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The Book of the Poor cover
Giving the Poor a Voice and Presenting Solutions to Poverty

The Book of the Poor

Who They Are, What They Say, and How to End Their Poverty

By Kenan Heise

$16.95 • Trade Paper • ISBN 9781936863334

 Diversity & Public Affairs

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Incredible ... No wonder everybody wants to speak for the poor; it is much too disturbing when the poor speak for themselves. —Former White House Counsel Abner J. Mikva

Kenan Heise’s wonderful book deserves high praise and wide readership.

I have been shocked by, what Kenan Heise aptly describes as, "the miasma of meanness and disdain for those in need" that I see and hear among too many Americans including Republicans in Congress. It is as if those living in poverty have committed some grave offense by being poor and must be punished by eviscerating the programs that help them. "They look at you like you're … an earthworm, a piece of dirt," said an unemployed transit worker turned panhandler, who is given voice in this important book.

The Book of the Poor sets the record straight. By allowing you to hear from the men and woman who are doing the best they can to survive, it sets the record straight that poverty is not a choice or a personal weakness. It sets the record straight that we—American policymakers and people—can reduce poverty if we want to. But we have to want to. We did it in the wake of the Great Depression; and the fact is we —U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky, 9th Congressional District of Illinois

Even after several decades of covering poverty-related issues, I was deeply gratified by how much I learned from this book. In The Book of the Poor, Kenan Heise takes us beyond the usual stereotypes of the poor and “working poor” to offer a poignant and insightful glimpse into how people live from day-to-day at the bottom end of America’s economy. We also hear from other observers as venerable as Thomas Jefferson and Franklin D. Roosevelt, who shed new light on an underappreciated goal in the Preamble to our nation’s Constitution: to “promote the general welfare." Americans who seek prescriptions for poverty too often fail to talk enough with the poor people they are trying to help. Through his interviews, Heise helps us to start some useful conversations of our own. —Clarence E. Page, syndicated columnist, Chicago Tribune

Collecting dozens of interviews conducted over 50 years to give voice to the 16 percent that live below the poverty line, journalist Kenan Heise's The Book of the Poor addresses unemployment, prison, nutrition needs and hunger, the lives of impoverished children, panhandling, health-care struggles, the role of race in poverty, and dumpster diving, This moving work attempts to correct misconceptions surrounding an all-too heartbreaking and persistent social problem, offering a historical perspective on American’s attitudes toward poverty—from Thomas Jefferson's chance conversation with a poor French woman laborer, to Confederate war widows rioting for food, to the lasting effects of Reaganomics on the poor and incarcerated. The poor, the author, and the experts he has gathered suggest clear and concrete steps we all can take to end poverty, including:

  • taking lessons from the Great Depression and the War on Poverty,

  • raising the minimum wage,

  • recognizing the poor as economic stimulators,

  • creating jobs for rebuilding America’s infrastructure,

  • media outreach to cover poor communities, and

  • restoring hope for low-paid workers and their families to earn a better life.

The Book of the Poor gives voice to the individuals and organizations passionately and effectively fighting poverty in the United States and around the world: Half in Ten, Just Harvest, CLASP, A Minnesota Without Poverty, The Annie E. Casey Foundation, Witnesses to Hunger, PolicyLink, Spotlight on Poverty, The Prevention Institute, FRAC: Fighting Hunger & Undernutrition, Coalition on Human Needs, Florida CHAIN, and the United Nations.