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A review of the Book "The Working Poor: Invisible in America"

Updated on December 10, 2021

The Working Poor: Invisible in America is a book written in 2004 by American born David Shipler. In this book, the author combines information from studies and personal interviews to present the life stories and anecdotes of the people in America considered as the working poor. Through examples, he illustrates how the so called working poor struggle in their endeavors to escape poverty. Shipler goes on to pinpoint several economic issues that make it hard for the working poor to overcome poverty. This paper gives a detailed back story of the status of the working poor in the contemporary American society as reflected in Shipler’s book, while giving insight on how their condition can be altered.

The Condition of the Working Poor

In his book, Shipler portrays the working poor as people who live in very dangerous neighborhoods and majority of whom did not attend schooling past elementary level. These people buy homes with the highest lead paint contamination because they are usually less costly. Due to the little money they have, renovating their homes or getting rid of the lead paint becomes hard and they have to sell the houses at lower prices, which makes their investment wasted in this kind of capital. Moreover, the working poor lack other things in addition to capital or the power to purchase such as human and social capital required for evading poverty. Further, they face a higher rate of crime in their neighborhoods with dreadful living conditions. The high crime rate makes the working poor less concerned about the well being of each other, and the luck of care and trust make their neighborhoods inefficient economically. This makes it hard for them to have adequate human support and network from their communities to overcome poverty. It is hard for the working poor to acquire high paying jobs which can lift them up from their situations since they have no satisfactory technical skills or degrees.

The society does very little to elevate the working poor from their conditions. Normally, families considered to be the working poor are headed by single mothers. These mothers cannot find proper child care services and as such they seek inexpensive child care services. Most of the times forced to leave their jobs and go to do welfare. Even though the next working generation in the society will be brought by these caring mothers, they are not paid for their work and are even penalized for their care work. Frequently, single mothers find it hard to pay for their child care replacement cost, so they stay at home and take care of their children which in turn make them pay the cost of this by not earning income. As the US grows to be more industrialized, the cost of day care continues to rise, while the cost of production becomes lower. The name given to this phenomenon is Baumol effect, and several of the working poor are found at the short end of this effect since they must spend the highest percentage of the income they gather on such services as child care.

Just like in David Shipler’s book, a fraction of the present day society is hidden in plain sight, is forgotten and lives under or at the official poverty line of the government. This fraction is employed but is still struggling to meet its daily basic needs. There is no particular problem that causes this invasive and noxious vine which is working class poverty. This vine is a combination of psychological, societal, health and financial issues which compound the effects of all when tangled together. The vine twists its way through the lives of unfortunate individuals, frequently binding tightly around the ones relegated into the working poor class from which it’s impossible to break free. Just like in Shipler’s book, poverty leads to housing and health problems. This in turn leads to school problems and cognitive deficiencies. The school problems lead to educational failure which causes poverty. In this incident, a family is forced to suddenly move from a very comfortable apartment to one that is poorly maintained and less expensive as a result of income or job loss, or the lack of jobs. Once such a family moves to the new apartment, it is met with untreated mold on the ceiling and walls, and this aggravates a child’s asthmatic condition. This problem extends to the child’s education considering that they cannot afford quality education and learn under poor environment. This subsequently leads to their failure in school due to missing of important lessons and all this ends in poverty and the poverty circle continues to go round and round.

Similarly, just like in the Working Poor, identical problems are experienced both by the lower and middle class normally prove to carry much more serious consequences for the high class. If for instance a person in the middles class in the contemporary society is delayed on their way to work, it is just an inconvenience which slows him down for a moment, but can be resolved easily and they can get to work in time. Conversely, if a working poor experiences the same delay, normally as a result of public transport, it can be the reason for the termination of their employment. This means that individuals working in low wage employments with high turnover rate are less valued and are afforded little or no leniency and understanding degree by their managers as compared to most of the professionals in a similar situation.

In most cases, children who grow up surrounded by poverty do not get any positive role models in the way of working adults and as such, have no one to emulate. Such children do not do anything to strive for success because it hasn’t even been defined to them, instead, all the opposite sides of success is what they learn from their environments. Poverty stricken neighborhoods are characterized by criminal behavior, drug activity and a lot of violence. The kids in such places tend to look upon these criminals as role models and pictures of success since they appear to have nice clothing, good cars and a lot of money. All these things are enticing and draw the attention of the young children as they grow up in these environments. Drug addiction is another likelihood that can emerge from living in the neighborhoods of the working poor. Poverty struggles when mixed with drug addiction becomes significant in solidifying a person’s position in the poverty circle. This is accompanied by physical and emotional abuse which affects children in such a way that they end up believing that life cannot be controlled and their future is therefore devoid of choice. These people live in this embedded belief and lay the groundwork for continued abuse, and to staying in the poverty circle. Thinking like this does not leave any possibility for hope, and success is near to impossible without hope, in this light, the working poor continue to live in their conditions while the affluent ones continue living the same way.

Despite the fact that the future success of a child in life depends on compound issues, at the top of this list is perhaps the quantity and level of education they receive. The schools in areas populated by the working poor do not receive funding the same way schools in most affluent areas receive, and as a result schools in the working poor areas are not equipped with obligatory teaching materials, are not equipped with enough staff, and may sometimes may be full of insensitive and incompetent teachers. It is very difficult for such schools to encourage their students to excel since it lacks the necessary resources for providing students with renown education. Such children are denied access to the education they need without fault of their own. Additionally, children who grow up in poverty stricken neighborhoods are never exposed to any situations that can provide them with the essential skills that are needed for them to find jobs in the job market. Such children do not possess the social skills that may foster the ability to take and follow directions from their superiors as they are used to the hard life in their neighborhoods. The same cannot have a good rapport with fellow workers or even good emotional control.

Poor health is another challenge faced by the working poor. The private health insurance system in America for instance makes it extremely hard for the ones with lesser financial gains to access high-quality health insurance. The system where health insurance is obtained from workplaces leaves millions of individuals in America at risk due to lack of sufficient insurance system. The only people who are able to access health insurance coverage that is of satisfactory quality are the ones working with big companies with substantial income.

How the Condition can be changed

It is obvious from the above discussion that the working poor need attention. A combination of several changes must be implemented collectively in order to solve the predicament of these people. In his book, Shipler notes that individuals themselves should have a courage, self-esteem, clarity of purpose, freedom from addiction or illness, lack of considerable debt, a functional family, help from the government or from friends in order to rid themselves of poverty and break from the circle of poverty. This list is very long and it is therefore evident that the working poor need help in doing some of these things so as to evade poverty for good

The situation of the working poor can be changed through cooperation between non-profit corporations and the private industry which have produced some successful programs that have helped in preparing people for the workplace. At the same time, these programs have made this process advantageous to the involved parties, as Shipler puts it in his book. Similarly, this condition can be helped by the government implementing a health care system that is universal, and which will enable each and every citizen in the country to access health insurance coverage. This will allow individuals the opportunity to receive medicine and treatment that will advance their health and that of their families. Additionally, services of schools, community hospitals, police, doctors, social workers, housing authorities and many other notable institutions combined together will create an interconnection of services that will come in handy in elevating the working poor from their conditions. However, this interconnection will not come unless there is a shift in the priorities of the government, which will not still be felt until the working poor start making their voices heard through voter registration and voting for the right people.

In a nut shell, the answer to helping the working poor is for every citizen to perform his or her role. Everyone must take responsibility for their part in the health of the society. The government on the other hand, must perform its task by facilitating access to good education and proper health care for all. It should also work with the business sector in providing jointly beneficial prospects for the working poor. Individuals should also do their part by taking an active role in registering as voters and voting so that there can be governmental precedence change. The working poor must also work hard and make a commitment to education including furthering their education level to allow for promotions and career advancement.

Another way to counter this situation is through the initiation of paid sick days and compensated leave by the respective companies. This will significantly help those individuals who often find it so hard to strike a balance between their families and work without sacrificing their much needed income. Bearing children is one among the leading causes of economic hardship and as such, paid leave will be an imperative anti-poverty policy. Many of the American companies do not accord their workers paid sick day. This makes it so hard for them especially because they will be put in a place where they have to forego their jobs or income so as to cater for their sick children. A family act will provide protection to the workers who may need to take some time off as a result of their illness, a family member’s illness or other situations such as birth of a newborn. On the other hand, Healthy Family Act will make it possible for low income earners to earn up to one week of job-protected sick days in a year.


To a larger extent, Shipler’s book presents a very clear picture of a section of populace in the society who are forgotten and hidden behind the shadows, and how these people struggle to live their daily lives despite being considered as “employed” and with consistent salary. The present day society is made up of the same people as the society in Shipler’s book and as such requires help in order to come out of poverty. In this light, collective contribution of the government and the normal citizens will come in handy in solving these problems. The above mentioned ways are notable and can assist in changing the condition of the working poor if followed to the letter. No matter the number of the working poor in America, it is indeed possible to change their situations and bring them out of poverty. In this respect, stakeholders beginning with the individuals themselves, companies and the government must take their role to ensure that these people do not live under the yoke of poverty.


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