Most of the people I write about in this book do not have the luxury of rage. They are caught in exhausting struggles. Their wages do not lift them far enough from poverty to improve their lives, and their lives, in turn hold them back. The term by which they are usually described, “working poor,” should be an oxymoron. Nobody who works hard should be poor in America.
David Shipler, The Working Poor: (Invisible in America)
Christmas is right around the corner. And we are all beginning to think about gifts and parties. But this year, stories overflow about those in need. Maybe it’s time to read a book or two about the struggles of so many.
Unemployment is up, food pantries are overrun, and hunger is on the rise. My friend Larry James, the CEO of Central Dallas Ministries, constantly reminds us to think of others. Here is an excerpt from a Thanksgiving entry on his blog (by the way, his blog is on my regular to-read list):
While millions of Texas households prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving with a hearty family meal, millions of their fellow Texans aren’t sure when or how they’ll get their next meal.
“Texans should be shocked that a state as prosperous as Texas is doing so poorly,” says the state’s agriculture commissioner, Republican Todd Staples.
According to federal statistics released last week, 16.3 percent of Texas households lack regular access to adequate nutrition or face hunger nightly. The percentage of so-called “food insecure” households in Texas is more than 4 points higher than the national average of 12.2 percent, ranking Texas ahead of only Mississippi. In these households, people regularly skip meals, eat cheaper and less nutritious foods, depend on government aid like food stamps or seek help from food pantries.
One thing you could do this holiday season is read a good book about those in need.
For a few years, in addition to the books I read and present for business audiences at the First Friday Book Synopsis and elsewhere, I also read at least one book a month dealing with issues of poverty and social justice. I present these for the Urban Engagement Book Club for Central Dallas Ministries. There are many books to recommend from the list of books I have presented. For example, Nickel and Dimed: On Not Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich has become a modern day classic. But if I had one book to suggest as a starting place, it would be The Working Poor: (Invisible in America) by David K. Shipler.
David Shipler is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who turned his gaze upon the working poor in America, the “invisible” among us. It is a group worth discovering, but, in Shipler’s words, they are almost “invisible in America.” From Shipler:
The man who washes cars does not own one. The clerk who files cancelled checks at the bank has $2.02 in her account. The woman who copy-edits medical textbooks has not been to a dentist in a decade.
This is the forgotten America. At the bottom of the working world, millions live in the shadow of prosperity, in the twilight between poverty and well-being.
They are shaped by their invisible hardships.
Check with any food pantry and you will find that significant percentages of their clients are people who actually work — hard. They have jobs, but they simply do not make enough to take care of all of their human needs.
Shipler writes this about the people he profiled in the book:
If this were a collection of short stories, they could be said to have character and sometimes plot, even family tragedy and lonely heroism. But there is no climax, and no tale ends. Lives continue unresolved.
Yes, we should continue to pay attention to and give to the nonprofits that serve the abused, the homeless, the mentally ill. But the needs seem to be spreading to many in these more difficult days. Reading a book like The Working Poor is an old-fashioned exercise in “consciousness raising.” Maybe we all could pay a little more attention to this problem that never really goes away.
Let’s remember the people in need – and seek to do our part.
(If you are looking for a place that will put your contributions to work, let me suggest Central Dallas Ministries. Click here to contribute).