Seeking First-person Accounts of Poverty in the United States
December 11, 2013 1:08 PM   Subscribe

I have of late been reading and watching first-person accounts of poverty in the United States. The most recent being Invisible Child. I would like to continue reading stories told from the perspective (or about the perspective) of those living in poverty in the US. Books, documentaries, articles are all welcome.
posted by xingcat to Society & Culture (24 answers total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
Although she has come in for some criticism, a classic of this form is Nickled and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich
posted by Lame_username at 1:14 PM on December 11, 2013 [4 favorites]

The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood. After reading it, Google what happened to the main character, DeAndre.
posted by Melismata at 1:17 PM on December 11, 2013

Pretty much anything by Jonathan Kozol.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:19 PM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

Rosa Lee by Leon Dash feels similar in tone to that times article, but focuses more on the family's mother than the children.
posted by ActionPopulated at 1:20 PM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

A good (though difficult to stomach at times) third person account of poverty is Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx by Adrian LeBlanc.

Another third person account that focuses on a young man's struggle with poverty and success through education is A Hope in the Unseen: An American Odyssey from the Inner City to the Ivy League by Ron Suskind.
posted by elisse at 1:20 PM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

With all due respect to Ehrenreich, I found David Shipler's The Working Poor to be more informative. Although it's worth reading Ehrenreich's book if only to convince you to never hire a housekeeping service.

Please check out American Dream by Jason DeParle. I found it to be a really great discussion that provided me a look into just how hard it is to make ends meet.

You might also find Nell Bernstein's All Alone in the World: Children of the Incarcerated to be as gripping as I did. It made me think hard about issues that had never even occured to me before.

Random Family is pretty much universally regarded as a powerful study.
posted by janey47 at 1:21 PM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'll be the first to recommend Studs Terkel's Hard Times, which is an oral history of The Great Depression.
posted by John Kennedy Toole Box at 1:22 PM on December 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls is an account of her childhood spent in poverty (mostly in rural West Virginia) due to her parents' problems with addiction and narcissism. Lots of the book describes surviving in an unheated shack with no food or water.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 1:30 PM on December 11, 2013 [7 favorites]

I concur that Hard Times is almost certainly the best example of what you're looking for. Then after you read Hard Times you can read everything else that Studs Terkel wrote cause that guy was a national treasure.

Ken Burns recent documentary The Dust Bowl is a great documentary that centers on optimistic Americans trying to set out to make a new life for themselves suddenly swept into unspeakable poverty and suffering. Much of it is composed of interviews from people who survived that era.
posted by WhitenoisE at 1:32 PM on December 11, 2013

The Glass Castle is a memoir, but it is a quick read and provides a perspective on rural poverty.

My Mother is Now Earth is a memoir by a man who grew up in Northern MN in the 1970's. Another angle on rural poverty with a focus on Native Americans.
posted by Elly Vortex at 1:32 PM on December 11, 2013

Invisible Child reminded me a lot of There Are No Children Here, an account of two brothers growing up in the projects on Chicago's West Side in the late 80s.
posted by hovizette at 1:38 PM on December 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

All Over But the Shoutin' by Rick Bragg gives an account of rural poverty in the South.
posted by SamanthaK at 2:08 PM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

nthing Random Family, really one of the best books I've ever read, period.
posted by anotheraccount at 2:25 PM on December 11, 2013

Oh, and I have a whole Goodreads shelf on poverty:

Shipler's The Working Poor is excellent. If you're interested in a good history of poverty in America, which shows how much things are still the same, Harrington's The Other America is a classic. And I agree that while Ehrenreich is probably the best-known author for this sort of thing, she is certainly not the best.
posted by anotheraccount at 2:29 PM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

I really liked both Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (about sharecroppers in the 1940s) and the follow-up book And Their Children After Them. Read together they give a really broad look at the long term effects of institutional poverty and a look at when being poor in America really meant "no shoes" I've also liked Dorothy Allison's books about growing up poor in the South. She's known for Bastard out of Carolina which was a semi-autobiographical novel but her book Two or Three Things I Know For Sure is more of a memoir.

The film My Brother's Keeper is an interesting look at both rural poverty but the ways it can sometimes rub up against social mores of people from other places (less rural, less poor)
posted by jessamyn at 2:49 PM on December 11, 2013

Some of it takes place in the US and some in Ireland, but "Angela's Ashes" is a true story about extreme poverty. It's also an excellent book.
posted by MexicanYenta at 2:50 PM on December 11, 2013

Stinking Creek (1967) and Worlds Apart (1999) are both old, but good, and concern poverty in Appalachia.
posted by Francolin at 3:27 PM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yes I know, Canadian, not American, however The Things I Cannot Change is about a poor family in Montreal in 1966. Very interesting to watch, not only for the subject matter, but the way it was shot/edited.
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 7:25 PM on December 11, 2013

In the spirit of that kind of long term, ethnographic journalism that Andrea Elliott achieves in the Dasani series you mention: William Finnegan's Cold New World: Growing up in a Harder Country achieves a similar depth (but over an even greater period of time). Here's a review from the NY TImes>

This book documents young people struggling in white, African American and Latino communities, so it's a particularly nuanced vision of class and disenfranchisement in the U.S.
posted by third rail at 9:59 PM on December 11, 2013

And for very readable and compelling sociology: check out Unequal Childhoods:Class, Race and Family Life for a comparative approach to differences in the experiences of children from different socioeconomic groups become. Annette Lareau is the lead author.
posted by third rail at 10:05 PM on December 11, 2013

Nickel and Dimed: on (not) getting by in America by Barbara Ehrenreich.
posted by miles1972 at 11:54 PM on December 11, 2013

A bit historical, but how about The Worst Hard Time, by Timothy Egan. Thanks to Steinbeck, you have heard about the people who fled the dust bowl of the 1930s to move to California, but what about the people who stayed behind?
posted by BearClaw6 at 6:24 AM on December 12, 2013

Thirding "Working Poor". I used it as a class textbook for one of my sociology classes in undergrad, and I still have it. It's very eye-opening.
posted by PearlRose at 7:33 AM on December 12, 2013

« Older Holiday party cocktail suggestions?   |   I need to find a substance with the following... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.