3/3/2013 9:05:00 PM 'KILLING THE POORMASTER' Author compares Great Depression, Great Recession
Patrick Whitehurst/The Daily Courier
Author Holly Metz visited the Peregrine Book Company on Sunday. Metz, author of the book “Killing the Poormaster: A Saga of Poverty, Corruption, and Murder in the Great Depression,” said there is little difference in how the poor are treated today compared to how they were treated in the Depression era.
PRESCOTT - Making every penny count is just as important in today's world as it was in the Great Depression.
With $85 billion in federal spending cuts looming as a result of the recent sequester, and long-term effects of the 2008 recession still affecting the finances of many in the country, the plight of America's low-income residents remains a national topic among Democrats and Republicans.
Author and journalist Holly Metz, who spoke at the Peregrine Book Store on Sunday, said there isn't much of a difference between how the poor were treated during the Great Depression and their treatment in the Great Recession.
"Whether we're in a recession or a depression, our attitude about the poor has remained fairly consistent. We view it that it is the fault of the person who is poor, that somehow they have not tried very hard, even when we have a depression or a great recession and there are no jobs and the unemployment rate has maxed out," Metz said.
American laws for the poor, she said, originated centuries ago in Great Britain.
"We have held onto that belief system that it should be hard to get assistance, that it should be humiliating, because people who dispense aid are working for the non-poor and they're protecting the public purse," Metz said. "It's interesting, because in 1945, (England) embraced the welfare state. They have a labor government and they created a security net. They actually left it behind. We still have it."
Metz is the author of the new non-fiction novel "Killing the Poormaster: A Saga of Poverty, Corruption, and Murder in the Great Depression," from Lawrence Hill Books, an imprint of Chicago Review Press.
Her book tells the true-life story of Joe Scutellaro, who was put on trial during the Great Depression for the murder of "Poormaster" Harry Barck, a social worker accused of denying aid to the poor of Hoboken, New Jersey.
Metz, who lives in Hoboken, said she chose to write the book in a way that would make history come alive for readers. In all, it took her eight years to research and complete the book.
"It's not dry history," she said. "You are in the lives of these people. One of my goals was for people to feel how intense it was to be that desperately poor, to have this (poormaster) control what foods you could eat, what bills you could pay, and to be in that situation. When the killing of the poormaster occurred there was a recession within the depression and it was terrible."
Frustration with government inaction, particularly during the Great Depression, led to the formation of social groups similar to the current Occupy Movement, Metz said.
"There were occupiers in the state house in Trenton, New Jersey, in 1936. They were unemployed people and they took over the assembly chambers because the representatives had left without passing a bill to pay for people to survive on relief," Metz said.