.'' Freedman offers a sound list of steps governments can take to offer such a railing. (Sept.)