A People's History of Poverty in America (New Press People's History)

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9781565849341: A People's History of Poverty in America (New Press People's History)
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A sweeping, revelatory history of poverty in America from the nineteenth century to today, told through the eyes and experiences of the poor themselves. "When you live in a shelter, other people control your life. They tell you when you may come in and when you must go out. They tell you when you can take your shower and when you can wash your clothing."—from A People's History of Poverty and Welfare in America

In this compulsively readable social history, a brilliant new addition to The New Press's acclaimed People's History series, political scientist Stephen Pimpare vividly describes poverty from the perspective of poor and welfare-reliant Americans from the big city to the rural countryside. He focuses on how the poor have created community, secured shelter, and found food and illuminates their battles for dignity and respect.

Through prodigious archival research and lucid analysis, Pimpare details the ways in which charity and aid for the poor have been inseparable, more often than not, from the scorn and disapproval of those who would help them. In the rich and often surprising historical testimonies he has collected from the poor in America, Pimpare overturns any simple conclusions about how the poor see themselves or what it feels like to be poor—and he shows clearly that the poor are all too often aware that charity comes with a price. It is that price that Pimpare eloquently questions in this book, reminding us through powerful anecdotes, some heart-wrenching and some surprisingly humorous, that poverty is not simply a moral failure.

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About the Author:

Stephen Pimpare is the author of The New Victorians: Poverty, Politics, and Propaganda in Two Gilded Ages. He teaches American politics and social welfare policy at Yeshiva College and the Wurzweiler School of Social Work.

Review:

Illuminating history of America's poor, disproving many stereotypes while emphasizing that the social safety net varies "depending upon who you are, when you live, and where you live." [...]

Pimpare (political science, Yeshiva Coll.; The New Victorians: Poverty, Politics, and Propaganda in Two Gilded Ages) has written a concise and distinctive bottom-up history, arguing that there are myths about America's poor that have been around since our country's founding. Some of the myths include the belief that being poor is a moral failure and that the poor are lazy, buy too many "luxury" items, and have more children just to stay on welfare. Pimpare knocks down these myths one by one, lifting us from our ignorance in the process. The book's strength is the use of firsthand accounts from the poor, but while this is not a comprehensive history of policy, policy is not ignored. Pimpare is honest about his viewpoints, which might put off some politically conservative readers. He supports an improved welfare state, noting that historically, the United States has done a bad job of helping the poor, especially in the last 40 years. His arguments are provocative and are welcome in the study of public policy. Recommended for academic libraries. -Bryan Craig, MLS, Nellysford, VA

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Publisher: The New Press, 2011
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