Books

ICPL: Exploring the unreachable American dream

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Food. Clothing. Shelter.

We’ve been taught that these are our three basic needs, but what many people don’t realize — myself included — is that for most of the country’s poverty-stricken individuals, it’s a struggle to pay for just one of these necessities, let alone all three.

Take shelter, for instance. We’ve all heard the general rule not to spend more than 30 percent of our monthly gross income on housing. What Matthew Desmond explains in “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City” is that most low-income individuals spend a lot more than 30 percent. In addition to that, the homes their able to afford — typically rental houses, apartment or trailers — barely fit the definition of livable.

As the national debate on income inequality continues, here are some books available at the Iowa City Public Library that explore the growing trend of the unreachable American dream:

“The Working Poor: Invisible in America” by David K. Shipler profiles individuals who are the definition of America’s ideology. They work hard at honest jobs with the goal of gaining a better life. However, low income jobs and failure of government services that are supposed to help keep the cycle of poverty their only constant.

In “$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America,” authors Kathryn Edin and Luke Shaefer traveled the country to speak with families living in extreme poverty. Their research found that the number of American families living on $2 per person, per day, has skyrocketed to one and a half million American households, including about 3 million children.

“Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century” by Jessica Bruder explores the lives of those trying to make a living with seasonal employment. Bruder specifically focuses on those who worked all of their lives only to discover they couldn’t afford retirement: transient older Americans.

It’s not just lower income people struggling in today’s economy. High living costs and stagnant wages place stability further away for middle class families, as examined in “Squeezed: Why Our Families Can’t Afford America” by Alissa Quart. Quart is executive editor of the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.

l Meredith Hines-Dochterman is public relations specialist at the Iowa City Public Library.

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