Book recommendation: "The Working Poor: Invisible in America"

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Word on the street is that the economy is in very good health. At the time of writing, the U.S. unemployment rate is at a remarkably low 3.7%, jobs continue to be created in the economy, and economic growth is chugging along steadily. But the Americans aren’t the only ones enjoying the riches of economic growth. A recent report by the Swiss investment bank UBS found that the global unemployment rate reached its lowest point in four decades, a very impressive 5.2%.

These statistics tell us that the global/U.S. economy is doing wonderfully well. Lots of people have jobs and if people have jobs, there’s no need to worry, right?

Not quite.

The Economic Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture found that the share of households in which one or more members are employed and receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) welfare benefits increased from 19.6% to 31.8% between 1989 and 2015.

A report by the United Way found that 34.7 million households in the U.S. (=29% of households in the country) are ALICEAsset-Limited, Income-Constrained, [but] Employed. This means that they work and earn above the federal poverty level, but do not earn enough to afford the basic monthly expenses of housing, food, child care, health care, and transportation.

Furthermore, the Federal Reserve’s Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2017 found that 40% of American adults were unable to cover a $400 emergency expense if such an emergency were to occur.

But how could all of this be the case? How could so many people be struggling when the economy is in such excellent shape and unemployment is so low.

Shouldn’t everyone be prospering?

The Working Poor: Invisible In America

As the title suggests, David K. Shipler’s book The Working Poor: Invisible In America tells the stories of the forgotten and invisible people of America. Shipler spent years traveling the nation not to seek the success stories of America’s booming economy, but to speak to those that have been cruelly left behind and neglected by the rest of the “exceptional economy.”

Who are these people?

They are men and women working two or three jobs and still not earning enough to pay their bare-basic household expenses. They are people that aren’t “lazy” cheats exploiting the welfare system, but single mothers and fathers working 11-hour workdays, 6 days a week, in jobs that barely pay minimum wage and rarely offer healthcare. They are human beings living in such precarious situations that one flat tire to their car, one bout of the flu, or one wisdom tooth that needs removal will result in a full-blown financial crisis in their lives.

And these people don’t live in third-world countries on the other side of the world. No, these people are right here in the richest country in the world.

The Working Poor: Invisible In America is an extremely sobering look at the disgraceful side of the economy. It is a detailed look at stories that, even more disgracefully, are conveniently brushed aside and rarely told in the mainstream conversation because we prefer to entertain ourselves with the narrative of “a roaring economy” that “couldn’t be better.”

If you want to learn about the side of the economy that the media rarely tells you — the more truthful account of millions of people that we conveniently choose to ignore because their stories don’t fit our preferred narrative of “an amazing economy” — then I highly recommend you read the bestselling book The Working Poor: Invisible In America.

See you, Space Cowboy.