Poverty in the United States

A Documentary and Reference Guide

by John R. Burch Jr.


The 1821 Report of the Committee on the Pauper Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts divided the poor into two categories: deserving and undeserving.

Print Flyer
Cover image for Poverty in the United States

April 2018


Pages 408
Volumes 1
Size 8 1/2x11
Topics Current Events and Issues/Politics and Government
  American History/Economics

This collection of documents contextualizes the ways in which Americans have addressed the evolving challenges of poverty throughout U.S. history. Each document is accompanied by an analysis that both summarizes its content and considers its impact.

Poverty has always been a part of the fabric of American life, and this installment in the Documentary and Reference Guides series fills the gaps left by most educational treatments of the subject, beginning with an examination of poverty at the state and local levels as it was during the early 19th century.

A federal plan for addressing poverty was not devised until Franklin Delano Roosevelt launched the New Deal in the 1930s. As these 70 chronologically arranged documents illustrate, the unfinished business of the New Deal, interrupted by World War II, culminated in new legislation during John F. Kennedy's New Frontier and Lyndon B. Johnson's War on Poverty; progress, however, fell victim to the Vietnam War, ushering in decades of rollbacks under presidents of both parties. Noted scholar and librarian John R. Burch Jr. provides thorough coverage of these and contemporary events throughout which poverty has endured, including the Great Recession of 2008–2009, the minimum wage debate, and the Affordable Care Act and attempts to repeal it.


  • Analyzes primary documents to provide useful context in such areas as labor law, health care, housing, and family assistance
  • Emphasizes state and local responses to poverty from the Founding Fathers through the early 20th century
  • Devotes a chapter to Native Americans and the Indian removal policies and reservation system
  • Features legislation, reports, court cases, and speeches
  • Includes sidebars that highlight individuals or events related to the relevant time period, a guide to related documents, a chronology, and a bibliography
Series Description

Documentary and Reference Guides

What does the U.S. Constitution really say about the right to bear arms? The controversy surrounding this single issue illustrates how important documents are to understanding history--and how they can be open to interpretation. How can students best understand the impact and nuances of the documents that frame America's story?

Expertly chosen primary source documents, analytical commentary, and comprehensive study resources present Americans grappling directly with complex social and political issues in ways that have had a deep and lasting impact on contemporary society.

Students often are unaware that hotly contested public debates have deep historical roots. Intended to allow readers to engage with history and discover the development of controversial social and political issues over time, the Documentary and Reference Guides series introduces such issues through carefully chosen primary source documents.

The documents analyzed in these volumes encourage critical thinking, offering fresh perspectives as they sweep away preconceptions and restore immediacy to debates that may have become stale. They encourage students to explore for themselves how important issues came to be framed as they are and to consider how contemporary discussion might advance beyond the assumptions and hardened positions of the past.


  •  Offers primary source documents--well known and less so--that are most important for understanding a given issue, selected and analyzed by subject-area specialists
  •  Presents document headnotes, text, and analysis in a consistent manner, making the book easy for readers to navigate
  •  Steers students and general readers to the most useful and reliable sources for further information, whether print, electronic, multimedia, or institutional resources


  •  50-100 primary source documents, topically and chronologically organized, including excerpts from legislation, U.S. Supreme Court decisions, manifestos, broadcast statements, controversial writings such as Thomas Paine's pamphlets and excerpts from the Federalist Papers, and personal writings, such as letters
  •  15-25 photographs
  •  Accessible analysis sections and lively sidebars illuminating documents that are crucial to the subject, but relatively legalistic or technical
  •  A Reader's Guide to the Documents and Sidebars, organized by subject, to enable readers to pursue particular lines of inquiry through more than one chapter
  •  A comprehensive, annotated, general resources section supporting student research needs
Author Info

John R. Burch Jr., PhD, has authored or coauthored nine books, including Greenwood's The Great Society and the War on Poverty: An Economic Legacy in Essays and Documents. His books The Encyclopedia of Water Politics and Policy in the United States (Congressional Quarterly, 2011), coedited with Steven Danver, and Water Rights and the Environment in the United States: A Documentary and Reference Guide , were named Outstanding Academic Titles by Choice. Burch serves as Library Director at the University of Tennessee at Martin.



"This is a strong source of primary information for student research. General readers will find a firm grounding on which to form opinions about a timely subject. VERDICT Recommended for high school, undergraduate, and public libraries looking to rebuild their reference collections and support curricula in need of primary sources."Library Journal

"The author's inclusion of historical alongside more current documents is part of what makes this text such an interesting read. The more recent documents and trends would be particularly helpful to those interested in current policy and social issues. I would recommend this book for its usefulness in uniting these documents into a historical and topical narrative."ARBA

Look Inside

Other Titles of Interest

Modern Slavery cover imageEndangered Species cover imageVaccination and Its Critics cover image
Victims' Rights cover imageWater Rights and the Environment in the United States cover imageSubstance Abuse in America cover image

Product Search

Product Search

Publication Year



Need Help? Try our Search Tips