Pulitzer Prize winners Kristof and WuDunn (A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity, 2014, etc.) zero in on working-class woes and how to ease them.
With an earnest blend of shoe-leather reporting and advocacy for social justice, the married journalists send a clear message to anyone who wants to see working-class Americans prosper: Stop blaming them for making “bad choices” and for failing to “pull themselves up by the bootstraps.” While acknowledging the need for personal responsibility—and for aid from private charities—the authors make a forceful case that the penalties for missteps fall unequally on the rich and poor in spheres that include education, health care, employment, and the judicial system; to end the injustices, the government also must act. “After Harvey Weinstein was arrested for sexual assault following accusations by more than eighty women, he was freed on bail,” they write. “In contrast, a young adult caught smoking marijuana may be unable to afford bail and stuck indefinitely in jail, losing his job and, unable to make payments, perhaps his home and car as well.” In making their case, the authors describe what they saw in Kristof’s hometown of Yamhill, Oregon, where the loss of well-paying union jobs and other upheavals have left a community in peril. Elsewhere, they find hope in initiatives such as the Remote Area Medical aid group, which offers free health care in Appalachia, and the Women in Recovery program in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which gives some offenders counseling instead of prison time, leading to lower recidivism rates. At times, the authors sound less like print journalists than like politicians (we’re wasting “America’s most important resource, its people”) or Oprah (“Ten Steps You Can Take in the Next Ten Minutes To Make a Difference”). Whatever the tone, the book is enhanced by the more than two dozen black-and-white photographs by award-winning photojournalist Lynsey Addario.
An ardent and timely case for taking a multipronged approach to ending working-class America’s long decline.