Labour Research January 2012


A people’s history of poverty in America

Stephen Pimpare, The New Press, 336 pages, hardback, £15.99

Working class Americans are losing their jobs in record numbers, spreading fear of a return to the “hungry thirties”. Protest camps have sprung up not just in Wall Street, but across the country from Portland to Seattle.

In an attempt to deflect attention from their own failures, those at the top have tried to recreate a distinction between the “deserving” and “undeserving” poor.

 This book tells the story of how the richest country in the world has, since its inception, held a swathe of its citizens in a state of poverty, and how welfare and charity have been used as ideological weapons against them.

 The chapter on the relationship between the extreme poverty of white workers and farmers in the Deep South and its connection to the continuation of slavery after the Civil War is particularly well argued, and concludes that the poor whites were themselves economically damaged by racism.

 Another excellent feature of the book is the way it explores patterns of self-help and community resistance to poverty.

Pimpare is more than happy to allow people to speak for themselves, and much of the text is made up of testimonies taken over a 200-year period. Taken together, these testimonies explain how little has changed, but how poor people still refuse to be demonised.

Reviews contributed by the Bookmarks socialist bookshop. Order online at