"Powerful and poignant.... Newman's message is clear and timely." --The Philadelphia Inquirer
In No Shame in My Game, Harvard anthropologist Katherine Newman gives voice to a population for whom work, family, and self-esteem are top priorities despite all the factors that make earning a living next to impossible--minimum wage, lack of child care and health care, and a desperate shortage of even low-paying jobs. By intimately following the lives of nearly 300 inner-city workers and job seekers for two yearsin Harlem, Newman explores a side of poverty often ignored by media and politicians--the working poor.
The working poor find dignity in earning a paycheck and shunning the welfare system, arguing that even low-paying jobs give order to their lives. No Shame in My Game gives voice to a misrepresented segment of today's society, and is sure to spark dialogue over the issues surrounding poverty, working and welfare.
After writing two books on the American middle class (Falling from Grace and Declining Fortunes), Newman delivers an eye-opening look at the urban working poor. First of all, she makes clear that the vast majority want to work--even when their lives would be made easier by relying on public assistance. Newman, a cultural anthropologist and Harvard urban studies professor (formerly at Columbia, where she launched her research), conducted a two-year study of more than 200 African-American and Latino fast-food industry employees in Harlem. She found a strong commitment to the work ethic, even though these minimum-wage "McJobs" keep workers below the poverty line and offer little hope of advancement. Using case histories and interviews, Newman delves deeply into the aspirations and frustrations of her subjects--adult or teenage, native-born or immigrant--who try to make ends meet in a community hard hit by drugs, crime, a shrinking job base and underfunded schools. Among the policy initiatives Newman proposes are school-to-work transition programs, designed to forge close relationships between high school students and prospective employers, and employers' consortia to move inner-city workers into better jobs. She cites the promising results of private-public partnerships in Milwaukee and San Antonio, which combine job training and placement with provision of support services like day care, transportation and health care. Readers numbed by the familiar laments over poverty and by sermons on the bootstrap value of hard work will find Newman's book--clearly a product of sustained attention paid to the working poor--bracingly refreshing.