Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream by Adam Shepard

After graduating college and getting pissed off at Barbara Ehrenreich's thesis that upward mobility in America is largely a myth, Shepard decides to prove her wrong. He takes Amtrak to a random Southern city (Charleston, SC) with $25 in his pocket, a sleeping bag, and an empty gym bag. He spends more than two months in a homeless shelter, picking up work from a labor agency and doing the kinds of jobs that might make Caitlin Kelly appreciate retail. His wages are meager even before the agency deducts various fees. Eventually he finds steady work as a mover, which pays better than most of his other options.

After achieving his goals for the project, Shepard pontificates about how this means any American can start with nothing and find a decent job, get an apartment, get a car, and put money in the bank. He doesn't acknowledge his obvious advantages over many poor people. He's physically and mentally healthy, he has no addictions, and he has no dependents. While he doesn't tell anyone about his degree, he still carries all he has learned in his head, and I presume he is articulate and carries himself well. Surely these qualities make it easier for him to get and keep a job.

Scratch Beginnings is an interesting story about life in the underclass. Shepard's success may inspire some, but his broader conclusions based on an experiment of one are presumptuous if not ridiculous. Still, I enjoyed most of the book until the epilogue.

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