We've Made It a Crime to Be Poor

10 years after 'Nickel and Dimed,' author Ehrenreich says things are even worse
By Sarah Whitmire,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 13, 2011 2:21 PM CDT
Poverty Shouldn't Be A Crime: Barbara Ehrenreich
Volunteer Jessica Valencia, right, serves meals at the Union Rescue Mission in Los Angeles' Skid Row in May.   (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

A decade after her expose on America's working poor, Nickel and Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich has a sobering assessment: "Things have gotten much worse, especially since the economic downturn that began in 2008," she writes in Salon. For one thing, the economy was booming around 2000 when she did her research, and those $7-an-hour jobs she landed were plentiful. Today, even those are hard to come by. So while the media likes to focus on the tales of middle-class folks who have fallen on hard times, "the brunt of the recession has been borne by the blue-collar working class, which had already been sliding downwards since de-industrialization began in the 1980s." The poor are even poorer—and that's not even the worst of it.

"The most shocking thing I learned from my research on the fate of the working poor in the recession was the extent to which poverty has indeed been criminalized in America," writes Ehrenreich. Cities across the US are cracking down on the homeless just as their ranks and needs are increasing. "Maybe, as so many Americans seem to believe today, we can't afford the kinds of public programs that would genuinely alleviate poverty—though I would argue otherwise," she writes. "But at least we should decide, as a bare minimum principle, to stop kicking people when they're down." Click to read the full essay. (More Barbara Ehrenreich stories.)

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