The Missing Class

Portraits of the Near Poor in America

By Katherine Newman; Victor Tan Chen
Beacon Press, Hardcover, 9780807041390, 288pp.

Publication Date: September 1, 2007

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Fifty-seven million Americans-including 21 percent of the nation's children-live a notch above the poverty line, and yet the challenges they face are largely ignored. While government programs assist the poor, and politicians woo the more fortunate, the "Missing Class" is largely invisible and left to fend for itself.

Missing Class parents often work at a breakneck pace to preserve the progress they have made and are but one divorce or unexpected hospitalization away from sliding into poverty. Children face an even more perilous and uncertain future because their parents have so little time to help them with their schoolwork or guide them during their adolescent years. With little supervision, the younger generation often flounders in school, sometimes falling prey to the same problems that are prevalent in the much poorer communities that border Missing Class neighborhoods. Paradoxically, the very efforts that enabled parents to get ahead financially often inhibit their children from advancing; they are in real danger of losing what little ground their parents have gained.

The Missing Class is an urgent and timely exploration that describes-through the experiences of nine families-the unique problems faced by this growing class of people who are neither working poor nor middle class. Katherine Newman and Victor Tan Chen trace where these families came from, how they've struggled to make a decent living, and why they're stuck without a safety net. An eloquent argument for the need to think about inequality in a broader way, The Missing Class has much to tell us about whether the American dream still exists for those who are sacrificing daily to achieve it.

About the Author
Katherine Newman is professor of sociology and James Knapp Dean of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences at Johns Hopkins University. Author of ten books on middle-class economic instability, urban poverty, and the sociology of inequality, Newman has taught at the University of California-Berkeley, Columbia, Harvard, and Princeton.Victor Tan Chen is the founding editor and president of INTHEFRAY Magazine (, an award-winning publication that seeks to question, inform, and inspire conversations about identity and community. His work has appeared in numerous publications, including Newsday and the Minority Law Journal, and in the book Chutes and Ladders. He is a Harvard doctoral candidate in sociology and social policy.

Praise For The Missing Class

"This book is . . . about the millions of people who hold down two or three jobs . . . and struggle to find time to read to their kids . . . Through meticulous research, Katherine and Victor tell the personal stories of nine families . . . You'll find yourself rooting, as I did, for each and every one of them. In sharing their lives and struggles, these families have done more to educate than any set of statistics or government report ever could. Policymakers, jounalists, think tanks, and people of good conscience everywhere must take notice . . . [The Missing Class] is a call to action to change America . . . Like other books that transformed our nation, [it] will inspire us to work for . . . an America where the family you were born into or the color of your skin never controls your destiny." —from the Foreword by Senator John Edwards

"At last, a focus on people who struggle from month to month with housing, health care and education costs but don't fit into the government's comfortingly minimalist definition of poverty. Newman and Chen give us a vivid, close-up, and often moving look at the urban 'near poor.' An excellent follow-up to Newman's essential body of work on America's economic anxieties."—Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America

"With riveting detail, The Missing Class uses the compelling stories of nine families to portray a neglected group—more numerous than the officially poor—who work hard, play by the rules, yet live on the brink of disaster, one unlucky step away from plunging into poverty. Sensible and realistic programs, Newman and Chen show, could prevent their fall, reduce their insecurity, and help the Missing Class join the middle class." —Michael B. Katz, coauthor of One Nation Divisible: What America Was and What It Is Becoming

"The Missing Class is an important book. It is must reading for those concerned about the fate of Americans who live so close to the margins."—William Julius Wilson, Lewis P. and Linda L. Geyser University Professor, Harvard University

"Just above the artificial ‘poverty line,’ millions of hard-working people struggle invisibly to gain a foothold on the promise of the American Dream. Their raw hardships and persistent hopes, collected in this book of unflinching portraits, ought to sound the alarm for an America grown complacent."—David Shipler, author of The Working Poor: Invisible in America

". . . there are many millions of Americans who are not doing well, and the nation is not addressing their plight. Thirty-seven million Americans, many of them children, are officially classified as poor. What is not widely known is that another 57 million are struggling just one notch above the poverty line. This is spelled out in a new book, "The Missing Class: Portraits of the Near Poor in America," by Katherine Newman and Victor Tan Chen . . ."—Bob Herbert, New York Times

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