Lives On the Line

American Families and the Struggle to Make Ends Meet


By Martha Shirk

By Neil G. Bennett

By J. Lawrence Aber

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In Lives on the Line, Martha Shirk, Neil G. Bennett, and J. Lawrence Aber meld affecting personal profiles with sophisticated demographic analysis to create a vivid portrait of what life is like for more than 14 million American children growing up below the poverty line. In personal profiles of ten families across the nation, from a Pacific Islander family in Hawaii to a homeless family in a wealthy New York City suburb, award-winning journalist Martha Shirk depicts the realities of life for children below the poverty line. She takes readers deep into the lives of families in poverty — lives sometimes marked by childhood abuse, parental loss, and long-term violence — and with each family explores their prospects for moving above the poverty threshold. Along the way, Shirk finds amazing resilience, resourcefulness, and strength of spirit in many of these poor families. Neil G. Bennett, demographic research director for the highly respected National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia University (NCCP), shatters many commonly held stereotypes by analyzing Census Bureau data to show which American children are most likely to be poor. He reports, for instance, that over 60 percent of poor young children have at least one employed parent, that most poor young children live in suburban or rural areas, and that a parent’s graduation from high school is insufficient to insure against poverty. Among his most startling findings are that in the last two decades, the Young Child Poverty Rate grew significantly faster in the suburbs than in urban or rural areas, and that it grew much faster among whites than among blacks. J. Lawrence Aber, the director of NCCP and a nationally recognized expert in child development and social policy, describes the effects of poverty on child development and showcases proven strategies for preventing or reducing child poverty. He also shows us that it is in our national self-interest to address the problem of child poverty by making a smart investment in America’s future. As a powerful portrait of the effects of poverty on America’s children and families, Lives on the Line narrows the gap between “them” and “us.” It will change the way you think about the poor. Request Desk/Exam Copy


On Sale
Oct 18, 2000
Page Count
294 pages
Basic Books

Martha Shirk

About the Author

Martha Shirk, a journalist who specializes in social issues, is co-author of Lives on the Line. She lives in Palo Alto, California.

Anna Wadia is a program director at the Ms. Foundation in New York City.

Learn more about this author