David Shipler’s The Working Poor is a terrific examination of the perils of being poor in America. It’s not merely ? or even primarily ? about their lack of money, but about their lack of stability. A poor person with a steady job and predictable expenses is one thing, but a poor person with emergency medical expenses, irregular hours, and the constant threat of being laid off is in a whole different class. In case after case, the poor, who are the worst equipped to handle it in the first place, are faced with an unrelenting stream of setbacks that would be severe problems to most of us but are life threatening disasters to them ? and all with an increasingly stingy safety net to save them from complete destitution.
David Cay Johnston’s Perfectly Legal is the flip side: the story of how our tax system increasingly punishes the poor and middle class and rewards the already rich. Why, for example, do we spend $100 million harassing poor people who get small refunds from the Earned Income Tax Credit but virtually nothing on billionaires who shelter vast sums using obvious scams? Why has the Social Security payroll tax ? paid on the first dollar of income from every worker regardless of how poor ? gone steadily up over the past few decades while tax rates on capital gains, dividends, and inheritances have gone down? If you think it has something to do with who donates money to politicians and who doesn’t, Johnston agrees with you.
The Working Poor is heartbreaking, Perfectly Legal is infuriating. Read them both.