THE NEW AMERICAN POVERTY by Michael Harrington
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THE NEW AMERICAN POVERTY

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The Other America revisited? To the extent, yes, that Harrington wants us to know that the poor are still with us, and hopes to rally us to another war on poverty: one of his points is that, contrary to common belief, the first one hardly got off the ground, and did enjoy modest successes. But he resisted such a title, he says, because today's poverty is different from the poverty of the 1960s, and preceding poverties: it results from structural economic change (declining industrial employment, a two-tier society) that makes it both more intractable and more difficult to see. (It is tied to employment levels, ever-threatening, and no longer confined to pockets.) We resist seeing it, too, because we have lost faith in our ability to abolish it (by social programs or an expanding economy), and lost our traditional good-will toward the poor: we recoiled when some of them demanded their rights; many of us are struggling to keep what we have; we've been misled by false claims that the poor are fattening on in-kind benefits (food stamps, Medicaid), that our economic ills were caused by excessive entitlements (the NYC syndrome). The force of the book is the truth, and coherence, of that argument. Individual sections, of varying effectiveness, point out who the new poor are: workers in smokestack industries, either too old for retraining or relocation, or doomed to lower-income work: the uprooted--the dehospitalized mentally ill, the young (predominantly black and Hispanic) who can't find steady jobs, the victims of housing dislocation (SRO conversion, gentrification); the ""superfluous"" poor blacks, unable to start up the traditional immigrant ladder, and often despairing, defeated; the ""undocumented workers"" (illegal immigrants), forced into sweatshops and homework, then held up to the native-poor as harder working. And the under-class--of ""Violent Men and Immoral Women."" in this treacherous area, Harrington emphasizes the causal complexity of lower-class black crime and black family breakdown--attributing both, basically, to the fact that, in America, aspirations and attitudes transcend class lines, while the means of advancing, and the danger of descending, do not. (Single parenthood, though more socially acceptable, is still a disaster for the black ghetto girl or the separated white working-class mother.) Harrington also looks at the ""traditional"" poverties: southern blacks, New York and other ""Appalachians,"" migrants, Indians. The book as a whole rests less on description and exhortation than The Other America, however. What registers here is the total, dismal, interrelated picture--and Harrington's running, point-by-point rebuttal to those who refuse to see it or do anything about it.

Pub Date: Aug. 31st, 1984
Publisher: Holt, Rinehart & Winston