In the fifty years since it was published, “The Other America” has been established as a seminal work of sociology. This anniversary edition includes Michael Harrington’s essays on poverty in the 1970s and ’80s as well as a new introduction by Harrington’s biographer, Maurice Isserman. This illuminating, profoundly moving classic is still all too relevant for today’s America.
When Michael Harrington’s masterpiece, “The Other America”, was first published in 1962, it was hailed as an explosive work and became a galvanizing force for the war on poverty. Harrington shed light on the lives of the poor—from farm to city—and the social forces that relegated them to their difficult situations. He was determined to make poverty in the United States visible and his observations and analyses have had a profound effect on our country, radically changing how we view the poor and the policies we employ to help them.
Michael Harrington, the great socialist-humanitarian writer of the latter half twentieth century wrote “The Other America” in the early 1960’s during a time of great change and renewed excitement about the possibilities for the future. Harrington who understood society better than most of his day shunned such discrimination based on race, class, economic standing, or national origin and these honorable views resound very highly in the pages of “The Other America”. The book is a study of poverty and its underlying factors in the United States during the fifties and sixties, Harrington who would often move into and work in the neighborhoods and communities he was studying presents a dignified and unbiased case for the inhumanity that existed and still exists in the slums and poor towns of the United States.
Harrington takes the gloves off for his analysis of the evolution of poverty. The writer explores the factors of racial discrimination, economic and socioeconomic discrimination, family structural instability, the effect of recessions and hard times on poor communities, and the gap in education that propagates the extension and survival of poverty into the future. One important factor that Harrington continuously brings up in “The Other America” is the views and feelings of indifference that the middle class and well off feel towards the poor and lower classes of the other America. Harrington exposes the inefficient and dastardly laws, mindsets, and societal norms that ensured the survival of poverty into the twentieth century (and surprisingly they ring true for the present day as well). The writer exposes the stories and faces behind the suffering of the other America but also presents ways in which the suffering could be alleviated or poverty stamped out completely in the United States.
The socioeconomic analysis that is “The Other America” can seem quite statistical to the reader with its constant use of numerical studies and figures to illuminate the problem of poverty, but these bothersome details can be overcome and even appreciated by understanding that “The Other America” was written during a time of rising economic and sociological disparities, and was brought forth to energize and push the country towards creating solutions to these problems in the course of attempting to create a more equal and humility-minded society. A great read nonetheless for it highlights to those willing to listen the need both then and now for a war on poverty.
This book is banned in Indiana due to the selection/deselection policies of 117 Evergreen Public Libraries and thus unavailable except by purchase from Amazon or other venders. Yes, the book is “old” and statistics are not current. However, the problem remains the same or worse in this institutionalized period (2018) of discrimination. This is basic background material.
But, this book empowered Robert Kennedy’s demolished intent to improve the fabric of American society. Harrington believed it would take governmental planning and social investment to really deal with poverty. The American poor are often “invisible” to the mainstream. (p.2). The poor themselves often are pessimistic and victims of mental suffering, and often victims of institutionalized racism… Charity and private pensions meet only a fraction of the poor’s needs. (p. 119) The poor seem to suffer a greater percentage of mental illness. (p. 122.).
“The poor are not like everyone else. They are a different kind of people. They think and feel differently; they look upon a different American than the middle class looks upon. They, and not the quietly desperate clerk or the harried executive, are the main victims of this society’s tension and conflict.” (p. 138.)
America, according to Harrington has sought the integration of the poor with the poor and the segregation of the other Americans and society at large. (p. 154.)
The impoverished see life as fate from which there is no escape. The huge federal initiative for improvement and will not happen with the current department administrator (2018) and apparent successors.
The book is an informative read. Though a bit old, the author’s intent still rings clear.