AIB US History Discussion


Answer each question FULLY regarding the information. The length of EACH question should be a COUPLE OF PARAGRAPHS. It should be typed in Times New Roman 12-point font, double spaced. *For question 3 please use the book that is provided down below (The Other America, Michael Harrington)
1. Despite the destruction of slavery at the end of the Civil War, America continued to face the difficult challenge of securing civil, political, and economic rights for all Americans. The struggle for civil rights and economic equality grew in the years following the Great Depression. What changes occurred in the United States from 1929 onward that strengthened the struggle for civil and economic rights in the United States? What groups became most prominent in the struggle for civil rights in the postwar period? How did they frame their issues and seek to support for their causes? What tactics did they use to push their agendas? Finally, how successful have the groups you choose been at securing the types of equity for which they strove? How did these goals come together with the goals of the other groups that you have discussed? Be sure to examine the key documents and events that marked their programs as well as successes and failures.2. Throughout this course we have witnessed the emergence of progressive coalitions that challenged the status quo and sought to increase the government’s role in protecting its citizens. Compare the progressive coalition that emerged in the 1930s with that which emerged in the 1960s. What groups belonged to these coalitions? What were their goals and agendas in supporting Roosevelt’s New Deal and Johnson’s Great Society? How successful were their efforts? What were some of the specific programs in each period and how did they connect? How similar were the philosophies driving the programs and what were the differences? How did the specific programs you examined affect American society at the time? What specific long lasting impact did they have on American society? 3. Michael Harrington’s The Other America challenged Americans to recognize poverty in the United States and take action to end it. Review Harrington’s arguments and evidence about poverty and examine three responses to Harrington’s ideas that emerged in Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. Be sure to be specific about the three areas that you have chosen and the specific legislative efforts that were made in response to each area. Do the responses of the Great Society policies meet the call of Harrington? If they were insufficient, explain how and why. If they were successful or sufficient, be sure to present evidence of their sufficiency or success.4. The importance of the United States in global affairs has continued to grow since the conclusion of World War II. The increasing economic, military, and political power of the United States required significant changes in American foreign policy, but the United Sates also remained committed to important ideals. Examine the course of American foreign policy since 1933 and discuss the significant changes and the consistencies in American policy. What challenges did American foreign policymakers face? What did they focus on achieving around the globe? What new problems did they face? In what ways did they face these problems? Be sure to include the important documents, organizations, events, and people that impacted on these polices.

1 attachmentsSlide 1 of 1attachment_1attachment_1

Unformatted Attachment Preview

“An excellent book—and a most important one.”
AMERICA, was first published in 1962, it was hailed as an explosive
work and became a galvanizing force for the War on Poverty.
Harrington shed light on the lives of the poor—from farm to city—and
the social forces that relegated them to poverty. He was determined
to make poverty in the United States visible, and his observations and
analyses have had a profound effect on our country—from how we
view the poor to the policies implemented to fight poverty. In the fifty
years since it was published, The Other America has been established
as a seminal work of sociology. This anniversary edition includes
Michael Harrington’s essays on poverty in the 1970s and 1980s as
well as a new foreword by Harrington’s biographer, Maurice Isserman.
This illuminating, profoundly moving classic is still all too relevant for
today’s America.
“Mike Harrington has made more Americans more uncomfortable
for more good reasons than any other person I know. For most
people, that would be achievement enough. But for Mike it was
only the beginning—because the more he saw that was wrong with
America, the harder he fought to make it right.”
Other America is a] scream of rage, a call to conscience.”
MICHAEL HARRINGTON was the dean of American Socialism. He
was the author of numerous books, including Toward a Democratic
Left; The New American Poverty; Socialism: Past and Future; and his
autobiography, The Long-Distance Runner. He was a contributing
editor of Dissent and the chief editor of the Socialist party biweekly,
New America. He died in 1989.
Praise for e Other America
“Mike Harrington has made more Americans more uncomfortable for more
good reasons than any other person I know. For most people, that would be
achievement enough. But for Mike it was only the beginning—because the
more he saw that was wrong with America, the harder he fought to make it
—Senator Edward Kennedy
“[e Other America is a] scream of rage, a call to conscience.”
—e New York Times Book Review
“In the admirably short space of under two hundred pages [Harrington]
outlines the problem, describes in imaginative detail what it means to be
poor in this country today … and analyzes the reasons for the persistence of
mass poverty in the midst of general prosperity. It is an excellent book—and
a most important one.”
—Dwight Macdonald, e New Yorker
Also by Michael Harrington
e Accidental Century
Toward a Democratic Left:
A Radical Program for a New Majority
Fragments of the Century: A Social Autobiography
Decade of Decision: e Crisis of the American System
e New American Poverty
e Next Left: e History of a Future
e Long-Distance Runner: An Autobiography
Socialism: Past & Future
A Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020
Copyright © 1962, 1969, 1981 by Michael Harrington
Introduction copyright © 1993 by Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Foreword copyright © 2012 by Maurice Isserman
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions
thereof in any form whatsoever. For information address Scribner
Subsidiary Rights Department, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY
is Scribner trade paperback edition March 2012
and design are registered trademarks of e Gale Group, Inc., used
under license by Simon & Schuster, Inc., the publisher of this work.
e Simon & Schuster Speakers Bureau can bring authors to your live event.
For more information or to book an event contact the Simon & Schuster
Speakers Bureau at 1-866-248-3049 or visit our website at
Library of Congress Control Number: 93010798
ISBN 978-0-684-82678-3
ISBN 978-1-4516-8876-4 (eBook)
ank you for purchasing this Scribner eBook.
Sign up for our newsletter and receive special offers, access to bonus content, and info on the
latest new releases and other great eBooks from Scribner and Simon & Schuster.
or visit us online to sign up at
Foreword to e Other America
by Maurice Isserman
Introduction by Irving Howe
One: e Invisible Land
Two: e Rejects
ree: Pastures of Plenty
Four: If You’re Black, Stay Back
Five: ree Poverties
Six: e Golden Years
Seven: e Twisted Spirit
Eight: Old Slums, New Slums
Nine: e Two Nations
Appendix: Definitions
Aerword: Poverty in the Seventies
Poverty and the Eighties
to e Other America
by Maurice Isserman
When Michael Harrington’s e Other America: Poverty in the United States
first appeared in bookstores in March 1962, its author had modest hopes for
its success, expecting to sell at most a few thousand copies. Instead, the book
proved a publishing phenomenon, garnering substantial sales (70,000 in
several editions within its first year, and more than a million in paperback
since then), wide and respectful critical attention, and a significant influence
over the direction of social welfare policy in the United States during the
decade that followed. By February 1964, Business Week noted that “e
Other America is already regarded as a classic work on poverty.” Time
magazine later offered even more sweeping praise, listing e Other America
in a 1998 article titled “Required Reading” as one of the twentieth century’s
ten most influential books, putting it in such distinguished company as
Sigmund Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents and Aleksandr
Solzhenitsyn’s e Gulag Archipelago.
Harrington’s own knowledge of poverty was, for the most part, acquired
secondhand, as he would recount in two memoirs, Fragments of the Century
(1973) and e Long-Distance Runner: An Autobiography (1988). Born in
1928 in St. Louis, the only child of loving and moderately prosperous
parents of sturdy Irish Catholic lineage, educated at Holy Cross, Yale Law
School, and the University of Chicago, he moved to New York City in 1949
to become a writer. In 1951 he joined Dorothy Day’s Catholic Worker
movement as a volunteer at its soup kitchen; there he got to know a small
subset of the nation’s poor: the homeless male alcoholics of New York City’s
Bowery district. Within a few years he le the Catholic Worker (and the
Catholic Church) and joined the Young People’s Socialist League, the youth
affiliate of the battered remnants of the American Socialist Party, a party
then led by Norman omas. A tireless organizer, prolific writer, skillful
debater, and charismatic orator, Harrington succeeded omas as America’s
best-known socialist in the 1960s, just as omas had succeeded Eugene
Debs in that role in the 1920s. Socialism was never the road to power in the
United States, but socialist leaders such as Debs, omas, and Harrington
were, from time to time, able to play the role of America’s social conscience.
In the years since Harrington’s death from cancer in 1989, at the age of sixtyone, no obvious successor to the post of socialist tribune in the Debsomas-Harrington tradition has emerged.
Harrington’s most famous appeal to the American conscience, e Other
America, was a short work (186 pages in the original edition) with a simple
thesis: poverty in the affluent society of the United States was both more
extensive and more tenacious than most Americans assumed. e extent of
poverty could be calculated by counting the number of American
households that survived on an annual income of less than $3,000. ese
figures were readily available in the census data, but until Harrington
published e Other America they were rarely considered. Harrington
revealed to his readers that an “invisible land” of the poor, more than
40,000,000 strong, or one in four Americans at the time, fell below the
poverty line. For the most part this Other America existed in rural isolation
and in crowded slums where middle-class visitors seldom ventured. “at
the poor are invisible is one of the most important things about them,”
Harrington wrote in his introduction in 1962. “ey are not simply
neglected and forgotten as in the old rhetoric of reform; what is much worse,
they are not seen.”
at was then. Fiy years since the publication of e Other America the
poor are still among us—and in a testament to the lasting significance of
Harrington’s work, not at all invisible. Whether or not the poor exist is thus
no longer a matter of debate; what if anything can be done to improve their
condition remains at issue.
In September 2011, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that more than
46,000,000 Americans—nearly one in six—were living below the officially
established poverty line in 2010, as defined by an annual income of $22,314
for a family of four. (is report can be found at
In absolute numbers it was the greatest number of Americans living below
the poverty line since the bureau began keeping such records in 1959, three
years before the appearance of e Other America. e report revealed that
some groups of Americans were particularly hard hit: for blacks the poverty
rate was 27 percent, for Hispanics, 26 percent. Residents of Rust Belt cities in
the old industrial heartland of the Northeast and Midwest also suffered
disproportionately: Reading, Pennsylvania, had the nation’s highest poverty
rate of 41.3 percent, followed by Flint, Michigan, at 41.2 percent. Age was
also a factor, with young families overrepresented: according to census data,
35 percent of American children were being raised in poverty. e recession
that began in 2007–8 exacerbated poverty, but so did the “welfare reform”
measures, enacted in the prosperous 1990s, restricting federal and state cash
aid to poor families.
If the extent of poverty is no longer debatable, explanations for its
tenacity as a social problem as well as possible solutions remain
controversial. Harrington’s own explanation in e Other America for the
tenacity of poverty, ironically, would lend ammunition both to those who
sought to expand federal spending on the nation’s social welfare safety net—
and, in time, to those who wished to cut back such spending.
Harrington lived a life of more or less voluntary poverty in the 1950s,
eking out a meager living as a freelance magazine writer for such
publications as Commonweal and Commentary (it was in the latter, then a
magazine of bracingly liberal sentiments, that an early version of what
became e Other America first appeared in 1959 as a two-article series). In
his career as a freelancer, he proved a gied borrower and adapter of others’
ideas, a kind of intellectual jack-of-all-trades who could write
knowledgeably on topics ranging from contemporary literature to civil
liberties, from ballet to bolshevism. He read widely and proved a quick study
in mastering and translating into an easily accessible prose the sometimes
esoteric concerns and language of a variety of disciplines. And in an act that
proved that ideas truly do have consequences (although not always or only
the ones intended), in the late 1950s he picked up the theory of the “culture
of poverty” from anthropologist Oscar Lewis.
Lewis, whose ethnographic study of Mexican slum dwellers, Five
Families: Mexican Case Studies in the Culture of Poverty, was published in
1959, contended that being poor was not simply a condition marked by the
absence of wealth; rather, poverty created “a subculture of its own.” However
different their places of origin, he argued, poor people in Mexico might have
more in common—in terms of family structure, interpersonal relations,
values systems, and so forth—with their counterparts in Puerto Rico or New
York City than with other, better-off people from their own countries.
Echoing Lewis, Harrington argued that American poverty constituted “a
separate culture, another nation, with its own way of life.” Poor Americans
were not distinguished from their affluent counterparts simply by their lack
of adequate income. Rather, they were
people who lack education and skill, who have bad health, poor
housing, low levels of aspiration and high levels of mental distress. . . .
Each disability is the more intense because it exists within a web of
disabilities. And if one problem is solved, and the others are le
constant, there is little gain.
Poverty would not be solved automatically by the expansion of the
economy (as in “a rising tide lis all boats,” the belief of many liberals at the
time), and it certainly would not be ended by exhortations to the poor to li
themselves up by their own bootstraps (the remedy that appealed to
conservatives). “Society,” Harrington concluded, “must help them before
they can help themselves.” America needed to undertake a broad program of
“remedial action” on behalf of the Other America—a “comprehensive assault
on poverty.”
In the introduction to e Other America Harrington wrote that the poor
needed “an American Dickens” to make them visible to better-off citizens,
although quickly hastening to add that he was no Dickens. ere is,
however, significant evidence of literary cra in the book, notwithstanding
the informal and almost conversational tone that Harrington adopted in his
prose. His creative achievement involved not only the sympathetic
description of the lives and problems of the poor but the creation of his own
authorial persona.
e voice Harrington adopted throughout e Other America was calm
and reasonable, but also idealistic and impassioned. Unlike many le-wing
pamphleteers, he had the ability to convey moral seriousness without lapsing
into moralism. ere is no hint in his writing of the sanctimonious bullying
of the better-off that pervaded so much of the radical style to come later in
the decade. His tone suggested that the reader was a reasonable person, just
like the author, and reasonable people, once apprised of the plight of the
Other America, would agree on the need to find solutions. e enemies he
identified in the book tended to be distanced abstractions such as “social
blindness” or “the vocabulary of not caring” rather than identifiable
individuals or political groups.
Harrington oen illustrated points with his favorite literary device, the
use of paradox. e “welfare state benefits those least who need help most,”
he wrote, because Social Security pensions and unemployment benefits were
more likely to be available and more generous to those with good and steady
employment. Poverty was “expensive to maintain,” because poor
communities required extensive public spending on fire, police, and health
Paradox was combined in e Other America with revelation, the
bringing of hidden evils to light. “Beauty can be a mask for ugliness,” he
wrote of Appalachia, because the wealthy tourist passing through West
Virginia’s mountain ranges might miss the desperate quality of life of the
rural poor in that state. “America has the best-dressed poverty in the world,”
thanks to inexpensive chain-store clothing, allowing the poorly housed, fed,
educated, and doctored to blend in with more affluent fellow citizens when
they mingled in public spaces.
To peer beneath the deceptive surfaces of affluent America, Harrington
suggested, it was necessary to enrich individual observation with social
measurement. He made extensive use of statistics in e Other America, but
he found ways to present them that prevented the nonpublic policy
specialist’s eyes from glazing over. “Sometimes in the course of an official
government report,” he wrote, “a human being will suddenly emerge from
the shadow of statistics and analyses.” Or, in another passage, “Sometimes
the statistics of poverty can be read like a detective story.” e technique
made author and reader allies in the struggle to come to grips with a vast—
but understandable and thus solvable—social ill.
Harrington did not imagine the poor as finer, more authentic, or more
generous human beings than their better-off brethren, as Beat novelist Jack
Kerouac had recently done in On the Road, or as John Steinbeck had done a
generation earlier in e Grapes of Wrath. e lives of the poor as portrayed
in e Other America were generally nasty, brutish, and short, precisely
because they lacked such amenities of middle-class life as decent housing,
education, nutrition, and medical care. Harrington did not hesitate to
present the seedier side of the Other America, including domestic violence,
sexual promiscuity, and substance abuse. In his view this was all part and
product of the culture of poverty, a judgment not on the poor as individuals
but on a society until now indifferent to their plight.
e Other America was a book about poor people, but it was not a book
written for poor people. e readers Harrington was speaking to were
themselves citizens of the affluent society, whose consciences he sought to
stir. And among those readers, reputedly, was President John F. Kennedy,
although whether he actually read the book or the lengthy and favorable
review by literary critic Dwight Macdonald that appeared in the pages of e
New Yorker in February 1963 remains in dispute. Either way, according to
James Sundquist, a political scientist who was involved in early discussions
of antipoverty legislation, e Other America brought to an end “piecemeal”
thinking about social problems in the Kennedy administration. As
Sundquist noted in a 1969 essay on the origins of the war on poverty, the
Kennedy administration had been considering proposals
dealing separately with such problems as slum housing, juvenile
delinquency, unemployment, dependency, and illiteracy, but they were
separately inadequate because they were striking only at some of the
surface aspects of a bedrock problem, and that bedrock problem had
to be identified and defined so that it could be attacked in a concerted,
unified, and innovative way. Perhaps it was Harrington’s book that
identified the target for Kennedy and supplied the coordinating
concept: the bedrock problem, in a word, was “poverty.” Words and
concepts define programs; once the target was reduced to a single
word, the timing became right for a unified program.
Following Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963, his successor,
Lyndon Baines Johnson, took up the issue, and in his State of the Union
address in January 1964 pledged his administration to waging an
“unconditional war on poverty.” Sargent Shriver, Kennedy in-law and
director of the Peace Corps, headed up the task force charged by the new
president with drawing up antipoverty legislation, and he invited the author
of e Other America to Washington as a consultant in February 1964.
Harrington’s success, symbolized by that invitation to lend his expertise
to the federal antipoverty effort, would have ironic consequences. e Other
America popularized the phrase “culture of poverty,” which went on to shape
the main thrust of Johnson’s war on poverty. But a close reading of
Harrington’s book reveals an ambiguity in his employment of that term.
roughout the book he used “culture of poverty” interchangeably with
another term, “vicious circle,” a staple of reformist literature since the
Progressive Era. “Here is one of the most familiar forms of the vicious circle
of poverty,” Harrington wrote in a typical passage:
e poor get sick more than anyone else in the society. at is because
they live in slums, jammed together under unhygienic conditions;
they have inadequate diets, and cannot get decent medical care. When
they become sick, they are sick longer than any other group in society.
Because they are sick more oen and longer than anyone else, they
lose wages and work, and find it difficult to hold a steady job. And
because of this, they cannot pay for good housing, for a nutritious
diet, for doctors. At any given point in this circle, particularly when
there is a major illness, their prospect is to move to an even lower level
and to begin the cycle, round and round, toward even more suffering.
Harrington sought to convince his readers that poverty was a condition
not easy to shed. Everything in the lives of the Other Americans conspired
to keep them in poverty. Outside intervention by the federal government
was necessary to improve their condition. But nothing in the “vicious circle”
he sketched above was culturally determined in the sense that
anthropologist Oscar Lewis had meant when he talked of the culture of
poverty as a normative system at odds with the values of the larger society,
an ingrained and unchanging way of life passed down from generation to
generation. No part of the circle Harrington described was related to a low
level of aspiration, or a tendency to indulge in immediate gratification, or a
propensity for violence, or sexual promiscuity. Poor nutrition, poor medical
care, poor housing, and the resultant frequent and lengthy illnesses were a
result of lack of income, not of cultural traits or behaviors. Everything that
Harrington described in this particular example of the vicious circle could
be improved through the simple expedient of additional household income.
Harrington’s prescription for combating poverty was a broad federal jobs
program, putting the unemployed to work, in essence a return to the New
Deal’s strategy for coping with the Great Depression. But the war that the
federal government fought against poverty in the 1960s was not fought
according to that strategy. Harrington had indeed succeeded in focusing
Washington’s attention on the “invisible land” of the poor. But, as Sundquist
noted, “words and concepts define programs.” And the concept that caught
the attention of policy makers, thanks to e Other America, was “the
culture of poverty.” And if the problem was one of culture rather than simply
lack of income, policy makers reasoned, federally financed jobs were not the
appropriate solution.
e policies eventually adopted by Shriver for the war on poverty were
intended to help the poor to improve themselves, so that they could take
advantage of an expanding economy—“a hand up, not a handout” as he put
it at the time. at meant an emphasis on measures such as preschool
enrichment and job training programs, along with the establishment of
community action agencies in poverty-stricken neighborhoods. Compared
with job programs, these were relatively inexpensive initiatives, which was
part of their political appeal. President Johnson had made it clear to Shriver
that appropriations for his “unconditional war” had to be fought on the
cheap. irty years earlier, at the height of the New Deal, Congress had
appropriated $5 billion for public works programs; in the first year of the
war on poverty, the appropriations for Sargent Shriver’s programs were held
to under a billion dollars (which, given the rate of inflation in the meantime,
was more like a tenth than a fih of the original sum).
Underfinanced and not always well targeted, the war on poverty was still
not the utter and abject failure of later conservative legend. Communityaction agencies proved a controversial and short-lived experiment, soon
abandoned. But other programs, such as the preschool program Head Start,
were more successful. e poverty rate declined sharply during the course of
the decade, from 22.4 percent in 1960 to 12.1 percent in 1969. e decline in
poverty among the elderly was particularly striking, thanks to the creation of
Medicare and increased Social Security benefits (not strictly speaking part of
the war on poverty, but sharing the same sponsors and goals); over the years
since, older Americans have remained underrepresented in the ranks of the
poor as a result of those federal programs, with only 9 percent falling below
the poverty line in 2010.
So if President Johnson’s social welfare programs established a record of,
at least, modest successes, why have they fared so poorly in popular memory
of the 1960s? “We fought a war against poverty,” President Ronald Reagan
once famously quipped, “and poverty won.” If so, it’s hard to understand why
the poverty level has never returned to the levels of the late 1950s, neither in
the economically troubled 1970s nor during the great recession that began
in 2008. In politics, however, perception not infrequently trumps reality.
Americans like their wars, actual and metaphorical, to deliver swi and
unconditional victories, and that kind of victory was beyond the capacity of
the war on poverty to deliver.
Harrington had initially been drawn to the concept of the culture of
poverty because he thought it would serve as a prod to federal action on
many fronts: providing the poor with better housing, better medical care,
better education, as well as creating jobs. What he did not anticipate was
that the theory could cut in other ways, antithetical to his own values and
policy preferences. In the 1970s, the “neoconservatives” (a term coined by
Harrington in 1973 to describe former liberals who had grown disaffected
with government social welfare programs) would use the notion of the
culture of poverty to argue for abandoning the federal war on poverty.
Harrington had argued that structural barriers to social mobility helped
create and perpetuate a set of symptoms—low aspirations, petty criminality,
and the like—that distinguished those living in the culture of poverty from
the mainstream. Neoconservatives, in contrast, described such attitudes and
behavior as the operative causes of poverty. And federal social welfare
programs, they argued (sometimes in the pages of Commentary, which had
by this time moved decisively into the neoconservative camp), were actually
counterproductive, encouraging the spread of single-parent families and a
culture of dependency.
at argument, much more than Harrington’s views, would determine
the fate of social welfare policy in the United States in the decades that
followed. For President Ronald Reagan, it was axiomatic that “government is
not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” Reagan was a
conservative Republican who had consistently opposed social welfare
spending since emerging as a political contender in the mid-1960s. ere
were those, including Michael Harrington, who hotly contested such views
during Reagan’s administration; Harrington’s book e New American
Poverty, published in 1984, challenged those who blamed the poor for their
own condition and argued for a resumption of bold antipoverty initiatives.
But when Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton ran for office in
1992 pledging to “end welfare as we know it,” and later proclaimed that “the
era of big government is over,” it was clear who had won the political
argument on the merits and liabilities of social welfare spending. e poor
never returned to the invisibility that had been their fate in the 1950s, before
the publication of e Other America, but concern over their condition
never returned to the list of national priorities, not even in years of
Democratic political ascendancy.
How relevant does e Other America remain today, as the poverty level
creeps back up from its low point in the late 1960s and early 1970s? As social
theory, the book shows both the signs of age and the imperfections of its
central concept. Harrington’s “culture of poverty” thesis was at best
ambiguous, at worst an impediment to making the case for what he regarded
as the real solution to poverty, federal spending on jobs programs. (In later
books, he made no use of the term.)
But what remains vital in e Other America these many years later is its
moral clarity. In the final chapter of the book, Harrington asked his readers
to make use of their “vision”—and to do so in two senses. First, he asked
them to “see through the wall of affluence” and recognize the true
dimensions of poverty in the United States and its cost in human dignity.
Second, he declared that they need to deploy their vision “in the sense of
purpose and aspiration.” Harrington summoned his readers to “war on
poverty” not just for the sake of the poor but for their own sakes.
Americans, he felt, should be unwilling to live in a society that, having the
resources to provide everyone a decent standard of living, was instead
divided into two nations. “e fate of the poor,” he concluded, “hangs upon
the decision of the better-off. If this anger and shame are not forthcoming,
someone can write a book about the other America a generation from now
and it will be the same or worse.”
e Other America can be read as a jeremiad, a lamentation about social
wickedness, an attempt to inspire “anger and shame” in its readers. But it is,
in the end, an optimistic book, less an indictment and more a reminder to
Americans to live up to their better instincts, and in doing so redeem the
promise of equality enshrined in the national creed. In May 1989,
Harrington gave his final public address, to a group of labor journalists in
New York City. Dinah Leventhal, a youthful socialist activist then working
for the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union, was in the
audience. Aer the talk, she and Harrington spoke for a few minutes.
Knowing his days were numbered from the cancer that would kill him less
than three months later, he was in a reflective mood. He reminisced about
his own days as a young socialist activist, hitchhiking around the country in
the late 1950s and gathering material that he would use in e Other
America. As Leventhal recalled the conversation:
He said that he had felt an incredible degree of freedom and learned so
much in those years. He said I should make the most of it, being an
organizer and traveling around, getting to see the country and getting
to know what the country was all about. He really loved this country
and thought that you had to love the country to be a radical, to be a
socialist, and to want to change it.
Among all the ways it can be read, e Other America is worth considering
as Michael Harrington’s love letter to the United States, a country he loved
and believed in enough to want to see it change for the better.
by Irving Howe
When Michael Harrington’s e Other America began to win a large
audience aer its publication in 1962, both he and his friends were very
much surprised. I remember thinking that Mike’s book, fine as it was, would
probably be numbered among those “worthy” publications that sell four or
five thousand copies and then fade away. Such had been the fate of many
serious books in earlier years, and such would be the fate of many serious
books in later years. But when Mike’s book took off, that seemed a modest
signal that fundamental changes were starting to occur in this country. We
now began to think that the years of conservative doldrums in which the
Cold War had dominated political life were coming to an end.
e conservative mood—it would reappear in the 1980s—had found its
first major postwar expression in the 1950s. Many Americans then began to
assume that the cyclical recessions characteristic of capitalist economies had
been eradicated or at least suppressed in the U.S., and that the economic
crises and social inequities that had prevailed before the Second World War,
and which Franklin Roosevelt’s reforms had by no means eliminated, were
now becoming things of the past. Actually, we were living off the benefits of
a postwar boom and, partly in consequence, a mood of self-congratulation
swept the country. is was especially noticeable among intellectuals, some
of them ex-radicals who would soon transform themselves into “new
conservatives.” Attitudes of social complacency would dominate the years of
Dwight Eisenhower’s presidency, spreading even to segments of the liberal
community. It now seems a little comic to recall that leading liberal
intellectuals wrote solemn essays taking for granted that we had solved our
social problems and therefore could turn to themes of a “higher,” more
spiritual nature. e intellectuals, in short, grew enamored, as they oen do,
of the zeitgeist, that most treacherous of deceptions. Mary McCarthy, for
example, could write something so absurd as this: “Class barriers disappear
or tend to become porous; the factory worker is an economic aristocrat in
comparison to the middle-class clerk. . . . e America … of vast inequalities
and dramatic contrasts is rapidly ceasing to exist.”
Only a handful of intellectuals—a few liberals, a few radicals, some of
them huddling around the newly created magazine Dissent—kept up a
stringent criticism of American society. Michael Harrington, still very
young, was one of these, joining in our polemics against the dominant trend.
ese polemics, I must admit, were little heeded.
One of the things that helped change the mood of the country was the
daring of the Freedom Riders, a group of black and white young people who
traveled to the South in order to help blacks assert their right to vote.
President Kennedy’s youthful earnestness and charm promised an America
more sensitive to the many problems that were festering just beneath the
surface of social life. And Mike’s book helped too.
In his autobiographical Fragments of the Century, Mike writes about the
sudden rise to fame and success which e Other America brought him. He
had published an article, “Our Fiy Million Poor,” in Commentary magazine
—then quite different from the rigidly conservative Commentary of today—
and this article, he said, caused “a small stir.” en the Macmillan Publishing
Company offered Mike a $500 advance, not bad for a young writer in those
days, so that he could enlarge the article into a book. In its first several
months aer publication, e Other America did fairly well, earning Mike
royalties of about $1,500, enough for a visit to Paris. As Mike was browsing
one day in a Paris bookshop, he noticed a lengthy and absolutely first-rate
essay/review by Dwight Macdonald in e New Yorker dealing with
American poverty in general and Mike’s book in particular. Macdonald had
been a comrade of Mike’s and mine in a small socialist group some years
earlier, but had since gone his own way politically. Still, we remained friends
and, unlike many other intellectuals of those days, Macdonald retained a
strong capacity for moral response—which most of the time means moral
indignation. He was also a brilliant journalist, lucid, witty, sharp. His
essay/review, almost a small book in its own right, “made poverty a topic of
conversation,” wrote Mike, “in the intellectual-political world of the
Northeast.” And Mike continued: “en John Kennedy, who had been
deeply moved by the suffering he had seen in West Virginia during the 1960
primary, asked Walter Heller, the chairman of his Council of Economic
Advisers, if there were anything to these new theories about poverty. Heller
told him that there was and gave him a copy of [Mike’s] book. . . . Shortly
thereaer Kennedy decided to make the abolition of poverty a major
domestic goal.” So books can sometimes (not very oen) change the course
of things.
In his autobiography Mike confesses that he worried about the fact that
nowhere in e Other America did he openly declare his socialist
convictions—his belief that it would take governmental planning and social
investments to deal with poverty “even in a reformist way.” He need not have
worried. ere are social and economic problems regarding which liberals
and socialists can work together in harmony, to enact reforms that decent
men and women will endorse. In any case, Mike in his numerous speeches
and articles was making it perfectly clear what his political opinions were. I
doubt that many readers of e Other America didn’t know.
Reading e Other America again aer a lapse of some thirty years, I have
been impressed by how well the book has stood the test of time. Of course,
some of the facts are by now dated, and one of Dwight Macdonald’s
criticisms—that Mike should have included reference notes—is to the point.
More problematic, though a matter of great importance, is the central
premise out of which Mike wrote: that if only people knew the reality they
would respond with indignation, that if only people became aware of “the
invisible poor,” they would act to eliminate this national scandal. Alas, we
have seen in the intervening years that people can indeed know and yet
remain passive, in fact that some know and can even become calloused. All
of us who live in big cities share the experience of having learned to walk
past the homeless as if their being on the streets were some sort of natural
event. Maybe we dig up a few coins, maybe we don’t, but the indignation we
may have felt upon first noticing the homeless gradually wears off. I suppose
Mike came to recognize this with the passage of the years, but I think that
somehow he could not quite bring himself to acknowledge it. Some remnant
of his earlier Christian belief, some part of the ethic he had learned from the
Catholic Worker movement, led him to feel that sooner or later human
beings will respond to a moral appeal. I can almost hear him saying, “ey
e youthful purity of feeling, the sweetness of temper which marked
Mike’s words and deeds seem to me as touching, now that I turn back to his
book, as they did thirty years ago. Even aer becoming a socialist leader
without very many followers, Mike never spoke with the dryness of soul one
finds in many a professional politician, including some on the le. One felt
about him that the compassion in his books came out of the very depths of
his being.
e prose of e Other America is clean and lucid. Mike structured his
book as a sequence of vignettes—poverty here, poverty there, with appended
sketches of the moral and psychological costs, and just enough of a
sprinkling of statistics to back up his case.
One of the first questions he had to confront is by no means as simple as
it may seem: What is poverty? He defined it as a historically relative concept,
clearly different in a rich country like the United States from what it would
be in a stricken country like Bangladesh:
ere are new definitions [in America] of what man can achieve, of
what a human standard of life should be. ose who suffer levels of life
well below those that are possible, even though they live better than
medieval knights or Asian peasants, are poor. . . . Poverty should be
defined in terms of those who are denied the minimal levels of health,
housing, food and education that our present stage of scientific
knowledge specifies as necessary for life as it is now lived in the United
States. (Emphasis added)
At the time Mike wrote, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that
$4,000 a year for a family of four and $2,000 a year for an individual living
alone constituted the dividing line between modest well-being and poverty.
According to Mike’s estimates, this meant that between 40 and 50 million
Americans, or about one-fourth of the population, were living in poverty.
is came as a shock to many people. ey refused to believe it, they
thought Mike was exaggerating. But he was merely following official
statistics, and everything that would later happen in this country suggests
that he was essentially right. People had only to remember Franklin
Roosevelt’s famous phrase—“one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, illnourished.” In the 1930s, during the depth of the Depression, we were better
prepared to acknowledge such dismal facts than we were in the 1960s, a time
of widespread social delusion.
One of the most interesting points in e Other America is Mike’s
insistence that poverty is not just one social attribute among others; it is an
encompassing condition. Experienced for any length of time, poverty made
people feel “hopeless and passive, yet prone to bursts of violence: the poor
are lonely and isolated, oen rigid and hostile. To be poor is not simply to be
deprived of the material things of this world. It is to enter a fatal, futile
universe, an America within America, with a twisted spirit.” At another
point in his book Mike offered a still more vivid description of the extreme
states to which poverty could drive people:
e other America is becoming increasingly populated by those who
do not belong to anyone or anything. ey are no longer participants
in an ethnic culture from the old country; they are less and less
religious; they do not belong to unions or clubs. ey are not seen,
and because of that they themselves cannot see. eir horizon has
become more and more restricted; they see one another, and that
means they see little reason to hope.
I suspect that Mike may have been offering an overdrawn description,
that he was claiming too tight a connection between material condition and
spiritual-emotional consequences. What he wanted was to shock the
country. He wanted to show that there was a vast difference between, say, the
poverty of earlier immigrant generations, which could hope that hard work
and frugal living would enable them to improve their lot, and the poverty of
the kinds of people he was describing—the blacks driven off Southern
plantations, the folks rotting in Appalachia, the slum dwellers who see no
escape. When poverty was a condition spread through much of the
population, its effects seemed not as damaging socially and psychologically
as when it became concentrated in a large minority of Americans.
By the 1960s, wrote Mike, poverty had become “invisible”:
e poor are increasingly slipping out of the very experience and
consciousness of the nation. If the middle class never did like ugliness
and poverty, it was at least aware of them. “Across the tracks” was not a
very long way to go. . . . Now the American city has been transformed.
e poor still inhabit the miserable housing in the central area, but
they are increasingly isolated from contact with, or sight of, anybody
Finally Mike’s book was a cri de coeur, an appeal to the conscience of the
country: How can you allow such a scandal to fester in this country?
I wish I knew the answer to that question, since it would tell us a great
deal, not necessarily pleasant, about the moral and psychological
composition of the American people. True, during the 1960s, as a result of
the once-famous “War Against Poverty,” there was a significant reduction in
the number of poor Americans; but the trend became reversed in the 1970s
and 1980s. Now, some thirty years since Mike’s book came out, there have
been thousands of articles and speeches, scores of books depicting and
analyzing poverty. Everyone has had a say, yet poverty remains. is is not
the result of some decree of nature, as certain benighted souls maintain, nor
is it a result of the “laziness” of the poor, as some cabdrivers and right-wing
ideologues will tell you. It is due to social neglect and cynicism. It is due to a
failure of political will.
In these thirty years there have of course been changes with regard to the
American poor. e total number of poor has decreased somewhat. And
while I do not write as an expert on poverty, let me try very briefly to list
some of the new factors.
ere has been one distinct improvement, and that is in the condition of
the elderly. Partly because they have become a politically potent group that
has learned how to organize and exert pressure on behalf of its needs, and
partly because programs like Social Security and Medicare have helped a
good deal, poverty among the elderly has decreased significantly in the last
thirty years. However, at the time of writing this, I would note the danger
that is posed to the elderly by the increasing number of corporations and
companies that are forfeiting on their promise to provide health insurance
for retirees.
ere have been a number of negative developments. e rise of the
single-parent family has led to increased poverty among both adults and
children. Indeed, one of the most terrible developments has been the large
increase of poverty among children. Another factor in the increase of
poverty has been the use of drugs among some of the poor, especially black
youth—it is hard to say whether poverty leads to drug use or drug use to
poverty; probably the two combine to make a vicious circle. Still another
reason for the rise in poverty has been the decline in government assistance
programs for the poor and unemployed. Perhaps the most important factor
in the increase of poverty during the 1980s has been the steady decline in
wage levels, so that we now have in America a group we call the working
poor—people who do have jobs, who work hard, who try desperately to stay
afloat as providers of families (sometimes men, sometimes women) but who
earn such wretchedly low wages that they sink below the poverty line. Some
of these developments Mike anticipated; others he could not have foreseen.
Let me quote from two authoritative studies about recent American
poverty. e Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, headed by Robert
Greenstein, reports that
in 1991 the number of poor Americans hit its highest level in more
than 20 years, as 2.1 million more Americans fell into poverty …
e increase in poverty was particularly sharp among children. . . .
Some 900,000 additional children became poor [in 1991] as the child
poverty rate rose from 20.6 percent in 1990 to 21.8 percent in 1991.
Some 14.3 million were poor last year. Like the overall number of poor
people, the number of poor children was greater than in any other
A Census report issued in May 1992 showed that the proportion of
full-time year-round workers who are paid wages too low to li a
family of four out of poverty has grown sharply in recent years. In
1979, some 12.1 percent of full-time year-round workers were paid
wages this low. In 1990, some 18 percent were.
And the Economic Policy Institute, in a richly detailed study, e State of
Working America, by Larry Mishel and Jared Bernstein, reports:
Despite the growing economy between 1983 and 1989, poverty rates
were high by historic standards. In fact, those in poverty in 1989 were
significantly poorer than the poor in 1979. For example, 8 percent
more poor persons had incomes at 50 percent of the poverty line in
1989 than in 1979 …
e poverty rates of blacks have been at least three times that of
whites since 1979, reaching 32.7 percent in 1991. e Hispanic rate
has climbed from 21.9 percent in 1973 to 28.7 percent in 1991.
e reason poverty rates remained high despite the [economic]
recovery has to do with wage decline and the failure of the “safety net,”
i.e., the government system of taxes and transfers designed to
ameliorate poverty. Over the 1980s, the already low wages of lowincome workers fell 15.9 percent for male and 6.9 percent for female
workers in the bottom 20 percent of the earnings’ distribution.
Enough of statistics. e fact is that poverty remains a major blight on
the American scene. at it persists over the years only makes it worse, since
many people sink more deeply into what has been called “the culture of
poverty,” losing all hope and sometimes giving up the search for jobs. And
the scandal is heightened when you remember that in the Reagan-Bush
years there was an orgy of financial speculation, oen resulting in
tremendous increases of wealth among the already wealthy, as well as an
increasing polarization between the rich and all others in the American
e scandal persists, and that makes e Other America a book as
significant now as it was on the day of its publication. I only wish Mike were
still here among us, to cry out at the shame of a nation.
e Invisible Land
ere is a familiar America. It is celebrated in speeches and advertised on
television and in the magazines. It has the highest mass standard of living
the world has ever known.
In the 1950s this America worried about itself, yet even its anxieties were
products of abundance. e title of a brilliant book was widely
misinterpreted, and the familiar America began to call itself “the affluent
society.” ere was introspection about Madison Avenue and tail fins; there
was discussion of the emotional suffering taking place in the suburbs. In all
this, there was an implicit assumption that the basic grinding economic
problems had been solved in the United States. In this theory the nation’s
problems were no longer a matter of basic human needs, of food, shelter,
and clothing. Now they were seen as qualitative, a question of learning to
live decently amid luxury.
While this discussion was carried on, there existed another America. In it
dwelt somewhere between 40,000,000 and 50,000,000 citizens of this land.
ey were poor. ey still are.*
To be sure, the other America is not impoverished in the same sense as
those poor nations where millions cling to hunger as a defense against
starvation. is country has escaped such extremes. at does not change
the fact that tens of millions of Americans are, at this very moment, maimed
in body and spirit, existing at levels beneath those necessary for human
decency. If these people are not starving, they are hungry, and sometimes fat
with hunger, for that is what cheap foods do. ey are without adequate
housing and education and medical care.
e government has documented what this means to the bodies of the
poor, and the figures will be cited throughout this book. But even more
basic, this poverty twists and deforms the spirit. e American poor are
pessimistic and defeated, and they are victimized by mental suffering to a
degree unknown in suburbia.
is book is a description of the world in which these people live; it is
about the other America. Here are the unskilled workers, the migrant
farmworkers, the aged, the minorities, and all the others who live in the
economic underworld of American life. In all this, there will be statistics,
and that offers the opportunity for disagreement among honest and sincere
men. I would ask the reader to respond critically to every assertion, but not
to allow statistical quibbling to obscure the huge, enormous, and intolerable
fact of poverty in America. For, when all is said and done, that fact is
unmistakable, whatever its exact dimensions, and the truly human reaction
can only be outrage. As W. H. Auden wrote:
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.
e millions who are poor in the United States tend to become increasingly
invisible. Here is a great mass of people, yet it takes an effort of the intellect
and will even to see them.
I discovered this personally in a curious way. Aer I wrote my first article
on poverty in America, I had all the statistics down on paper. I had proved
to my satisfaction that there were around 50,000,000 poor in this country.
Yet I realized I did not believe my own figures. e poor existed in the
government reports; they were percentages and numbers in long, close
columns, but they were not part of my experience. I could prove that the
other America existed, but I had never been there.
My response was not accidental. It was typical of what is happening to an
entire society, and it reflects profound social changes in this nation. e
other America, the America of poverty, is hidden today in a way that it
never was before. Its millions are socially invisible to the rest of us. No
wonder that so many misinterpreted Galbraith’s title and assumed that “the
affluent society” meant that everyone had a decent standard of life. e
misinterpretation was true as far as the actual day-to-day lives of two-thirds
of the nation were concerned. us, one must begin a description of the
other America by understanding why we do not see it.
ere are perennial reasons that make the other America an invisible
Poverty is oen off the beaten track. It always has been. e ordinary
tourist never le the main highway, and today he rides interstate turnpikes.
He does not go into the valleys of Pennsylvania where the towns look like
movie sets of Wales in the thirties. He does not see the company houses in
rows, the rutted roads (the poor always have bad roads whether they live in
the city, in towns, or on farms), and everything is black and dirty. And even
if he were to pass through such a place by accident, the tourist would not
meet the unemployed men in the bar or the women coming home from a
runaway sweatshop.
en, too, beauty and myths are perennial masks of poverty. e traveler
comes to the Appalachians in the lovely season. He sees the hills, the
streams, the foliage—but not the poor. Or perhaps he looks at a run-down
mountain house and, remembering Rousseau rather than seeing with his
eyes, decides that “those people” are truly fortunate to be living the way they
are and that they are lucky to be exempt from the strains and tensions of the
middle class. e only problem is that “those people,” the quaint inhabitants
of those hills, are undereducated, underprivileged, lack medical care, and are
in the process of being forced from the land into a life in the cities, where
they are misfits.
ese are normal and obvious causes of the invisibility of the poor. ey
operated a generation ago; they will be functioning a generation hence. It is
more important to understand that the very development of American
society is creating a new kind of blindness about poverty. e poor are
increasingly slipping out of the very experience and consciousness of the
If the middle class never did like ugliness and poverty, it was at least
aware of them. “Across the tracks” was not a very long way to go. ere were
forays into the slums at Christmastime; there were charitable organizations
that brought contact with the poor. Occasionally, almost everyone passed
through the Negro ghetto or the blocks of tenements, if only to get
downtown to work or to entertainment.
Now the American city has been transformed. e poor still inhabit the
miserable housing in the central area, but they are increasingly isolated from
contact with, or sight of, anybody else. Middle-class women coming in from
Suburbia on a rare trip may catch the merest glimpse of the other America
on the way to an evening at the theater, but their children are segregated in
suburban schools. e business or professional man may drive along the
fringes of slums in a car or bus, but it is not an important experience to him.
e failures, the unskilled, the disabled, the aged, and the minorities are
right there, across the tracks, where they have always been. But hardly
anyone else is.
In short, the very development of the American city has removed poverty
from the living, emotional experience of millions upon millions of middleclass Americans. Living out in the suburbs, it is easy to assume that ours is,
indeed, an affluent society.
is new segregation of poverty is compounded by a well-meaning
ignorance. A good many concerned and sympathetic Americans are aware
that there is much discussion of urban renewal. Suddenly, driving through
the city, they notice that a familiar slum has been torn down and that there
are towering, modern buildings where once there had been tenements or
hovels. ere is a warm feeling of satisfaction, of pride in the way things are
working out: the poor, it is obvious, are being taken care of.
e irony in this (as the chapter on housing will document) is that the
truth is nearly the exact opposite to the impression. e total impact of the
various housing programs in postwar America has been to squeeze more
and more people into existing slums. More oen than not, the modern
apartment in a towering building rents at $40 a room or more. For during
the past decade and a half, there has been more subsidization of middle- and
upper-income housing than there has been of housing for the poor.
Clothes make the poor invisible too: America has the best-dressed
poverty the world has ever known. For a variety of reasons, the benefits of
mass production have been spread much more evenly in this area than in
many others. It is much easier in the United States to be decently dressed
than it is to be decently housed, fed, or doctored. Even people with terribly
depressed incomes can look prosperous.
is is an extremely important factor in defining our emotional and
existential ignorance of poverty. In Detroit the existence of social classes
became much more difficult to discern the day the companies put lockers in
the plants. From that moment on, one did not see men in work clothes on
the way to the factory, but citizens in slacks and white shirts. is process
has been magnified with the poor throughout the country. ere are tens of
thousands of Americans in the big cities who are wearing shoes, perhaps
even a stylishly cut suit or dress, and yet are hungry. It is not a matter of
planning, though it almost seems as if the affluent society had given out
costumes to the poor so that they would not offend the rest of society with
the sight of rags.
en, many of the poor are the wrong age to be seen. A good number of
them (over 8,000,000) are sixty-five years of age or better; an even larger
number are under eighteen. e aged members of the other America are
oen sick, and they cannot move. Another group of them live out their lives
in loneliness and frustration: they sit in rented rooms, or else they stay close
to a house in a neighborhood that has completely changed from the old
days. Indeed, one of the worst aspects of poverty among the aged is that
these people are out of sight and out of mind, and alone.
e young are somewhat more visible, yet they, too, stay close to their
neighborhoods. Sometimes they advertise their poverty through a lurid
tabloid story about a gang killing. But generally they do not disturb the quiet
streets of the middle class.
And finally, the poor are politically invisible. It is one of the cruelest
ironies of social life in advanced countries that the dispossessed at the
bottom of society are unable to speak for themselves. e people of the other
America do not, by far and large, belong to unions, to fraternal
organizations, or to political parties. ey are without lobbies of their own;
they put forward no legislative program. As a group, they are atomized. ey
have no face; they have no voice.
us, there is not even a cynical political motive for caring about the
poor, as in the old days. Because the slums are no longer centers of powerful
political organizations, the politicians need not really care about their
inhabitants. e slums are no longer visible to the middle class, so much of
the idealistic urge to fight for those who need help is gone. Only the social
agencies have a really direct involvement with the other America, and they
are without any great political power.
To the extent that the poor have a spokesman in American life, that role
is played by the labor movement. e unions have their own particular
idealism, an ideology of concern. More than that, they realize that the
existence of a reservoir of cheap, unorganized labor is a menace to wages
and working conditions throughout the entire economy. us, many union
legislative proposals—to extend the coverage of minimum wage and Social
Security, to organize migrant farm laborers—articulate the needs of the
at the poor are invisible is one of the most important things about
them. ey are not simply neglected and forgotten as in the old rhetoric of
reform; what is much worse, they are not seen.
One might take a remark from George Eliot’s Felix Holt as a basic
statement of what this book is about:
… there is no private life which has not been determined by a wider
public life, from the time when the primeval milkmaid had to wander
with the wanderings of her clan, because the cow she milked was one
of a herd which had made the pasture bare. Even in the conservatory
existence where the fair Camellia is sighed for by the noble young
Pineapple, neither of them needing to care about the frost or rain
outside, there is a nether apparatus of hot-water pipes liable to cool
down on a strike of the gardeners or a scarcity of coal.
And the lives we are about to look back upon do not belong to
those conservatory species; they are rooted in the common earth,
having to endure all the ordinary chances of past and present weather.
Forty to 50,000,000 people are becoming increasingly invisible. at is a
shocking fact. But there is a second basic irony of poverty that is equally
important: if one is to make the mistake of being born poor, he should
choose a time when the majority of the people are miserable too.
J. K. Galbraith develops this idea in e Affluent Society, and in doing so
defines the “newness” of the kind of poverty in contemporary America. e
old poverty, Galbraith notes, was general. It was the condition of life of an
entire society, or at least of that huge majority who were without special
skills or the luck of birth. When the entire economy advanced, a good many
of these people gained higher standards of living. Unlike the poor today, the
majority poor of a generation ago were an immediate (if cynical) concern of
political leaders. e old slums of the immigrants had the votes; they
provided the basis for labor organizations; their very numbers could be a
powerful force in political conflict. At the same time the new technology
required higher skills, more education, and stimulated an upward movement
for millions.
Perhaps the most dramatic case of the power of the majority poor took
place in the 1930s. e Congress of Industrial Organizations literally
organized millions in a matter of years. A labor movement that had been
declining and confined to a thin stratum of the highly skilled suddenly
embraced masses of men and women in basic industry. At the same time,
this acted as a pressure upon the government, and the New Deal codified
some of the social gains in laws like the Wagner Act. e result was not a
basic transformation of the American system, but it did transform the lives
of an entire section of the population.
In the thirties one of the reasons for these advances was that misery was
general. ere was no need then to write books about unemployment and
poverty. at was the decisive social experience of the entire society, and the
apple sellers even invaded Wall Street. ere was political sympathy from
middle-class reformers; there were an élan and spirit that grew out of a deep
Some of those who advanced in the thirties did so because they had
unique and individual personal talents. But for the great mass, it was a
question of being at the right point in the economy at the right time in
history, and utilizing that position for common struggle. Some of those who
failed did so because they did not have the will to take advantage of new
opportunities. But for the most part the poor who were le behind had been
at the wrong place in the economy at the wrong moment in history.
ese were the people in the unorganizable jobs, in the South, in the
minority groups, in the fly-by-night factories that were low on capital and
high on labor. When some of them did break into the economic mainstream
—when, for instance, the CIO opened up the way for some Negroes to find
good industrial jobs—they proved to be as resourceful as anyone else. As a
group, the other Americans who stayed behind were not originally
composed primarily of individual failures. Rather, they were victims of an
impersonal process that selected some for progress and discriminated
against others.
Out of the thirties came the welfare state. Its creation had been stimulated
by mass impoverishment and misery, yet it helped the poor least of all. Laws
like unemployment compensation, the Wagner Act, the various farm
programs, all these were designed for the middle third in the cities, for the
organized workers, and for the upper third in the country, for the big market
farmers. If a man works in an extremely low-paying job, he may not even be
covered by Social Security or other welfare programs. If he receives
unemployment compensation, the payment is scaled down according to his
low earnings.
One of the major laws that was designed to cover everyone, rich and
poor, was social security. But even here the other Americans suffered
discrimination. Over the years Social Security payments have not even
provided a subsistence level of life. e middle third have been able to
supplement the federal pension through private plans negotiated by unions,
through joining medical insurance schemes like Blue Cross, and so on. e
poor have not been able to do so. ey lead a bitter life, and then have to pay
for that fact in old age.
Indeed, the paradox that the welfare state benefits those least who need
help most is but a single instance of a persistent irony in the other America.
Even when the money finally trickles down, even when a school is built in a
poor neighborhood, for instance, the poor are still deprived. eir entire
environment, their life, their values, do not prepare them to take advantage
of the new opportunity. e parents are anxious for the children to go to
work; the pupils are pent up, waiting for the moment when their education
has complied with the law.
Today’s poor, in short, missed the political and social gains of the thirties.
ey are, as Galbraith rightly points out, the first minority poor in history,
the first poor not to be seen, the first poor whom the politicians could leave
e first step toward the new poverty was taken when millions of people
proved immune to progress. When that happened, the failure was not
individual and personal, but a social product. But once the historic accident
takes place, it begins to become a personal fate.
e new poor of the other America saw the rest of society move ahead.
ey went on living in depressed areas, and oen they tended to become
depressed human beings. In some of the West Virginia towns, for instance,
an entire community will become shabby and defeated. e young and the
adventurous go to the city, leaving behind those who cannot move and those
who lack the will to do so. e entire area becomes permeated with failure,
and that is one more reason the big corporations shy away.
Indeed, one of the most important things about the new poverty is that it
cannot be defined in simple, statistical terms. roughout this book a crucial
term is used: aspiration. If a group has internal vitality, a will—if it has
aspiration—it may live in dilapidated housing, it may eat an inadequate diet,
and it may suffer poverty, but it is not impoverished. So it was in those
ethnic slums of the immigrants that played such a dramatic role in the
unfolding of the American dream. e people found themselves in slums,
but they were not slum dwellers.
But the new poverty is constructed so as to destroy aspiration; it is a
system designed to be impervious to hope. e other America does not
contain the adventurous seeking a new life and land. It is populated by the
failures, by those driven from the land and bewildered by the city, by old
people suddenly confronted with the torments of loneliness and poverty,
and by minorities facing a wall of prejudice.
In the past, when poverty was general in the unskilled and semiskilled
workforce, the poor were all mixed together. e bright and the dull, those
who were going to escape into the Great Society and those who were to stay
behind, all of them lived on the same street. When the middle third rose,
this community was destroyed. And the entire invisible land of the other
Americans became a ghetto, a modern poor farm for the rejects of society
and of the economy.
It is a blow to reform and the political hopes of the poor that the middle
class no longer understands that poverty exists. But, perhaps more
important, the poor are losing their links with the great world. If statistics
and sociology can measure a feeling as delicate as loneliness (and some of
the attempts to do so will be cited later on), the other America is becoming
increasingly populated by those who do not belong to anybody or anything.
ey are no longer participants in an ethnic culture from the old country;
they are less and less religious; they do not belong to unions or clubs. ey
are not seen, and because of that they themselves cannot see. eir horizon
has become more and more restricted; they see one another, and that means
they see little reason to hope.
Galbraith was one of the first writers to begin to describe the newness of
contemporary poverty, and that is to his credit. Yet because even he
underestimates the problem, it is important to put his definition into
For Galbraith, there are two main components of the new poverty: case
poverty and insular poverty. Case poverty is the plight of those who suffer
from some physical or mental disability that is personal and individual and
excludes them from the general advance. Insular poverty exists in areas like
the Appalachians or the West Virginia coal fields, where an entire section of
the country becomes economically obsolete.
Physical and mental disabilities are, to be sure, an important part of
poverty in America. e poor are sick in body and in spirit. But this is not
an isolated fact about them, an individual “case,” a stroke of bad luck.
Disease, alcoholism, low IQs, these express a whole way of life. ey are, in
the main, the effects of an environment, not the biographies of unlucky
individuals. Because of this, the new poverty is something that cannot be
dealt with by first aid. If there is to be a lasting assault on the shame of the
other America, it must seek to root out of this society an entire
environment, and not just the relief of individuals.
But perhaps the idea of “insular” poverty is even more dangerous. To
speak of “islands” of the poor (or, in the more popular term, of “pockets of
poverty”) is to imply that one is confronted by a serious, but relatively
minor, problem. is is hardly a description of a misery that extends to
40,000,000 or 50,000,000 people in the United States. ey have remained
impoverished in spite of increasing productivity and the creation of a
welfare state. at fact alone should suggest the dimensions of a serious and
basic situation.
And yet, even given these disagreements with Galbraith, his achievement
is considerable. He was one of the first to understand that there are enough
poor people in the United States to constitute a subculture of misery, but not
enough of them to challenge the conscience and the imagination of the
Finally, one might summarize the newness of contemporary poverty by
saying: ese are the people who are immune to progress. But then the facts
are even more cruel. e other Americans are the victims of the very
inventions and machines that have provided a higher living standard for the
rest of the society. ey are upside down in the economy, and for them
greater productivity oen means worse jobs; agricultural advance becomes
In the optimistic theory, technology is an undisguised blessing. A general
increase in productivity, the argument goes, generates a higher standard of
living for the whole people. And indeed, this has been true for the middle
and upper thirds of American society, the people who made such striking
gains in the last two decades. It tends to overstate the automatic character of
the process, to omit the role of human struggle. (e CIO was organized by
men in conflict, not by economic trends.) Yet it states a certain truth—for
those who are lucky enough to participate in it.
But the poor, if they were given to theory, might argue the exact opposite.
ey might say: progress is misery.
As the society became more technological, more skilled, those who learn
to work the machines, who get the expanding education, move up. ose
who miss out at the very start find themselves at a new disadvantage. A
generation ago in American life, the majority of the working people did not
have high school educations. But at that time industry was organized on a
lower level of skill and competence. And there was a sort of continuum in
the shop: the youth who le school at sixteen could begin as a laborer, and
gradually pick up skill as he went along.
Today the situation is quite different. e good jobs require much more
academic preparation, much more skill from the very outset. ose who lack
a high school education tend to be condemned to the economic underworld
—to low-paying service industries, to backward factories, to sweeping and
janitorial duties. If the fathers and mothers of the contemporary poor were
penalized a generation ago for their lack of schooling, their children will
suffer all the more. e very rise in productivity that created more money
and better working conditions for the rest of the society can be a menace to
the poor.
But then this technological revolution might have an even more
disastrous consequence: it could increase the ranks of the poor as well as
intensify the disabilities of poverty. At this point it is too early to make any
final judgment, yet there are obvious danger signals. ere are millions of
Americans who live just the other side of poverty. When a recession comes,
they are pushed onto the relief rolls. (Welfare payments in New York
respond almost immediately to any economic decline.) If automation
continues to inflict more and more penalties on the unskilled and the
semiskilled, it could have the impact of permanently increasing the
population of the other America.
Even more explosive is the possibility that people who participated in the
gains of the thirties and the forties will be pulled back down into poverty.
Today the mass-production industries where unionization made such a
difference are contracting. Jobs are being destroyed. In the process, workers
who had achieved a certain level of wages, who had won working conditions
in the shop, are suddenly confronted with impoverishment. is is
particularly true for anyone over forty years of age and for members of
minority groups. Once their job is abolished, their chances of ever getting
similar work are very slim.
It is too early to say whether or not this phenomenon is temporary, or
whether it represents a massive retrogression that will swell the numbers of
the poor. To a large extent, the answer to this question will be determined by
the political response of the United States in the sixties. If serious and
massive action is not undertaken, it may be necessary for statisticians to add
some old-fashioned, pre-welfare-state poverty to the misery of the other
Poverty in the 1960s is invisible and it is new, and both these factors
make it more tenacious. It is more isolated and politically powerless than
ever before. It is laced with ironies, not the least of which is that many of the
poor view progress upside down, as a menace and a threat to their lives. And
if the nation does not measure up to the challenge of automation, poverty in
the 1960s might be on the increase.
ere are mighty historical and economic forces that keep the poor down;
and there are human beings who help out in this grim business, many of
them unwittingly. ere are sociological and political reasons why poverty is
not seen; and there are misconceptions and prejudices that literally blind the
eyes. e latter must be understood if anyone is to make the necessary act of
intellect and will so that the poor can be noticed.
Here is the most familiar version of social blindness: “e poor are that
way because they are afraid of work. And anyway they all have big cars. If
they were like me (or my father or my grandfather), they could pay their
own way. But they prefer to live on the dole and cheat the taxpayers.”
is theory, usually thought of as a virtuous and moral statement, is one
of the means of making it impossible for the poor ever to pay their way.
ere are, one must assume, citizens of the other America who choose
impoverishment out of fear of work (though, writing it down, I really do not
believe it). But the real explanation of why the poor are where they are is
that they made the mistake of being born to the wrong parents, in the wrong
section of the country, in the wrong industry, or in the wrong racial or
ethnic group. Once that mistake has been made, they could have been
paragons of will and morality, but most of them would never even have had
a chance to get out of the other America.
ere are two important ways of saying this: e poor are caught in a
vicious circle; or, e poor live in a culture of poverty.
In a sense, one might define the contemporary poor in the United States
as those who, for reasons beyond their control, cannot help themselves. All
the most decisive factors making for opportunity and advance are against
them. ey are born going downward, and most of them stay down. ey
are victims whose lives are endlessly blown round and round the other
Here is one of the most familiar forms of the vicious circle of poverty. e
poor get sick more than anyone else in the society. at is because they live
in slums, jammed together under unhygienic conditions; they have
inadequate diets, and cannot get decent medical care. When they become
sick, they are sick longer than any other group in the society. Because they
are sick more oen and longer than anyone else, they lose wages and work,
and find it difficult to hold a steady job. And because of this, they cannot pay
for good housing, for a nutritious diet, for doctors. At any given point in the
circle, particularly when there is a major illness, their prospect is to move to
an even lower level and to begin the cycle, round and round, toward even
more suffering.
is is only one example of the vicious circle. Each group in the other
America has its own particular version of the experience, and these will be
detailed throughout this book. But the pattern, whatever its variations, is
basic to the other America.
e individual cannot usually break out of this vicious circle. Neither can
the group, for it lacks the social energy and political strength to turn its
misery into a cause. Only the larger society, with its help and resources, can
really make it possible for these people to help themselves. Yet those who
could make the difference too oen refuse to act because of their ignorant,
smug moralisms. ey view the effects of poverty—above all, the warping of
the will and spirit that is a consequence of being poor—as choices.
Understanding the vicious circle is an important step in breaking down this
ere is an even richer way of describing this same, general idea: poverty
in the United States is a culture, an institution, a way of life.
ere is a famous anecdote about Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott
Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald is reported to have remarked to Hemingway, “e rich
are different.” And Hemingway replied, “Yes, they have money.” Fitzgerald
had much the better of the exchange. He understood that being rich was not
a simple fact, like a large bank account, but a way of looking at reality, a
series of attitudes, a special type of life. If this is true of the rich, it is ten
times truer of the poor. Everything about them, from the condition of their
teeth to the way in which they love, is suffused and permeated by the fact of
their poverty. And this is sometimes a hard idea for a Hemingway-like
middle-class America to comprehend.
e family structure of the poor, for instance, is different from that of the
rest of the society. ere are more homes without a father, there are less
marriages, more early pregnancy, and, if Kinsey’s statistical findings can be
used, markedly different attitudes toward sex. As a result of this, to take but
one consequence of the fact, hundreds of thousands, and perhaps millions,
of children in the other America never know stability and “normal”
Or perhaps the policeman is an even better example. For the middle
class, the police protect property, give directions, and help old ladies. For the
urban poor, the police are those who arrest you. In almost any slum there is
a vast conspiracy against the forces of law and order. If someone approaches
asking for a person, no one there will have heard of him, even if he lives next
door. e outsider is “cop,” bill collector, investigator (and, in the Negro
ghetto, most dramatically, he is “the Man”).
While writing this book, I was arrested for participation in a civil rights
demonstration. A brief experience of a night in a cell made an abstraction
personal and immediate: the city jail is one of the basic institutions of the
other America. Almost everyone whom I encountered in the “tank” was
poor: skid-row whites, Negroes, Puerto Ricans. eir poverty was an
incitement to arrest in the first place. (A policeman will be much more
careful with a well-dressed, obviously educated man who might have
political connections than he will with someone who is poor.) ey did not
have money for bail or for lawyers. And, perhaps most important, they
waited their arraignment with stolidity, in a mood of passive acceptance.
ey expected the worst, and they probably got it.
ere is, in short, a language of the poor, a psychology of the poor, a
worldview of the poor. To be impoverished is to be an internal alien, to grow
up in a culture that is radically different from the one that dominates the
society. e poor can be described statistically; they can be analyzed as a
group. But they need a novelist as well as a sociologist if we are to see them.
ey need an American Dickens to record the smell and texture and quality
of their lives. e cycles and trends, the massive forces, must be seen as
affecting persons who talk and think differently.
I am not that novelist. Yet in this book I have attempted to describe the
faces behind the statistics, to tell a little of the “thickness” of personal life in
the other America. Of necessity, I have begun with large groups: the
dispossessed workers, the minorities, the farm poor, and the aged. en
there are three cases of less massive types of poverty, including the only
single humorous component in the other America. And finally, there are the
slums, and the psychology of the poor.
roughout, I work on an assumption that cannot be proved by
government figures or even documented by impressions of the other
America. It is an ethical proposition, and it can be simply stated: in a nation
with a technology that could provide every citizen with a decent life, it is an
outrage and a scandal that there should be such social misery. Only if one
begins with this assumption is it possible to pierce through the invisibility of
40,000,000 to 50,000,000 human beings and to see the other America. We
must perceive passionately if this blindness is to be lied from us. A fact can
be rationalized and explained away; an indignity cannot.
What shall we tell the American poor once we have seen them? Shall we
say to them that they are better off than the Indian poor, the Italian poor, the
Russian poor? at is one answer, but it is heartless. I should put it another
way. I want to tell every well-fed and optimistic American that it is
intolerable that so many millions should be maimed in body and in spirit
when it is not necessary that they should be. My standard of comparison is
not how much worse things used to be. It is how much better they could be
if only we were stirred.
e Rejects
In New York City, some of my friends call 80 Warren Street “the slave
It is a big building in downtown Manhattan. Its corridors have the
littered, trampled air of a courthouse. ey are lined with employment
agency offices. Some of these places list good-paying and highly skilled jobs.
But many of them provide the workforce for the economic underworld in
the big city: the dishwashers and day workers, the fly-by-night jobs.
Early every morning, there is a great press of human beings in 80 Warren
Street. It is made up of Puerto Ricans and Negroes, alcoholics, driers, and
disturbed people. Some of them will pay a flat fee (usually around 10
percent) for a day’s work. ey pay $0.50 for a $5.00 job and they are given
the address of a luncheonette. If all goes well, they will make their wage. If
not, they have a legal right to come back and get their half-dollar. But many
of them don’t know that, for they are people that are not familiar with laws
and rights.
But perhaps the most depressing time at 80 Warren Street is in the
aernoon. e jobs have all been handed out, yet the people still mill
around. Some of them sit on benches in the larger offices. ere is no real
point to their waiting, yet they have nothing else to do. For some, it is
probably a point of pride to be here, a feeling that they are somehow still
looking for a job even if they know that there is no chance to get one until
early in the morning.
Most of the people at 80 Warren Street were born poor. (e alcoholics
are an exception.) ey are incompetent as far as American society is
concerned, lacking the education and the skills to get decent work. If they
find steady employment, it will be in a sweatshop or a kitchen.
In a Chicago factory, another group of people are working. A year or so
ago, they were in a union shop making good wages, with sick leave, pension
rights, and vacations. Now they are making artificial Christmas trees at less
than half the pay they had been receiving. ey have no contract rights, and
the foreman is absolute monarch. Permission is required if a worker wants
to go to the bathroom. A few are fired every day for insubordination.
ese are people who have become poor. ey possess skills, and they
once moved upward with the rest of the society. But now their jobs have
been destroyed, and their skills have been rendered useless. In the process,
they have been pushed down toward the poverty from whence they came.
is particular group is Negro, and the chances of ever breaking through, of
returning to the old conditions, are very slim. Yet their plight is not
exclusively racial, for it is shared by all the semiskilled and unskilled workers
who are the victims of technological unemployment in the mass-production
industries. ey are involved in an interracial misery.
ese people are the rejects of the affluent society. ey never had the
right skills in the first place, or they lost them when the rest of the economy
advanced. ey are the ones who make up a huge portion of the culture of
poverty in the cities of America. ey are to be counted in the millions.
Each big city in the United States has an economic underworld. And oen
enough this phrase is a literal description: it refers to the kitchens and
furnace rooms that are under the city; it tells of the place where tens of
thousands of hidden people labor at impossible wages. Like the underworld
of crime, the economic underworld is out of sight, clandestine.
e workers in the economic underworld are concentrated among the
urban section of the more than 16,000,000 Americans denied coverage by
the Minimum Wage Law of 1961. ey are domestic workers, hotel
employees, busboys, and dishwashers, and some of the people working in
small retail stores. In the most recent government figures, for example, hotel
workers averaged $47.44 a week, laundry workers $46.45, general
merchandise employees $48.37, and workers in factories making work
clothing $45.58.
is sector of the American economy has proved itself immune to
progress. And one of the main reasons is that it is almost impossible to
organize the workers of the economic underworld in their self-defense. ey
are at the mercy of unscrupulous employers (and, in the case of hospital
workers, management might well be a board composed of the “best” people
of the city who, in pursuing a charitable bent, participate in a conspiracy to
exploit the most helpless citizens). ey are cheated by crooked unions; they
are used by racketeers.
In the late fiies I talked to some hospital workers in Chicago. ey were
walking a picket line, seeking union recognition. (ey lost.) Most of them
made about $30 a week and were the main support of their families. e
hospital deducted several dollars a week for food that they ate on the job.
But then, they had no choice in this matter. If they didn’t take the food, they
had to pay for it anyway.
When the union came, it found a workforce at the point of desperation. A
majority of them had signed up as soon as they had the chance. But, like
most of the workers in the economic underworld, these women were hard to
keep organized. eir dues were miniscule, and in effect they were being
subsidized by the better-paid workers in the union. eir skills were so low
that supervisory personnel could take over many of their functions during a
strike. It required an enormous effort to reach them and to help them, and
in this case it failed.
An extreme instance of this institutional poverty took place in Atlanta,
Georgia, among hospital workers in mid-1960. Men who worked the
dishwashing machines received $0.68 an hour; women kitchen helpers got
$0.56; and the maids $0.55 an hour. If these people all put in the regular two
thousand hours of work a year, they would receive just over $1,000 for their
e restaurants of the economic underworld are somewhat like the
hospitals. e “hidden help” in the kitchen are an unstable group. ey shi
jobs rapidly. As a result, a union will sign up all the employees in a place, but
before a union certification election can occur half of those who had joined
will have moved on to other work. is means that it is extremely expensive
for the labor movement to try to organize these workers: they are dispersed
in small groups; they cannot pay for themselves; and they require constant
servicing, checking, and rechecking to be sure that the new workers are
brought into the union structure.
e fact that the economic underworld is so hard to organize makes it a
perfect place for two types of racketeers to operate: labor racketeers and
their constant companions the management racketeers. In the midfiies,
some of the locals of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union in Chicago
were under racket domination. (e crooks have since been cleaned out.)
e deal was very simple. e dishonest union man would demand a payoff
from the dishonest restaurateur. Sometimes it was figured as a percentage
tax on the number of place settings in an establishment. In return for this
money, the “unionist” would allow management to pay well below the
prevailing union wage. is meant that waitresses were brought into the
economic underworld along with the kitchen help.
In New York, a city that specializes in sweatshops, this crooked unionism
was even more blatant. ere are Puerto Ricans who are “members” of
unions they never even heard of. eir rights in these labor organizations
are confined to the payment of dues. e businessman, who is so essential to
racketeering unionism, makes his payment to the union leader. In return he
gets immunity from organization and the right to pay starvation wages. e
contracts that come out of these deals are “black and white.” All the standard
provisions of an honest union contract providing for wage rates, fringe
benefits, and the protection of working conditions in the shop are x’d out.
e only agreement is that the place is unionized, which is to say that it is
protected from honest unionism.
Indeed, one of the paradoxical consequences of the AFL-CIO “No
Raiding” agreement is that it helps to keep some of these lowest-paid
workers in the grip of labor racketeers. As long as the racket local manages
to keep a charter in a recognized international (and, in the late fiies, this
was becoming more difficult, but not impossible), then the honest unions
are stopped from going in and decertifying the crooks. Many unionists who
see the positive value in the No Raiding procedure have argued for an
amendment: “Raiding” will be permitted if an honest union can show that
the local in a given situation is a racket outfit creating substandard
Finally, the economic underworld is made up of small shops, of handfuls
of workers, but that does not mean that its total population is insignificant.
When the hotels, the restaurants, the hospitals, and the sweatshops are
added up, one confronts a section of the economy that employs millions and
millions of workers. In retailing alone, there are 6,000,000 or 7,000,000
employees who are unorganized, and many of them are not covered by
minimum wage. For instance, in 1961 the general-merchandise stores (with
an average weekly wage of $48.37) counted over 1,250,000 employees. ose
who made work clothes, averaging just over $45.00 a week, totaled some
300,000 citizens, most of them living in the other America of the poor.
us, in the society of abundance and high standards of living there is an
economically backward sector which is incredibly capable of being
exploited; it is unorganized, and in many cases without the protection of
federal law. It is in this area that the disabled, the retarded, and the
minorities toil. In Los Angeles they might be Mexican Americans, in the
runaway shops of West Virginia or Pennsylvania, white Anglo-Saxon
Protestants. All of them are poor; regardless of race, creed, or color, all of
them are victims.
In the spring of 1961, American society faced up to the problem of the
economic underworld. It decided that it was not worth solving. Since these
workers cannot organize the help themselves, their only real hope for aid
must be directed toward the intervention of the federal government. Aer
the election of President Kennedy, this issue was joined in terms of a
minimum-wage bill. e AFL-CIO proposed that minimum-wage coverage
should be extended to about 6,500,000 new workers; the administration
proposed new coverage for a little better than 3,000,000 workers; the
conservatives of the Dixiecrat-Republican coalition wanted to hold the
figure down to about 1,000,000.
ere was tremendous logrolling in Congress over the issue. In order to
win support for the administration’s approach, concessions were made. It
does not take much political acumen to guess which human beings were
conceded: the poor. e laundry workers (there are over 300,000 of them,
and according to the most recent Bureau of Labor statistics figures they
averaged $47.72 a week) and the hospital workers were dropped from the
extension of coverage. e papers announced that over 3,000,000 new
workers had been granted coverage—but they failed to note that a good
number of them were already in well-paid industries and didn’t need help.
In power politics, organized strength tells. So it was that America turned
its back on the rejects in the economic underworld. As one reporter put it,
“We’ve got the people who make $26 a day safely covered; it’s the people
making $26 a week who are le out.” Once again, there is the irony that the
welfare state benefits least those who need help most.
e men and women in the economic underworld were, for the most part,
born poor. But there is another, and perhaps more tragic, type of industrial
poverty: the experience of those who become poor.
is is what happens to them.
On a cold evening in Chicago (winter is a most bitter enemy of the poor)
I talked to a group of Negro workers. Until a short time before our meeting,
they had worked in the meatpacking industry and were members of the
Packinghouse Workers Union. ey had been making around $2.25 an hour,
with fringe benefits and various guarantees for sick leave, vacation, and the
like. More than that, they had found a certain dignity for themselves in that
they belonged to one of the most integrated unions in the United States.
(e industry had traditionally employed many Negroes; one factor was that
much of the work was regarded as “dirty,” that is, Negro, tasks.)
A number of these people had found jobs in a plant making artificial
Christmas trees. ey received $1 an hour and no fringe benefits. e shop
was, of course, nonunion. Several workers were fired every day, and crowds
gathered on Monday morning to compete for their places.
e $1 an hour was bad enough, but there was an even more important
aspect to this impoverishment. When they worked at Armour, these
employees knew a certain job security; they had rights in the shop because
of the union. It was not only that their wages had been cut by more than half
when the plant closed; it was also that they had been humiliated. is was
particularly true of these Negroes. As members of a minority group, they
had been fortunate to get such good jobs and to belong to a union that took
civil rights seriously. Now that they had been thrust into the economic
underworld, that racial gain was wiped out. e Christmas-tree shop hired
Negroes only. at was because they were available cheap; that was because
they could be “kept in their place.”
One of the workers I talked to was a woman in her thirties. When she
spoke, the bitterness was not so much directed against the low pay: what
concerned her most was the “slavery” of her working conditions. She had to
ask the supervisor permission to go to the bathroom. At any moment she
could be fired for insubordination, and there was no grievance procedure or
arbitration to protect her rights. She was vivacious and articulate, a born
leader. So she tried to organize the shop. A majority of the workers had
signed cards asking for a union election, but the National Labor Relations
Board had postponed the date. e election will never take place. e
Christmas-tree season is over, and these people are out on the streets again.
Yet the workers in the sweatshop considered themselves lucky. ey were
making $1 an hour, which was something. Two men I talked to were in a
different classification: they had passed the line of human obsolescence in
this industrial society. ey were over forty years of age. ey had been laid
off at Armour in the summer of 1959. Eighteen months later, neither of
them had found a steady job of any kind. “When I come to the hiring

Purchase answer to see full

united states

us history


User generated content is uploaded by users for the purposes of learning and should be used following Studypool’s honor code & terms of service.

Reviews, comments, and love from our customers and community:

This page is having a slideshow that uses Javascript. Your browser either doesn't support Javascript or you have it turned off. To see this page as it is meant to appear please use a Javascript enabled browser.

Peter M.
Peter M.
So far so good! It's safe and legit. My paper was finished on time...very excited!
Sean O.N.
Sean O.N.
Experience was easy, prompt and timely. Awesome first experience with a site like this. Worked out well.Thank you.
Angela M.J.
Angela M.J.
Good easy. I like the bidding because you can choose the writer and read reviews from other students
Lee Y.
Lee Y.
My writer had to change some ideas that she misunderstood. She was really nice and kind.
Kelvin J.
Kelvin J.
I have used other writing websites and this by far as been way better thus far! =)
Antony B.
Antony B.
I received an, "A". Definitely will reach out to her again and I highly recommend her. Thank you very much.
Khadija P.
Khadija P.
I have been searching for a custom book report help services for a while, and finally, I found the best of the best.
Regina Smith
Regina Smith
So amazed at how quickly they did my work!! very happy♥.