Review of Poverty in America: A Handbook, third edition, by John Iceland

Oct. 3rd 2017 at 10:10 AM
Categories: Book Reviews

Review of Poverty in America: A Handbook, third edition, by John Iceland, 2013, Berkeley: University of California Press, paper, 163 pages.


I have been reading and reviewing many books lately on poverty, the current great recession, and the staggering figures of poor, unemployed, disenfranchised, foreclosed, evicted, and hopeless Americans.  I remain amazed that many of our citizens are going through such tough times.  I remain astounded so many people are not aware of the reality of the tough times.  This author delineates poverty for the reader very clearly.


Iceland does an excellent job of providing straightforward definitions and data on poverty as it spreads across America currently.  He explains the two ways to measure poverty, and he talks about what some have termed the “deserving poor” and the “undeserving poor.”  To some, there is a first group of poor, such as the elderly and those with disabilities, who deserve help.  There is a second group, such as unmarried mothers and able-bodied men, who some people think do not deserve assistance.


And so it goes in this great land, and Iceland shows clear figures of thousands without work, almost totally hopeless many of them, and using food stamp and other dollars to try to survive.  A very popular book, this handbook is more a set of definitions and clarifications of what poverty looks like.  This is not a handbook on how to be poor or how to survive poverty or how to “make do.”  This is a handbook with very revealing numbers.


How do the numbers look?  The number of unemployed persons in this country is incredible, and certain groups face more joblessness than others.  Racism and the stigma of having served time in prison are issues thriving in the mix of unemployment data.  One new group that has emerged in America is those citizens who have given up, now no longer looking for jobs.  This group does not show up in the figures of the unemployed, the numbers meaning less and less each day.       


This book debunks the myths of who is receiving assistance.  The book also looks at the safety nets out there and shows very clearly they do not cover enough people, and they certainly do not cover thoroughly enough those getting at least some sort of help.  What we have in this country is a huge number of people facing very difficult times, and the need to help them is trivialized by politicians who do not try hard enough to serve them.  Serving them on the scale would be admitting there is a problem… not a popular thing to do in a time when it is safer to act like all is well and there are only a few people facing poverty.


I recommend this book because of the clear presentation of the technical definitions, the important data presented, and the history of American poverty profiled in these pages.  It is crucial we discuss the issues here and find ways to not only help those citizens in need but also look at the systems and laws regarding assistance for families and individuals. 


We must as a nation demand some change in what is happening and enter into serious conversations on how to begin to address these issues.


I believe all Americans should be familiarizing themselves with the realities of the current worsening poverty in this nation.  More strongly, I feel educators at all levels should be reading about poverty, visiting homeless families in the streets, volunteering in food pantries, and insisting local news programs investigate what is happening in our land.  It is we, the teachers and professors, who can bring about the change needed by lobbying, educating, informing, and encouraging.  These are the things we do best.  



Thomas Hansen, Ph.D., is an Independent Consultant with a variety of roles in Advocacy, Education, and Social Justice.  He is involved in Grant Writing, teaching others to Write Grants, and serving as a Grant Reviewer in federal programs.  He has written well over 100 articles, book reviews, and essays.  He often teaches as an adjunct in nearby colleges and universities.