New Perspectives on Poverty: Policies, Programs, and Practice, by Elissa D. Giffords and Karen R. Garber (Eds.). Lyceum Books, Inc., Chicago, 2014, 539 pages, $59.95 softcover.
Giffords and Garber, both associated with Long Island University, have edited a lengthy, detailed, and affordable first edition textbook to “challenge the old beliefs about people living in poverty” (p. xxi). With only 11 chapters, the 15 contributing authors were able to go into substantial depth and detail, and most of the chapters were single authored monographs of substance, despite the fact that more than a third of the contributors were junior faculty.
This textbook begins with two rather standard chapters that define poverty and summarize the history of social welfare programs in the United States since FDR. The first is stronger than the second, which tends to gloss over improvements in social welfare, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Medicare Modernization Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act, in an attempt to dichotomize social welfare trends within an ideological spectrum from liberal to conservative.
The third chapter is a thorough account of labor market policy, but many will find it difficult to follow the changing unemployment rates through the years. This chapter is in desperate need of a graphic or table to help pull it together.
The seven chapters that follow focus on specific populations at risk of living in poverty: the homeless, single mothers, older adults, people with disabilities, people with mental illnesses or co-occurring substance use, immigrants and refugees, and military families. A standard outline is used that addresses demographics, historical perspectives, key issues, government policies and programs, social justice issues, micro/mezzo/macro interventions, and concluding case studies. The quality of these chapters is quite high with current references, up-to-date statistics, and clear writing, but sometimes poverty is overshadowed by the history and other issues discussed. Each chapter ends with discussion questions, an annotated list of Internet resources, and suggestions for further reading. A final concluding chapter by the editors summarizes the book and suggests 21 actions for readers to address poverty, ranging from volunteering at a soup kitchen to writing a member of Congress. The book concludes with a 19-page glossary, authors’ biographies, and a detailed index.
In subsequent editions of this text, I suggest the addition of at least three chapters. The omission of Native Americans from a list of people at risk of poverty is unwarranted when so many reservations have unemployment rates over 50 percent. The labor market consequences associated with mass incarceration also calls out for chapter-length treatment in a book claiming to address new perspectives on poverty, and I am concerned that the most effective anti-poverty program—the Earned Income Tax Credit—is mentioned on only seven pages. The awareness of social welfare trends that the editors hope to cultivate among readers should also include more awareness of federal, state, and local tax policies. My final suggestion is for the editors to make it explicitly clear what is new about the perspectives shared in this textbook. When selecting a textbook, I always look at the price first. Social welfare policy instructors who have sticker-shock over the escalating prices of many popular texts may want to peruse this one as an alternative. There is much to commend it, but I suspect that it will earn better reception among MSW students than BSW students.
Reviewed by Peter A. Kindle, Ph.D., CPA, LMSW, Assistant Professor, University of South Dakota.