New book documents pervasiveness of America's poverty problem

Published: Monday, Sept. 23 2013 6:42 p.m. MDT

With his new book “The American Way of Poverty: How the Other Half Still Lives,” author Sasha Abramsky aims to catalyze a broad social discussion about the past, present and future of poverty in the United States.

“Abramsky traveled across this country and interviewed hundreds of people, both the newly poor and the long-term poor, for his book, ‘The American Way of Poverty: How the Other Half Still Lives,’ ” NBC News producer Barbara Raab reported Monday. “Abramsky’s project comes 50 years after Michael Harrington’s groundbreaking 1962 report on poverty, ‘The Other America.’ Like Harrington, Abramsky wants to grab America by the throat and say, ‘look!,’ and also, ‘do something!’ ”

In the Sept. 22 edition of the New York Times Book Review, David K. Shipler wrote, “(Abramsky) travels the United States meeting the poor, whose wrenching tales he inserts in tight vignettes among data-driven analyses and acute dissections of government programs. The country he portrays is damaged by indifference at high levels — his American heroes are not in Congress or boardrooms — but is rescued here and there by caring citizens at the grass roots, their inventive programs achieving small successes.”

The website Salon published an excerpt earlier this month from “The American Way of Poverty.” That passage asserts the Nixon administration achieved significant success in the “war on poverty,” only to see much of that progress erode during subsequent decades.

“Even while President Richard Nixon rhetorically tilted rightward — talking of a Silent Majority enraged by lax criminal justice codes, a mollycoddling welfare state, and the presence of a seemingly permanent underclass — in reality he presided over significant expansions of … anti-hunger programs,” Abramsky wrote in the Salon excerpt. “He also sought to create a universal healthcare system that in many of its particulars looked strikingly like the one ultimately implemented under President Obama nearly four decades later ….

“From the 1970s on, as misery and hardship stubbornly refused to vanish from the national landscape, America’s commitment both to reducing income inequality and to mitigating the effects of that inequality began to wane.”

Email: jaskar@desnews.com

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