An arresting appraisal of America's working poor. Drawing on anecdotal evidence as well as statistical data, Schwarz (Political Science/Univ. of Arizona) and his colleague (mayor of Tucson from 1987-91) limn the hard lives of the industrious individuals whose paychecks are too low to provide them or their families with basic necessities—adequate housing, food, clothing, medical care, transport, etc. During 1989, they calculate, 56 million Americans resided in households that could not make ends meet despite one or more breadwinners with full-time jobs. By the numbers, the authors estimate, an income at least 155% of the federal government's official poverty line is necessary for households to reach the threshold of self-sufficiency. To bring the needy employed up to these subsistence levels, they propose that Washington increase the minimum wage to $4.85 per hour and expand earned-income tax credits on a sliding scale. In the course of investigating the hand-to-mouth existence of the working poor, Schwarz and Volgy made some discoveries that go against the grain of conventional wisdom—e.g., that capitalism's low-profile casualties are neither uneducated nor unskilled: In fact, two thirds have high-school diplomas, and approximately one million hold college degrees. While white males account for the single largest segment, moreover, the ranks of the working poor encompass all age, ethnic, and racial groups in the US. Nor, the authors determined, has either the putative decline in domestic manufacturing or decelerating gains in industrial productivity contributed measurably to the impoverishment of these wage-earners; and the writers argue that the public sector's job-creation programs, however successful, cannot solve what is a problem involving shortfalls in income. Accordingly, Schwarz and Volgy conclude, an affluent society owes its working poor an affordable helping hand. A heartfelt and persuasively documented reminder that all isn't well at home.
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