A People’s History of Poverty in America

An “exceptionally thought-provoking and troubling” (City Limits) history of poverty in America, told through the eyes and experiences of the poor themselves

“Stephen Pimpare has given the poor a voice that reveals not only the terrible want but the sharply punishing indignity of being poor in a culture that celebrates affluence. We need this book.” —Frances Fox Piven, author of Poor People’s Movements

Winner, Michael Harrington Award of the American Political Science Association

Tens of millions of Americans currently live in poverty, more and more of them in extreme poverty. But the words we use to describe them tend to obscure rather than illuminate the human lives and real-life stories behind the statistics.

A “sympathetic social history that allows poor people, past and present, to tell their own remarkably similar stories” (Booklist), A People’s History of Poverty in America movingly brings to life poor people’s everyday battles for dignity and respect in the face of the judgment, control, and disdain that are all too often the price they must pay for charity and government aid.

Through prodigious research, Stephen Pimpare has unearthed poignant and often surprising testimonies and accounts that range from the early days of the United States to the complex social and economic terrain of the present. A work of sweeping analysis, A People’s History of Poverty in America reminds us that poverty is not in itself a moral failure, though our failure to understand it may well be.


“A concise and distinctive bottom-up history.”
Library Journal
“This book is long overdue. Stephen Pimpare reveals how long-standing American societal prejudices have led to poverty policy that regulates, exploits, and dehumanizes the poor rather than addressing the root causes.”
—Sondra Youdelman, Community Voices Heard
“[A] deft and highly readable weaving of historical and contemporary material. . . . This is exactly the history that needs to be uncovered in America today.”
Socialist Worker
“[A] sympathetic social history that allows poor people, past and present, to tell their own remarkably similar stories.”
“A must read for anyone interested in learning the real story of poverty, social welfare policy, and social change.”
—Mimi Abramovitz, Hunter College School of Social Work and the Graduate Center, CUNY
“The voices of the poor give valuable insights into the experience of poverty.”

Books by Stephen Pimpare

The New Victorians
Poverty, Politics, and Propaganda in Two Gilded Ages

Stephen Pimpare

Goodreads Reviews