TBR: The Missing Class

Today’s book is The Missing Class, by Katherine Newman (author of Chutes and Ladders and No Shame in My Game) and Victor Tan Chen.  By "The Missing Class," the authors mean the not-quite-poor, those with family incomes between 100% and 200% of the poverty line.  And in particular, they focus on the experiences of several New York City families who fall in this category.  They explore the things that help them rise up (mostly getting a better paying job, or adding another wage-earner to the family, homeownership in one case) and the things that drag them down (predatory lending, poor health, legal troubles, divorce and separation).

Although Newman and Chen emphasize repeatedly that these families are not "poor," the book in fact covers much of the same ground as David Shipler’s The Working Poor, as many of those families also had income above the official federal poverty level, which pretty much everyone agrees is outdated.   If I had to pick one, I’d probably go with Shipler’s book, which covers a greater geographic and social range.  (200 percent of the poverty level is a lot poorer in NYC than in much of the country, and I’d also like to have learned about people who were slipping into the "missing class" from above, as well as those struggling to stay out of poverty.) One of the new contributions of the book is the discussion of No Child Left Behind,
and how the combination of overworked, time-deprived parents, mediocre
to lousy schools, and high stakes testing comes down hard on the
children of the working poor.

My understanding is that the reason Newman and Chen want to draw the distinction between the "missing class" and "poor" people is that they want to draw attention to how these people often fall into the cracks, earning too much to benefit from means-tested public benefit programs.  I agree that’s an important policy issue.  But I worry that their discussion creates an impression that the benefits for the poor are more generous than they really are.  And it doesn’t acknowledge how much middle income people benefit from government subsidies for employer provided benefits, especially health care, and the mortgage interest deduction.

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