By official count, more than one out of every six American children live beneath the poverty line. But statistics alone tell little of the story. In Invisible Americans, Jeff Madrick brings to light the often invisible reality and irreparable damage of child poverty in America.
... clear, spare prose ... With welcome brevity, Invisible Americans stitches together much of what the lay reader needs to know about American child poverty ... I did sometimes want to get closer to the inner and outer lives of America’s poorest families. While Madrick briefly sprinkles in a few tales of individual penury, several marked by their subjects’ shame and lingering physical pain, we don’t get to know any of these people well ... But Madrick does not aspire to narrative journalism here. He is more interested in informed indignation. The reason for his outrage is clear: Ending childhood destitution was a political centerpiece of the Great Society, yet now it is rarely mentioned, especially by politicians. If our leaders absorbed this book’s urgent call, perhaps they would discuss poverty — and act to ease it — once again.
Overall, Invisible Americans does an excellent job pulling together and synthesizing the latest research on the dynamics of child poverty in the United States. It is a clarion call to address this most unjust blight upon the American landscape. Madrick has provided a valuable service in presenting a highly readable and cogent argument for change ... Yet I am left with a disturbing thought: What if factual evidence and arguments do not change hearts and minds? This book’s method (which I have also followed throughout my career) is to provide well-reasoned arguments based on the best available research. Most policy analysts would strongly argue that we should be guided by such an approach...However, it is possible that the myths and misguided beliefs about poverty benefit many of us, particularly those with influence, which contributes to their staying power.
Invisible Americans synthesizes the work of dozens of researchers (to whom it is dedicated), rather than presenting original scholarship or reportage. It’s a summons to action in the spirit of Michael Harrington, whose book The Other America, from 1962, is often credited with inspiring the War on Poverty and whom Madrick cites on the first page ... Madrick rightly emphasizes the long-term damage child poverty inflicts and correctly notes in passing that child poverty ranks curiously low among progressive concerns ... While Madrick makes many important points, several elements of his style may limit his reach. For a book on child poverty, Invisible Americans is largely devoid of poor kids. The few who appear are mostly drawn from secondhand sources or masked behind pseudonyms. Not every work on child poverty needs fresh reporting, but some humanization here would have deepened readers’ interest and understanding ... Madrick also limits his reach by adopting a dismissive tone toward those of a different ideological bent ... Lastly, Madrick is too reluctant to acknowledge the progress that had been made ... Still, Madrick’s book is not only valuable but more timely than he could have possibly imagined or desired. Invisible Americans performs a service: it elevates an issue of moral urgency, at times with eloquence, and makes recommendations that would benefit millions of children.