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Chen, Victor Tan 1976–

Chen, Victor Tan 1976–

PERSONAL:

Born September 15, 1976. Education: Harvard University, B.A., M.A.

ADDRESSES:

E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

Researcher and journalist.

WRITINGS:

(With Katherine S. Newman) The Missing Class: Portraits of the Near Poor in America, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 2007.

Contributor to Chutes and Ladders: Navigating the Low-Wage Labor Market, edited by Katherine S. Newman, Harvard University Press, (Cambridge, MA), 2006. Contributor to journals and periodicals, including Newsday, Minority Law Journal, Oregonian, Miami Herald, Philadelphia Daily News, Let's Go: Chile, and the Chronicle of Higher Education. Founding editor of InTheFray Magazine, 2001.

SIDELIGHTS:

Victor Tan Chen is a researcher and journalist. After completing a bachelor of arts degree in history and literature at Harvard University, he continued on to graduate studies at the same university. Chen contributes articles to periodicals and journals, including Newsday, Minority Law Journal, Oregonian, Miami Herald, Philadelphia Daily News, Let's Go: Chile, and the Chronicle of Higher Education. He also is the founding editor of InThe Fray Magazine, a periodical he started in 2001 with Alexander T. Nguyen, with the purpose of helping readers better understand each other through reporting on identity and community issues.

Chen contributed to Katherine S. Newman's book, Chutes and Ladders: Navigating the Low-Wage Labor Market, in 2006. The study looked at the lives of poor families living in Harlem in New York City, examining whether the economic boom times of the 1990s had any positive financial impact at all on them. The study found that nearly twenty percent of the families who participated in the study have since ascended to stable financial positions and many have continued their education, through trade certificates and completing high school diplomas, as a means to get ahead.

Paul Tough, writing in the New York Times Book Review, remarked that the "book is valuable, though, as a collection of carefully drawn portraits of people who got their start working at the bottom rung of the American economy—in a lousy job, in a lousy neighborhood, at the tail end of a recession—and in many cases managed to escape a situation that seemed inescapable." Ellen D. Gilbert, writing in Library Journal, commented that "Newman's work offers appendixes rich in socioeconomic detail and will be of greater interest to policymakers."

In 2007, Chen published his first book, The Missing Class: Portraits of the Near Poor in America, with Newman. The account relates personal stories of families in New York City, showing how the occurrence of illness, job loss, or other single events can plunge struggling families who earn between 20,000 dollars and 40,000 dollars a year below the poverty line.

James Green, writing in the Boston Globe, commented that "for seven years Newman and Chen studied nine families in New York City who belong to this new ‘missing class’ of near poor. The result is a compelling group portrait of heroic families living at risk of descending into poverty if someone is laid off, taken ill, or trapped in the clutches of predatory loan sharks and credit card companies." Green observed that "the book ends with a troubling question," pondering over the attainability of the American dream by those who have worked hard for decades with little or nothing to show for it. A contributor to the Fresh Fiction Web site mentioned that the arguments in the book are "eloquent," adding that the book "has much to tell us about whether the American dream still exists for those willing to sacrifice for it." John A. Coleman, reviewing the book in America, said that "whether the nation has the will to address poverty as a systemic and serious issue remains to be seen. Listening to the voices of the often desperate families in The Missing Class, one has a sober sense that our nation—unlike the Good Samaritan—is passing by those who have been left by the road." Chuck Collins, reviewing the book in Sojourners magazine, observed that "we learn little about civic participation and political attitudes of the missing class," as well as the ways "the immigration issue plays out among members of the missing class in other regions" throughout the country. Collins conceded, however, that the book's main strength "is its storytelling, which sets this book far above other nonfiction books about class and poverty. Through well-developed portraits and strong narrative writing, the experiences and struggles of nine New York City families emerge in all their humanness and difficulty." A contributor to Kirkus Reviews concluded that "the many fragmented individual stories tend to blur together, but the message comes through loud and clear."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

America, November 26, 2007, John A. Coleman, "Either Too Poor or Too ‘Rich’," p. 29.

Booklist, August, 2007, David Siegfried, review of The Missing Class: Portraits of the Near Poor in America, p. 14.

Boston Globe, November 4, 2007, James Green, review of The Missing Class.

Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 2007, review of The Missing Class.

Library Journal, September 15, 2006, Ellen D. Gilbert, review of Chutes and Ladders: Navigating the Low-Wage Labor Market, p. 78.

New York Times Book Review, October 22, 2006, Paul Tough, review of Chutes and Ladders.

Publishers Weekly, July 9, 2007, review of The Missing Class, p. 47.

Reference & Research Book News, November, 2007, review of The Missing Class.

Sojourners, February, 2008, Chuck Collins, "Without a Net," p. 49.

ONLINE

Fresh Fiction,http://www.freshfiction.com/ (March 25, 2008), review of The Missing Class.

Harvard University, Department of Sociology Web site,http://www.wjh.harvard.edu/soc/ (March 25, 2008), author profile.

InTheFray Magazine,http://inthefray.org/ (March 25, 2008), author profile.

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