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How Ordinary Americans Subvert an Unfair Economy

by Lisa Dodson

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-59558-472-4
Publisher: New Press

Eloquent, rational analysis of the social intersections between middle-class working Americans and working-poor Americans, and the surprising daily efforts by bosses, teachers and healers to level this uneven economic playing field.

Sociologist Dodson (Don’t Call Us Out of Name: The Untold Lives of Women and Girls in Poor America, 1998) began researching what would become this book by studying the day-to-day balancing acts performed by working-poor parents in their efforts to raise families. In 2001, her focus shifted when one interview subject, a middle-class grocery-store manager, asked Dodson if she was curious how he ethically dealt with employing a low-wage workforce who couldn't support themselves on what he paid them. The author consequently discovered that in response to a market that seemingly institutionalizes poverty among its workers—one in four working Americans earn less than $19,000 annually—many supervisors, teachers and health-care workers simply break rules to secure the well-being of their workers, patients and students. Dodson’s conclusions are quantifiable and surprising. Managers break the guidelines they were trained to follow because, as many tell her, “being asked to collude with rules that are immoral and treat people unfairly eventually will lead to acts of disobedience.” Teachers openly reject curriculum and regulations that regard students as socioeconomically equal when, as most teachers note, they are anything but. Health-care workers cheat on insurance forms to care for uninsured patients. Dodson writes clearly and unsentimentally about this unorganized grassroots movement, grounded in notions of economic morality and spearheaded by everyday workers operating in the front lines of America’s current recession. The author rejects as conditional and subjective the American middle-class ideal of economic self-reliance and offers an alternate five-part solution to the worst social stratification since 1928. At the heart of this movement toward equality are common people who, Dodson writes, “reach the point where they break the rules—seek a moral underground—in order to treat others as they would be treated because, finally, that is the heart of decent society.”

Important, encouraging reporting.