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The Price of Poverty

The Price of Poverty: Money, Work, and Culture in the Mexican American Barrio

Daniel Dohan
Copyright Date: 2003
Edition: 1
Pages: 314
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  • Book Info
    The Price of Poverty
    Book Description:

    Drawing on two years of ethnographic fieldwork in two impoverished California communities-one made up of recent immigrants from Mexico, the other of U.S.-born Chicano citizens-this book provides an invaluable comparative perspective on Latino poverty in contemporary America. In northern California's high-tech Silicon Valley, author Daniel Dohan shows how recent immigrants get by on low-wage babysitting and dish-cleaning jobs. In the housing projects of Los Angeles, he documents how families and communities of U.S.-born Mexican Americans manage the social and economic dislocations of persistent poverty. Taking readers into worlds where public assistance, street crime, competition for low-wage jobs, and family, pride, and cross-cultural experiences intermingle,The Price of Povertyoffers vivid portraits of everyday life in these Mexican American communities while addressing urgent policy questions such as: What accounts for joblessness? How can we make sense of crime in poor communities? Does welfare hurt or help?

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93727-7
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Figures and Tables
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xvi)
  5. Notes and Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xx)

    • CHAPTER 1 Institutions of Poverty
      (pp. 3-16)

      Increasingly, the Mexican American experience of poverty matters not only in the barrios but also for our nation as a whole and its future possibilities. Mexican Americans have long made up the largest share of Latinos in the United States, and they are projected to become the largest non-Anglo group in the near future as their population surpasses that of African Americans. Mexican Americans have traditionally been considered a rural population, but low-income Mexican immigrants have been settling in large cities for decades. In recent years, long-established low-income barrios have grown andMexicanizedwhile new barrios have sprung up in...

    • CHAPTER 2 Income Generation in the Barrios
      (pp. 17-32)

      The Guadalupe barrio lies only a few miles from the corporate campuses of some of the country’s best-known Silicon Valley companies, but visitors might not realize they are so close to the high-tech center of the United States. In some ways, Guadalupe more resembles the turn of the twentieth-century immigrant slums famously documented by Jacob Riis inHow the Other Half Livesthan the capital of the information economy at the turn of the twenty-first.¹ The residents of Guadalupe were mostly born and raised abroad in the western Mexican states of Michoacán and Jalisco. Most residents left school years before...


    • [PART II Introduction]
      (pp. 33-36)

      Americans see jobs as the best path for economic advancement and the most constructive foundation for social life. We associate joblessness with personal destitution, intergenerational poverty, and community problems such as crime and violence. Our awareness of the hardships of joblessness need not, however, blind us to the difficulties of working. Among the people whom I knew and spent time with in Guadalupe and Chávez, jobs were the most important source of income and the most important element of everyday economic life. Residents of these barrios, like most Americans, wanted to work. Most believed that, ideally, working would provide the...

    • CHAPTER 3 The Job Market
      (pp. 37-50)

      Often, the jobs in Guadalupe and Chávez resembled the “prizes” awarded to “lucky” contest winners in the classic joke: first prize was one job; second prize was two jobs. In the barrios, working was better than idleness. Jobswereprized. But given the monetary rewards and conditions on the job, the prize was one that few residents embraced without ambivalence.

      Nearly everyone I knew in Guadalupe and Chávez worked in jobs that paid low wages, provided unsteady working hours, and provided few possibilities for upward mobility. Even though these jobs fell within a small slice at the bottom of the...

    • CHAPTER 4 The Experience of Low-Wage Work
      (pp. 51-69)

      Barrio residents often found that low-wage jobs made greater demands on them off the job than at the work site. Many residents I knew in Guadalupe and Chávez held jobs that appeared to require few job skills other than on-time arrival. But finding a job, getting to work on time, and mustering the emotional fortitude to manage the challenges of an unforgiving work environment all made substantial demands on residents’ lives outside the workplace.

      This pattern of barrio work reflects the fact that low-wage jobs generally require little formal education and few hard-to-obtain job skills and that most low-wage workers...

    • CHAPTER 5 Networks and Work
      (pp. 70-98)

      Low-wage jobs assume an inevitable routine. Employers pay low wages to fill positions for which little training is required and in which high turnover can be tolerated. Low-wage workers have little access to the human capital, organizational infrastructure, or political clout that might improve their position in the labor market or their conditions in the workplace. Low-wage work routines thus are shaped primarily by workers’ social resources—the orientations, information, and concrete support to which they have access through interactions with the family, friends, and neighbors who make up their residential community. Low-wage workers use these social resources to manage...


    • [PART III Introduction]
      (pp. 99-102)

      ‘Crime’ connotes personal danger, dangerous persons, and law-abiding people losing control of their neighborhoods. In low-income areas crime is also an income source, and illegal activities played a conspicuous role in everyday life in both Guadalupe and Chávez. Nearly every day during my barrio fieldwork, I saw residents breaking the law in one way or another in their daily economic rounds. I have just described how wage labor—and the economic strategies of overwork and hustling that framed how residents worked at low-wage jobs—provided the economic foundation of everyday life in the low-income barrios. In the next chapters I...

    • CHAPTER 6 Illegal Routines
      (pp. 103-129)

      Moneymaking crosses the line into illegality in two ways. Some economic activities are illegal because they involve goods, services, or activities that are prohibited. As long as marijuana is outlawed, selling the drug is illegal, and robbery requires prohibited forms of coercion. Marijuana selling and robbery—which involve prohibited goods and activities—are part of theillicit economy. Other economic activities, in contrast, are illegal because the legal goods, services, or activities they involve areproducedthrough illegal means. It is illegal to assemble cloth into dresses if the sewing machine operators do not have permission to work in the...

    • CHAPTER 7 The Consequences of Illegal Work
      (pp. 130-154)

      Of the social problems in low-income neighborhoods, few excite more concern and consternation than crime. Concern often centers on violent crime, which is said to plague street corners, apartment buildings, and neighborhoods in America’s big cities.¹ The consternation focuses on economic crime, which appears to have a sadly necessary place in neighborhoods whose economic vitality has been undercut by deindustrialization and among individuals, such as single mothers, teenagers or recent immigrants, who are marginalized in the legal economy.² Often we interpret the concern and consternation as a reflection of the difficulty of controlling crime. Sometimes the urban poor find they...


    • [PART IV Introduction]
      (pp. 155-158)

      Like most Americans, Guadalupe and Chávez residents disapproved of welfare and those who used it. In both communities, nevertheless, some residents used public assistance to generate income. In Guadalupe, residents generally turned to aid during short periods of acute financial crisis, and in Chávez a substantial number of residents collected public aid during extended periods of financial dislocation. The dollar amounts provided by public assistance were small in Chávez and even smaller in Guadalupe. Small amounts could be significant, however. Consider, for example, what might happen if the income from one source—work, crime or welfare—suddenly disappeared from either...

    • CHAPTER 8 Making Ends Meet
      (pp. 159-190)

      For the last four decades, the face of welfare in America has been that of a black single mother receiving Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC).¹ During these decades, caseworkers, journalists, and social scientists have become increasingly interested in her answer to two simple questions: How long? and How much? Has a mother received aid for a few months, or is she raising her children during decades of aid receipt? Has she abandoned work and marriage in favor of dependence on public assistance? Are public funds subsidizing voluntary unemployment or instigating family breakup? Concern with these questions provided the...

    • CHAPTER 9 Making Welfare Stigma
      (pp. 191-208)

      In the United States, public assistance is uncommon yet controversial, its economic impact joined by its symbolic significance.¹ Originally intended to support a narrowly defined group of “deserving” Americans, such as workers injured on the job and the children of widows, public aid has increasingly gone to people Americans think of as “undeserving,” such as working-age men and never-married mothers.² This use of aid concerns Americans who fear that the availability of aid may act as a perverse incentive that encourages the able-bodied to shirk work or the morally sound to eschew marriage.³

      What I have shown so far about...


    • [PART V Introduction]
      (pp. 209-214)

      Work, crime, and welfare evoke powerful feelings in the United States. Work represents one of the central positive values in our society, while crime and welfare are seen as disruptive, shameful, even self-destructive lifestyle choices. I adopt these loaded terms to title the sections of the book purposely yet ironically. Connotations aside, work, crime, and welfare are in the first and last analysis neither values nor lifestyles but merely different ways to generate income. Setting aside and stepping outside the usual frames of reference for assessing the place of these activities in American society is particularly important when we examine...

    • CHAPTER 10 The Price of Poverty
      (pp. 215-228)

      Poverty exacts its price quietly in Guadalupe. The small houses and tree-lined streets, even the concrete-slab apartment buildings, do not advertise deprivation. But if you wait until late in the afternoon, you can see the signs of poverty appear. When school lets out, the sidewalks fill with children, mothers, and grandmothers, a hint of the large families in the neighborhood’s small houses and apartments. Over the next few hours, driveways and streets, sidewalks and front lawns become choked with cars—another signal of overcrowding and an indicator of how many jobs it requires to sustain each of these Silicon Valley...

  11. APPENDIX: Methods of This Study
    (pp. 229-248)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 249-274)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 275-288)
  14. Index
    (pp. 289-295)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 296-296)