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The Working Poor

Essay by   •  March 6, 2011  •  1,893 Words (8 Pages)  •  1,309 Views

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The Working Poor travels into the forgotten America. It is a book about people and places that most us have never thought about. We have our debates about these people, their lifestyles, how they raise their children and where they work but we don't really know them and for the most part don't care. How many of us notice "the man who washes cars but does not own one, the clerk who files cancelled checks at the bank but has $2.02 in her own account or the woman who copyedits medical textbooks but hasn't been to a dentist in a decade?"(Shipler,3) With this book, Shipler takes you into their lives, it allows you to understand some of their choices and their lack of options. The Working Poor makes you understand what it is like to work hard, but still not be able to rise out of poverty

The people in this book are in a life of poverty for many reasons, they are "climbing out of welfare, drug addiction or homelessness" (Shipler, 4) and now are trapped in low-wage work. For these people any small inconvenience can strip their small savings, take their home and put them on the streets. When they work for minimum wage, or close to, and have no benefits, any small upset is a crisis. If a child gets sick, they can not afford to take them to the doctor or get a prescription, the child's condition worsens and they must get emergency care and be away from work, they most likely will lose their job and then be stuck with thousands of dollars work of hospital bills. If their car breaks down, they don't have the money to get it fixed and that forces them to rely on public transportation or walking to work, again threatening their employment. It is an endless cycle. They don't have money in savings because they are poor and have to spend every penny they make to survive, they don't have an education because they can not afford to take time away from work to attend, they have trouble getting better paying positions because they don't have higher education so they are forced to live paycheck to paycheck.

Many of the working poor come from parents who are part of the working poor. They raise children who fall into the same life that their parents live because they are unable to help them to rise out of poverty. Children from poor homes face many disadvantages in life. Their families can't afford to take them to the doctor and dentists for check ups, they live in run-down homes that perpetuate many illnesses, the homes often lack warmth and good food which makes it hard to concentrate on learning to get ahead and many parents aren't good at parenting either from a lack of quality role models, stress and an inability to get help dealing with it or working long hours and being absent. Being poor doesn't make a person a bad parent, but being poor takes away much of the assistance that helps to make a good parent. With out extra money it is hard to find good childcare, so many children have to fend for themselves at an early age. Poor parents aren't able to get away on a short vacation or trip to the spa to recharge. Most of poor families are headed by single-women, raising children with out any other adult support is also a challenge. Shipler believes that there needs to be a way out for these children. There has to be a way to break this cycle of poverty so that generations of children aren't destined suffers in the invisible America.

The Working Poor explores the lives of immigrants. Many of these people work in garment sweatshops and as migrant farmers. These jobs pay horrible and the working atmosphere is equally bad. In the garment shops, they are paid a few cents per garment but expected to sew them so fast that they reach the hourly minimum wage. If they consistently fail to make minimum wage they are fired, and it is near impossible to sew fast enough to make much over the minimum wage. Some of the garment shops open up and close down every couple of months leaving employees with unpaid wages and no job. In one shop, the employees were literally chained to their sewing tables and forced to work most of the 24 hours in a day. "They were told that if they tried to resist or escape, their homes in Thailand would be burned, their families murdered, and they would be beaten."(Shipler, 80-81) These people can't complain because they are immigrants and if they do, they are deported. So they suffer in silence hoping to one day achieve the American Dream.

In the chapter Body and Mind, Shipler talks about food. "Food is one of the few flexible parts of a tight budget."(Shipler, 201) Other bills can not be changed, rent, utilities, phone bill can not be negotiated, and the amount is due on the due date, period. Food on the other hand can be nipped to fit what money is left over after the concrete bills are paid. "The result is an array of malnourished children in America."(Shipler, 201) When the children are hungry they can not concentrate at school, develop properly or fight off illness. This pushes these children farther and father away from hope of climbing out of poverty. If they can not concentrate and do well in school, they will perhaps not graduate, not get into college, and not get a good job. If they can not develop and fight off illness, they could be doomed to either a sickly life or a very short one. The parents are unable to get proper medical attention and even if they are able if the nutritional situation doesn't change, the medical treatment is almost pointless because the child can't survive with the constant lack of basic needs. Many children suffer from a condition know as "failure to thrive. " (Shipler, 202) For children and families to be helped, there must be a team of nutritionists, doctors, social workers, psychologists and many others. The doctors need to help to diagnose and treat the medical problems. Nutritionists are needed to educate families on proper eating. The social workers and psychologists help with problems with the family dynamics including: struggles of single parenthood, abusive situations past and present, and general stress of surviving in poverty. The families need help with housing to help prevent further illnesses, and help finding jobs to pay for housing, medical bills and good quality food. Unless all of these areas and more are addressed, the problems are not really being fixed, just patched and repaired until the next break.

The chapter Sins of the Fathers, discusses a common problem for many of the women in poor families, sexual abuse and the emotional and physical scars that go along with it. Abuse is not unique to those in poverty, but they don't have the means to get help and treatment that other social

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