Kathryn Lewis

Recent Articles

Poor Standards

Thirty-five million Americans are living in poverty, yet they're not necessarily idle. Many of them are like Caroline, who earns $7.50 an hour in a New Hampshire factory, or Candalaria, who earns three-quarters of a cent for each zipper she sews on jeans at a Los Angeles sweatshop. David K. Shipler, a former New York Times reporter, walks us through their ranks in his new book, The Working Poor . Whether they're former drug addicts, people battling with crippling illnesses, or recent immigrants who send the bulk of their incomes back home, they all have one thing in common: a fragile existence at the margins of the working world. As Ann Brach, a single mother struggling to make ends meet, says, "Nobody really wants to know that sometimes $2 is a significant amount, and $25 is tremendous." In a span of 40 years, as Shipler points out, we have gone from a "War Against Poverty" to an ambivalence toward the poor, reflected in both draconian shifts in public policy and hefty cuts to...

Good Signs

Living in Washington, I've come to expect poorly attended marches -- but this weekend proved to be a pleasant surprise. A consortium of antiwar groups, spearheaded by International A.N.S.W.E.R., brought thousands to town on Saturday to protest George W. Bush's Iraq policies. While the streets were peppered with the usual suspects -- black-clad anarchists, radical cheerleaders, giant puppets -- the collection of protesters at this march appeared larger and more diverse than the crowd at September's anti-globalization rallies. It was also more focused on a single message -- not to mention unencumbered by the sideshow of confrontation and mayhem that accompanied the September protests. One of the most hopeful elements of the budding antiwar movement -- its multi-generational make-up -- was on full display Saturday. To Ellie Dorritie, a 60 year-old postal clerk from Buffalo, that in and of itself was a positive sign. "In the sixties, parents were pleading with their kids not to go out and...

Hard Luck and Welfare

Hands to Work: The Stories of Three Families Racing the Welfare Clock By LynNell Hancock. William Morrow, 320 pages, $25.95 A fter fleeing abuse at home, Brenda Fields and her children, Ty, 3, and Loreal, 17, found themselves on the doorstep of the Emergency Assistance Unit on East 151st Street in the Bronx on a brisk February day in 1997. They were at the mercy of the city of New York in the midst of America's experiment "to end welfare as we know it." Before long, the Fields family, we learn from LynNell Hancock's account in Hands to Work, was moving through a series of shelters, temporary-housing units and finally into subsidized housing. Brenda's days were cluttered with appointments and paperwork as she attempted to obtain housing, child care, job skills and employment. After more than a dozen trips to the South Bronx welfare office, she was able to get assistance, receiving $290 in cash each month, plus $265 in food stamps. By the next summer, though, her family's monthly...

Devil in the Details:

It took all of seven days to shut down the Pentagon's Office of Strategic Influence -- roughly the same amount of time that anyone actually knew it existed. Controversy over OSI originally heated up following a New York Times story suggesting the office might spread false reports to the foreign press or run "black" propaganda campaigns. After taking a beating over this -- as critics barked that the U.S. shouldn't lie to the rest of the world -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld pulled the plug. Indeed, it was all over so quickly, the debate over OSI didn't really progress far enough for anyone to bother asking whether office would actually have been very good at duping anyone. A look back at some of the low points of U.S. psychological warfare, however, suggests that this might have been by far the more salient criticism. Consider the CIA's embarrassing forays in Cuba, well described in Jon Elliston's book Psywar on Cuba . By March of 1960, a little over a year after Cuban rebels...

Devil in the Details

According to U.S. Department of Labor statistics, Enron workers lost between 70 and 90 percent of their retirement plans as the company's stock collapsed. Cumulatively, workers lost more than a billion dollars in retirement assets. The ensuing outrage has thrust pension reform onto the political agenda. President Bush has advanced a plan that would expand workers' rights to cash in on their company's stock options and encourage companies to provide professional investment advice to employees. Meanwhile, Democrats Barbara Boxer and Jon Corzine are calling for a 20 percent limit on the amount of company stock workers can apply to pension plans. For the public at large, the mistreatment of Enron employees is perhaps the single most outrageous aspect of the entire scandal. This is largely because most middle class working Americans have various retirement arrangements themselves, and can sympathize directly with Enron workers. But The American Prospect couldn't help wondering whether...