Here are Lessons and Takeaways from The American Way of Poverty by Sasha Abramsky

American Way of PovertyYesterday, at the Urban Engagement Book Club, I presented my synopsis of The American Way of Poverty: How the Other Half Still Lives by Sasha Abramsky. It is kind of an unofficial 50 year follow-up to the 1962 classic by Micahel Harrignton,The Other America. (Read this blog post about that book).

Here’s my introductory paragraph to this newer book:

It’s been fifty years – five decades, a half of a century — since Michael Harrington wrote The Other America. Since then, after some genuine initial progress in fighting poverty, the energy, the passion, the conviction to fight poverty has dramatically lessened. And greater poverty is upon us – back with a vengeance.Other America

This book calls for action; again; now…

And, here are a few quotes/excerpt from this book:

Fifty years after the social critic Michael Harrington published his groundbreaking book The Other America, in which he chronicled the lives lived of those excluded from the Age of Affluence, poverty in America is back with a vengeance. It is made up both of the long-term, chronically poor and the newly impoverished, the victims of a broken economy and a collapsed housing market.

The saga of the timeless poor, of individuals immersed in poverty for decades, of communities mired in poverty for generations, is something of a dog-bites-man story: It’s sad, but it’s not new.

Too poor to participate in the consumption rituals that define most Americans’ lives, too cash-strapped to go to malls, to visit cafés or movie theaters, to buy food anywhere other than dollar stores, these men and women live on America’s edge.

All of these people share an existential loneliness, a sense of being shut out of the most basic rituals of society.

At the end of this book, Mr. Abramsky includes this warning:

If, in the year 2062, another journalist has to revisit this issue again, to comment on poverty’s stubborn presence on the American landscape a century after Harrington’s cri de coeur, it will be because of a failure of wills far more than a failure of intelligence or a lack of resources.

His point is clear; we have not made enough progress. In fact, we have gone “backward” in recent years, and thus, poverty is “back with a vengeance.” Though the book is filled with moving stories, it is the fact of the persistence of the problems that is so disturbing…

One reason:

“No one has an anti-poverty agenda.”
And one reason is they don’t have that lobbying voice on the Hill…

Here are my lessons and takeaways from this book:

1. You accomplish what you pay attention to… if you don’t pay attention, nothing is accomplished.
2. The crisis of the “wealthy” trumps the ongoing crisis for the poor. Seemingly every time.
3. The growth of the wealth for the wealthy trumps the alleviation of the suffering of the poor.
4. And so, again (and again and again), the poor are “invisible,” because of the much, much greater visibility, and influence, of the wealthy. (And, because of the “segmenting” of the poor from the rest of society).
5. The solution will require real agenda changes; policy changes; tax changes. Including much more robust estate taxes, a genuinely greater safety net, and “for the future” investments (e.g., education).
6. And, such policy changes are unlikely in the current political climate.

I have been reading and presenting books on poverty and social justice for quite a few years now at the Urban Engagement Book Club, sponsored by CitySquare. Many of these books are hopeful, but nearly all of them are disturbing.

On this blog, I focus more on business books and business issues. But, ultimately, if the percentage of the poor continues to grow (it is growing now), it will effect “demand,” and consumption, and American business will feel the ripple effects. I think reading an occasional book on poverty would be a smart business-thinkers move. This book, The American Way of Poverty, would be a good one to start with.


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