Banned in America: The Truth About Poverty

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March 1, 2012 in Culture & Media, Labor & Economy

As an author, my place on bookshelves is precarious. You can have your book banned in this country for any number of reasons. Schools especially might find a book profane or inappropriate. Or, as in the case of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, your work might be thrown into the pyre for being “satanic.”

None of this surprises me. This does: Barbara Ehrenreich’s well-received 2001 book Nickel and Dimed was removed from a personal finance class in Bedford, N.H., for being “anti-capitalist.”

Seriously.

Nickel and Dimed chronicles Ehrenreich’s quest to explore our economy from the perspective of an “unskilled” worker. Propelled into her social experiment by the debate over welfare, she moved across the country, taking the cheapest lodgings and whatever work she could find, from clerk to hotel maid. The result sheds light on the experience of what it means to survive on poverty-level wages in the U.S.

For those of us who work in social justice, it’s these real-life experiences that we work so hard to convey and to change. While Ehrenreich eventually returned to her previous existence, poverty-wage jobs are the norm for an increasingly large percentage of our population, and the results are devastating. In L.A. County alone, almost 40 percent of people don’t earn enough to meet their basic needs. Thirty percent of full-time workers in the county earn less than $25,000 a year.

It’s the reality. It’s our reality. If we fail to change those numbers, it’s shameful. But if we allow a book to be removed from any curriculum because it disproves the trickle-down theory of economics, because it’s inconvenient, because it shows that hard work isn’t always enough, because it reveals a systemic problem, because it’s “anti-capitalist,” then none of us deserve to show our faces to any clerk or hotel maid anywhere.

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