An updating of Michael Harrington’s influential 1962 report on poverty, The Other America, written in the hope that it, too, will launch a new war on poverty.
For 18 months, freelance journalist Abramsky (Inside Obama’s Brain, 2009, etc.), creator of the oral history project Voices of Poverty, traveled across more than half the states in the country to talk with the newly poor and the long-term destitute. These interviews, many of which can be heard on the project’s website, form the bulk of the first part of the book, “The Voices of Poverty.” They are accompanied by data from documented sources and hard statistics and by the author’s analysis of what he discovered as he looked into such issues as jobs, wages, health care, housing and education. His portrait of poverty is one of great complexity and diversity, existential loneliness and desperation—but also amazing resilience. In the second section, “Building a New and Better House,” Abramsky calls for basic changes in the economic landscape to reduce poverty. He bases his proposal on four major revenue sources: a public-works fund; an educational-opportunity fund; a poverty-mitigation fund backed by a financial transaction tax and energy profit taxes; and higher taxes on capital gains and high-end incomes and inheritances. He spells out in some detail just how this money could be used to bring about a more equitable social compact in America. The author sees this as a moral imperative that will require an informed, proactive electorate and a citizen-led push for reform.
Abramsky’s well-researched, deeply felt depiction of poverty is eye-opening, and his outrage is palpable. He aims to stimulate discussion, but whether his message provokes action remains to be seen.