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Poverty, by America

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The Pulitzer Prize–winning, bestselling author of Evicted reimagines the debate on poverty, making a new and bracing argument about why it persists in America: because the rest of us benefit from it.

ONE OF THE MOST ANTICIPATED BOOKS OF 2023: The Washington Post, Time, Esquire, Newsweek, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Elle, Salon, Lit Hub, Kirkus Reviews

The United States, the richest country on earth, has more poverty than any other advanced democracy. Why? Why does this land of plenty allow one in every eight of its children to go without basic necessities, permit scores of its citizens to live and die on the streets, and authorize its corporations to pay poverty wages?

In this landmark book, acclaimed sociologist Matthew Desmond draws on history, research, and original reporting to show how affluent Americans knowingly and unknowingly keep poor people poor. Those of us who are financially secure exploit the poor, driving down their wages while forcing them to overpay for housing and access to cash and credit. We prioritize the subsidization of our wealth over the alleviation of poverty, designing a welfare state that gives the most to those who need the least. And we stockpile opportunity in exclusive communities, creating zones of concentrated riches alongside those of concentrated despair. Some lives are made small so that others may grow.

Elegantly written and fiercely argued, this compassionate book gives us new ways of thinking about a morally urgent problem. It also helps us imagine solutions. Desmond builds a startlingly original and ambitious case for ending poverty. He calls on us all to become poverty abolitionists, engaged in a politics of collective belonging to usher in a new age of shared prosperity and, at last, true freedom.

304 pages, Hardcover

First published March 21, 2023

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About the author

Matthew Desmond

14 books2,264 followers
Matthew Desmond is social scientist and urban ethnographer. He is the Maurice P. During Professor of Sociology and the Director of the Eviction Lab at Princeton University. He is also a Contributing Writer for The New York Times Magazine.

Desmond is the author of over fifty academic studies and several books, including "Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City," which won the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction, National Book Critics Circle Award, Carnegie Medal, and PEN / John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction.

"Evicted" was listed as one of the Best Books of 2016 by The New York Times, New Yorker, Washington Post, National Public Radio, and several other outlets. It has been named one of the Best 50 Nonfiction Books of the Last 100 Years and was included in the 100 Best Social Policy Books of All Time.

Desmond's research and reporting focuses on American poverty and public policy. He is the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, the American Bar Association’s Silver Gavel Award, and is an elected member of the American Philosophical Society. He has been listed among the Politico 50, as one of “fifty people across the country who are most influencing the national political debate.”

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 944 reviews
Profile Image for Traci Thomas.
544 reviews9,840 followers
March 21, 2023
This book is as searing as they come. Desmond took his clout as a Pulitzer winner and said I'm coming for your necks. This book is not EVICTED it is not narrative nonfiction, it is a fierce accounting of poverty in America an a poverty abolitionist manifesto. It digs into the tax breaks and welfare of the rich. It is very very good.
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,458 reviews8,561 followers
March 28, 2023
I overall enjoyed reading this book about the issue of poverty in the United States. Matthew Desmond does a nice job of highlighting key factors that perpetuate poverty and economic disparity, including how the government gives so many benefits/subsidies to the wealthy while undermining and not doing as much as it should for the poor. I like that he makes the point that alleviating poverty would require wealthy people to give up some resources and that that sacrifice is worth it if you’re actually an empathetic person. He addresses intersections of race and poverty with an emphasis on Black Americans, and he also details how expensive poverty can get through the presence of factors such as unnecessary banking and paycheck fees.

At times I felt like the book read like a manifesto or a well-researched rant. I didn’t disagree with many of his points, however. As an Asian American person reading this, I definitely reflected on how I know certain Asian Americans who prioritize upward mobility and accumulating wealth over solidarity with low-income people of color – it’s interesting and saddening to think about how greed can motivate people.
Profile Image for Jenna ❤ ❀  ❤.
789 reviews1,184 followers
April 13, 2023
"This is who we are: the richest country on earth, with more poverty than any other advanced democracy. If America’s poor founded a country, that country would have a bigger population than Australia or Venezuela."

'Poverty, by America' is a brief look at poverty in the US, and most importantly, what we can do about it.

I'd give it 5 stars except that it's so short. I felt cheated that, while it's 287 pages (Kindle version), only 187 are the actual book. The other 100 pages are notes, a reader's guide, etc.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,005 reviews36k followers
April 24, 2023
Audiobook…read by Dion Graham
…..5 hours and 40 minutes


Poverty is hunger….
physical pain ….
“a colonoscopy bag in a wheelchair”,
poor health,
depression . . .
….people living in poverty, often feel isolated and powerless to change their situation.

Poverty is often a vicious cycle — passing down from generation to generation . . .

Poverty is . . .
associated with
inadequate housing,
inadequate childcare,
fewer decent work opportunities,

People living with poverty don’t even have access to basic services such as electricity and safe drinking water.

The American safety net is broken . . .
….a calling for the rich to pay their taxes!!!

Informative ….
….heartbreaking statistics!!!

….incredibly difficult, but cannot be done without addressing inequality incomes ….
….The Rich: pay your taxes!!!

Matthew Desmond shares more effective ways to conquer poverty—“invest in ending poverty”
‘In Our Land of Opportunity’
….than the way we are doing it now ….
….with affordable housing,
and other ways the government can help….
and …
……social reform movements …
…poor people’ campaigns…
racial justice,
opportunity justice…
And we must get organized about it…..

“Poverty will be abolished in America, only when social movements, demand it”!

But overall “Poverty” is
very very sad!!!!

Profile Image for Tatiana.
1,401 reviews11.7k followers
March 27, 2023
Pretty much a manifesto rather than a well argued, comprehensive work Evicted was. A lot of generalizations, solutions that are hardly nuanced, cherry picked statistics, etc.
60 reviews24 followers
January 16, 2023
WOW... still processing this book and will have to read it again. SO much to absorb and definitely contemplate.

I liked this more than Evicted. I couldn't put it down - except to give myself some breathers to absorb all the information Matthew Desmond gives us. Every paragraph builds off the last. He explores every "excuse" people use typically to explain how poverty is a person's bad choices. It leaves you with some changes to consider in your life and in the US's policy decisions. Absolutely devoured it.

I highly recommend for anyone interested in learning more about how our lowest income people struggle to get by paycheck-to-paycheck and how the system is set up to keep them struggling. And, uncomfortably, how those of us who don't struggle in that way benefit by keeping those who do in that position. We quite literally can be comfortable and well-off BECAUSE of the exploitation of the country's poorest people.
Profile Image for Bonnie G..
1,296 reviews188 followers
April 4, 2023
Desmond's last book, Eviction, was life changing for me. I was about to write that the book made me aware of things that revolted me about the ways we (all of us) keep the poor poor but that is a half truth. I think I knew a lot of what Desmond wrote about in that book, but by assaulting me with facts, statistical and anecdotal, Desmond forced me into a reckoning. That reckoning impacted my volunteer work, and also made me re-evaluate where and how I choose to live. Few things I have read or seen in my life have had such a profound impact. I was so excited when I saw he had a new book and I began reading it the day it hit my Kindle. Maybe this book suffered from my high expectations. It is a very different book, and though I think there is some very valuable material here, much of it kind of exasperated me. You will be disappointed if you are looking for the well-researched factually supported heft of Evicted or the several other excellent books by others that he cites here including The Warmth of Other Suns, The Sum of us, and Thick (which he does not mention by name but he credits Tressie McMillan Cottom, and I am pretty sure the material he is quoting comes from one of the essays in that excellent book.) This book is a manifesto. It is actually a pretty decent manifesto, but it is a manifesto nonetheless and I guess that is not what I came for.

The first half of this book (almost exactly to the 50% mark) just bored me. I hear what he is saying, that we talk about systemic problems but that the answer is within us, that the cure to structural problems comes from our personal choices. I get that there is a good deal of personal wealth for many and that if people were willing to part with some of that, or at least the fruits of some of that, and if rich people paid their damn taxes we could address the moral horror of true want. But that is kind of obvious and 100 pages of that being said in different ways left me unfocused and also searching for other reading material.

At about the 50% mark Desmond comes out swinging, and the book becomes 100x more compelling. Compelling and cohesive are different beasts though. The moral argument appealed to me but there were holes in his reasoning I could drive a truck through. The biggest holes came from Desmond's mistaken belief that people all share his values, especially from the belief that people care a lot about others outside their immediate community. Everything hinges on this, Desmond says basically, "yeah people with money, you will have to give up autonomy and comfort to end poverty, but when everyone is equal you will feel so much better! That sacrifice will be paid off a thousand-fold" It is a lovely sentiment, but I believe it is simply untrue of most people. In my experience people who enjoy sone degree of economic comfort do not wrestle a lot with the ethics of economic inequity. They give some money to the Title 1 school closest to them, pat themselves on the back for subscribing to a CSA and buying eggs from the farmstand instead of supporting big ag, they "simplify" with Marie Kondo, and they maybe upcycle instead of buying new things from fast fashion purveyors. And they feel largely fine after that. Desmond is advocating for them to change their entire lives to alleviate the inequities, and I am here to say that will never happen. I did mention that in my experience people only care about people in their communities (that includes virtual communities,) and Desmond addresses that by suggesting that communities should not be divided by wealth, He argues that people support subsidized housing in their neighborhoods to create more economically diverse communities. I think that is a wonderful suggestion and I support it in theory. As I type that though I am keenly aware that here in NYC where the richest among us always lived in close proximity to those in subsidized housing, housing projects are slowly being sold to private owners -- people are paying big money to live in what used to be the projects here. I used to live steps away from the Gowanus projects in Boerum Hill and they have been rezoned and sold to private developers. The Manhattanville Projects in West Harlem are being turned into luxury condos as the Williamsburg Houses recently were. In other words, the cheek-by-jowl cohabitation of NYC by rich and poor is ending -- moving away from Desmond's dream model. This makes me sad, but does not surprise me. That glow of connection and caring that Desmond thinks will happen from being part of the same communities, that did not occur here and I don't see it as being likely to happen elsewhere either. The only people I have heard speaking against the city selling these units would be the residents of the subsidized housing, nothing from their more moneyed neighbors.

One last thing I wanted to mention. I talked about how reading Eviction changed me and my choices about where and how to live, and it did, but it changed those things after my son was grown and I was the only one feeling the impact. I believe in public education, and I always thought my child would go to public school, but he had learning disabilities, and they did a terrible job of educating him in a very highly rated public elementary in the Atlanta metro. I pulled him out of public school at the start of 3rd grade and sent him to excellent private schools where he got individualized attention, and I hired tutors, organizational coaches and other professionals. He graduated with high grades, went to an excellent college where he majored in Public Policy and Media Studies, is an aspiring filmmaker, and fully supports himself in that industry. He has worked for one of the largest media companies in the world and in addition to his full-time work he has a busy freelance schedule and has even directed several music videos in the two years since graduation. His doctor said that when he saw my brilliant son's educational report when he was 7 he thought he would be lucky to go to community college. A neighbor with a slightly older child with similar issues who stayed in public school had that outcome, and he was never able to complete his AA. Would I make another decision to keep my kid in a school that was not serving him so that he would be on equal footing with kids with fewer resources? Not in a thousand years. And if I did do that and my child ended up with a life that did not allow him to share his unique skills with the world would I be happier because he shared that unsatisfying life with so many other young people? Nope. If I am going to hell, so be it, but I will have a lot of company.

Well-intentioned, peppered with interesting observations about how Americans perceive their level of wealth and with some fascinating facts about American's actual level of want, and with potentially actionable solutions to poverty this book does a lot, but ultimately for me it was a disappointment. Maybe because it made me feel defensive, I can't say, but I feel like I feel.
Profile Image for Nathan Shuherk.
255 reviews1,990 followers
April 26, 2023
A really good quick but still dense book that is worth the read but that might be better used as a gift for conservative family since it is largely retreading information most liberals and the left are widely aware of
Profile Image for Annie.
93 reviews
February 3, 2023
This is a thoughtful, no-frills primer on poverty in America and the ways in which existing policies and perspectives affect everyone, rich and poor and in between. Although Desmond refers to US examples and laws, the text is accessible and relevant to those of us who aren’t American.

Overall, I found myself relishing each page as a wealth of knowledge. There is so much that struck me and took me aback, like the chapter on banking, which I suppose reflects my own privilege. Desmond outlines the scope of how poverty is subsidised and how exploitation of poor people benefits those who enjoy security and stability, and how these advantages are passed down through well-off families. Each chapter is well thought out and easy to understand, and I particularly liked that he didn’t include many case studies but presented the information in a straightforward manner (just my own preference). He also concludes with some calls to action and proposes an alternative way of life that could be within reach, in which more people are able to stay afloat to nobody’s detriment. I appreciated that Desmond doesn’t approach this topic in a patronising or academic tone, but rather presents the facts in a sobering way. I highly recommend this short but deeply enlightening book to everyone.

I received an ARC of this novel through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship.
1,121 reviews1,203 followers
April 22, 2023
This book is basically an extended op-ed, but it’s an important one, with strong writing and backed by extensive research (the actual text is 189 pages and most of the rest is references). It sets out to answer a couple of basic questions: why do we have so much and such deep poverty in the U.S., despite having so much money? And what can we do about it?

As it turns out, lack of spending on programs and benefits isn’t the answer, or at least not the largest part of the answer: we do spend a lot, but this doesn’t eliminate the systems that create and feed off poverty. For instance: workers’ wages are kept low, collective bargaining is discouraged, and big corporations relying on low-wage workers depend on government benefits like the earned income tax credit and food stamps to subsidize their own low wages. Landlords charge nearly as much for low-income rentals as middle-income ones and make double the profit; anyone who can pay rent can probably pay a mortgage, but banks don’t generally bother with smaller loans in low-income areas, so those buildings have to be bought with cash. Banks make billions in fees that disproportionately impact low-income customers, like overdraft fees, while those who avoid banks altogether or can’t get traditional credit lose hefty amounts of their wages to check cashing fees and payday lenders who fail to disclose the actual average cost of their loans. Meanwhile the public benefits to middle- and high-income people are enormous, through programs like the mortgage interest tax deduction—government handouts mostly don’t go to the poor. And even money intended for the poor gets diverted to other things, like marriage workshops.

Desmond also devotes a hefty chunk of the book to solutions, as it’s not just a nasty few at the top who benefit from poverty: anyone invested in the stock market (where companies can take a hit for improving employee pay) or who opposes construction of higher-density housing in their area (single-family-only zoning restrictions began with racism but also do a handy job of keeping out the poor) does too. He has a number of suggestions, from funding the IRS to actually make the rich pay their taxes, to new forms of collective bargaining, to apartment buildings owned by tenant collectives. He also makes the interesting point that progressives have to stop being such defeatists, fluent in the language of grievance but unwilling to celebrate successes—the pandemic-era rental assistance program saw the greatest investment in housing assistance this country has ever made, but when no one bothered to tout it, what message does that send lawmakers about spending political capital on these things? And how much of the problem boils down to a mindset of artificial scarcity, in which the middle classes are convinced to side against the poor for fear of losing what they do have, while the rich make a killing on everyone and fail to pay their share?

The book does address some myths about poverty, but it is mostly geared toward those inclined to agree that this is an important problem (which is probably the right choice because who else is going to read it?). And while it briefly addresses lived experiences of poverty, that’s not the focus: for more storytelling, check out Evicted by the same author; $2.00 a Day and Random Family are also great choices.

Overall, certainly a lot of food for thought here. In the end so many of our serious problems come back to poverty and inequality, so I hope this book will be widely read and its ideas put into practice.
Profile Image for Anita Pomerantz.
648 reviews106 followers
March 27, 2023
The good news for Mr. Desmond is that this book will likely divide people along political lines, and progressive people will most likely all give it 5 stars and conservative people will not. And there's nothing really wrong with that, but I did find it sorely disappointing after reading the masterpiece that was Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City.

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City was a book that opened hearts and minds. I now know that I am not really in the same vicinity as Mr. Desmond when it comes to our political views, but when I read Evicted, I was moved nonetheless. It created an empathy within me that really wasn't there before, and made me more attuned to the issue in my own community. Since I participate very actively in a Giving Circle, there were real ramifications to this viewpoint shift. I thought the book was brilliant even when read with a critical eye.

This book is the exact opposite. It's an editorial where you can't help but feel as though the facts were entirely cherry picked as if to build a legal argument. There was very little nod to other schools of thought, but more importantly there wasn't any analysis of possible unintended consequences that might arise from following Desmond's suggestions for eradicating poverty. There was also no good definition of what eradicating poverty really means. Is it just getting people above a certain minimum income? I definitely got the sense that Desmond didn't see that as adequate. There will always be a bottom 15%. But the people comprising that bottom are not always the same year in and year out.

There were some ideas that I agree with (free access to excellent birth control for those below a certain income level seems like a good idea to me, and I could get on board with eliminating the mortgage interest deduction as part of a bigger plan to simply our tax system). But you lose me when you point out that during the pandemic we made the biggest dent in poverty we ever made because we handed out so much money . . .um, did you measure that in inflation adjusted income? Everything got so much more expensive; I find it hard to take that statement seriously.

At the end of the day, there was an opportunity here. I think it was missed. If you like opinion pieces that go on for the length of an entire book, you might enjoy the writing.
Profile Image for Timothy Urgest.
506 reviews263 followers
April 8, 2023
How could there be, I wondered, such bald scarcity amid such waste and opulence?

Exploitation, by America.

Mostly a collection of depressing statistics in narrative form—very journalistically surface, not much depth, just facts. But it is all vital information that more people should be aware of and care about. This would make an excellent documentary, especially with the added aspect of visuals. It’s hard to envision true poverty if you’ve never been there.

Exploitation of the marginalized should not benefit a country. Too much wealth is accumulated on the backs of the impoverished, while simultaneously keeping that wealth out of their reach.
Profile Image for Misha.
736 reviews8 followers
April 6, 2023
This book reads like a dream--a dream we all need to invest in. Poverty exists because we will it in to being through a variety of means, and because so many benefit from its existence. Desmond cogently lays out how our policies and our essentially segregationist attitudes prop up this inequity over and over again. This book is a call to poverty abolition, a call to reexamine society as we have come to accept and rationalize it. Stirring and galvanizing.

Urgent, compelling, and positively oriented to addressing how we all play a role in maintaining the conditions of poverty and absolutely have a role in dismantling it. This book is a must read.

"People benefit from poverty in all kinds of ways. It's the plainest social fact there is, and yet when people put it like this, the air becomes charged. You feel rude bringing it up....People accuse you of inciting class warfare when you're merely pointing out the obvious." (42)

Reagan fired striking air traffic controllers in 1981 (48-9)

"Even as more and more of us are shopping according to our values, economic justice does not seem to be among our top priorities. We know if our vegetables are local and organic, but we don't ask what the farmworkers made picking them. When we purchase a plane ticket, we are shown the carbon emissions for the flight, but we aren't told if the flight attendants are unionized. We reward companies that run antiracist marketing campaigns without recognizing how these campaigns can distract from the companies' abysmal labor practices, as if shortchanging workers isn't often itself a kind of racism. (The economists Valerie Wilson and William Darity, Jr., have shown that the Black-white pay gap as increased since 2000, and today, the average Black worker makes roughly 74 centers for every dollar the average white worker does.) We recognize the kind of coffee we should drink or the kind of shoes we should wear to signal our political affiliations, but we are often unaware of what difference that makes for the workers themselves, if it makes a difference at all. My family stopped shopping at Home Depot after learning about the company's hefty donations to Republican lawmakers who refused to certify the results of the 2020 presidential election. We have yet to inquire about the pay and benefits offered at Ace Hardware." (60)

"There exists a long history of slum exploitation in America. Money made slums because slums made money." (64)

"Many writers have depicted America's poor as unseen, shadowed, and forgotten people: as 'other' or 'invisible.' But markets have never failed to notice the poor, and this has been particularly true of the market for money itself." (71)

"Poverty isn't simply the condition of not having enough money. It's the condition of not having enough choice and being taken advantage of because of that." (78)

"The American poor are terrible about being welfare dependent. I wish they were better at it, just as I wish that we as a nation devoted the same amount of thoughtfulness, creativity, and tenacity to connecting poor families with programs that would alleviate their hunger and ease their hardships as multinational multinational corporations devote to convincing us to buy their potato chips and car tires." (90)

"Today, the biggest beneficiaries of federal aid are affluent families." (93)

"The American government gives the most help to those who need it the least. This is the true nature of our welfare state, and it has far-reaching implications, not only for our bank accounts and poverty levels, but also for our psychology and civic spirit." (95)

"Given this, I suspect there might be something deeper at work, another reason for our unwillingness to acknowledge the invisible welfare state: that middle-and upper-class Americans believe they--but not the poor--are entitled to government help. This has been a long-standing explanation among liberal thinkers: that Americans' hardwired belief in meritocracy drives them to conflate material success with deservingness. I don't buy it. We are bombarded with too much clear evidence to the contrary. Do we really believe the top 1 percent are more deserving than the rest of the country? Are we really, in 2023, going to argue that white people have far more wealth than Black people because white people have worked harder for it--or that women are paid less because they deserve less? Do we have the audacity to point to housekeepers with skin peeling from chemicals or berry pickers who can no longer stand up straight or the millions of other poor working Americans and claim they are truck at the bottom because they are lazy? 'I've worked hard to get where I am,' you might say. Well, sure. But we know untold numbers of poor people have worked hard to get where they are, too." (99-100)

"The American aristocracy of today seem to prefer complaining to one another and working nonstop. Has here ever been another time, in the full sweep of human history, when so many people had so much and yet felt so deprived and anxious?" (104)

"In many corners of America, a pricey mortgage doesn't just buy a home; it also buys a good education, a well-run soccer league, and public safety so thick and expected it appears natural, instead of the product of social design." (112)

"Most Americans want the country to build more public housing for low-income families, but they do not want that public housing (or any sort of multifamily housing) in their neighborhood. Democrats are more likely than Republican to champion public housing in the abstract, but among homeowners, they are no more likely to welcome new housing developments in their own backyards. One study found that conservative renters were in fact more likely to support a proposal for a 120-unit apartment building in their community than liberal homeowners. Perhaps we are not so polarized after all. Maybe above a certain income level, we are all segregationists." (115)

"Instead, we let the rich slide and give the most to those who have plenty already, creating a welfare state that heavily favors the upper class. And then our elected officials have the audacity--the shamelessness, really--to fabricate stories about poor people's dependency on government aid and shoot down proposals to reduce poverty because they would cost too much. Glancing at the price tag of some program that would cut child poverty in half or give all Americans access to a doctor, they suck their teeth and ask, 'But how can we afford it?" How can we afford it? What a sinful question. What a selfish, dishonest question, one asked as if the answer wasn't staring us straight in the face. We could afford it if the well-off among us took less from the government. We could afford it if we designed our welfare state to expand opportunity and not guard fortunes." (121)

"Imagine if we'd worked together to ensure that the low eviction regime established during the pandemic because the new normal. But we chose to shrug instead. Poor renters in the future will pay for this, as will the Democratic party, incessantly blamed for having a 'messaging problem' when perhaps the matter is that liberals have a despondency problem: fluent in the language of grievance and bumbling in the language of repair.
Meaningful, tangible, change has arrived, and we couldn't see it. When we refuse to recognize what works, we risk swallowing the lie that nothing does. We risk imagining the future only as more of the same. We risk giving into despair, perhaps the most exculpating of all emotions, and submitting to cynicism, perhaps the most conservative of all belief systems. This can suffocate meaningful action, and it certainly doesn't inspire others to join the cause." (135)

"Defenders of the status quo, this pro-segregationist propertied class, have shown themselves to be willing to do the tedious work of defending the wall." (169)

"There is a serious sociological insight here. When the ground feels unsteady underfoot, we tend to hunker down and protect our own, growing less willing to consider what we have and more apt to pay mind to what we could lose. Stacks of social psychological evidence confirm that when we feel resources are scarce or could be, when we sense that our status (or that of our racial group) is slipping, we discard our commitments to equal opportunity. If you survey the American public, you learn that most of us want less poverty and less inequality, at least in principle. But when you ask us about specific policies to accomplish those ends, we begin to equivocate, especially if we feel those policies could cost our families somehow." (171)

"The evidence is in, and it's clear: We can integrate our communities without depressing property values, compromising school quality, or harming affluent children. So why do so many of us remain 'unsure of our own social position'? Why do we scare so easily?
We have been taught this fear. Our institutions have socialized us to scarcity, creating artificial resource shortages and then normalizing them.
...Or consider how a scarcity mindset frames so much of our politics, crippling our imaginations and stunting our moral ambitions. How many times have we all legislators and academics and pundits begin their remarks with the phrase 'In a world of scare resources...' as if that state of affairs were self-evident, obvious, as unassailable as natural law, instead of something we've fashioned?" (171-2)

"If we had to boil it down to a single concept, we might just say that without poverty, we'd be more free. A nation invested in ending poverty is a nation that it truly, obsessively committed to freedom. Franklin Roosevelt was right: 'True individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. Necessitous men are not free men,' and a country besieged by poverty is not a free country. Compared to a freedom that is contingent on our bank accounts--rich people's freedom--a freedom that comes from shared responsibility, shared purpose and gain, and shared abundance and commitment strikes me as a different sort of human liberation altogether: deeper, warmer, more lush. This kind of freedom 'makes you happy--and it makes you accountable,' as Robin Wall Kimmerer has put it. 'All flourishing is mutual.' Why? Because poverty anywhere is a threat to prosperity everywhere." (181)

"Poverty will be abolished in America only when a mass movement demands it." (185)

"All of us can learn from, support, and join movements led by those who have intimate knowledge of poverty's many slights and humiliations: attending meetings, signing petitions, donating time and money, amplifying social media messages, working the phone banks, adding our voices to public protests, and running supplies to the picket line.
'Get into relationship.' That's the clear advice of Deepak Bhargava, former president and executive director of the Center for Community Change, to those seeking to be allies in the movement to abolish poverty. 'Find some way in your life to be in relationship with working class and poor people.' Deepak wasn't speaking about charity, where a person of means serves someone in need, but about genuine connection, one built on mutual respect and understanding, where Americans across the class spectrum join low-income Americans in a political struggle for more dignity and more power." (185)

"If you have found security and prosperity and wish the same for your neighbors, if you demand a dignified life for all people in America, if you love fairness and justice and want no part of exploitation for personal gain, if all the hardship in your country violates your sense of decency, this is your fight, too." (189)

"We don't need to outsmart this problem. We need to outhate it." (189)
Profile Image for Tanja Berg.
1,863 reviews424 followers
March 24, 2023
I read "Evicted" a few years ago and that was a really great book about how hard it is on the housing market if you are poor, have been evicted before, or have some other issues that will not let you get into a better area. This book is a further development of the same topic, delving into the reasons behind poverty and what can be done about it. Wouldn't be great if everyone really had equal opportunity in life, instead of this being a lost pipedream?
Profile Image for Wick Welker.
Author 5 books338 followers
May 30, 2023
Yes, poverty can be abolished in America.

It is not an exaggeration to claim that poverty can be abolished in America. And it could happen nearly overnight. Poverty exists in tandem with wealth, the two are inseparable and Desmond makes it pretty clear here that if you are not poor, you are benefitting from the impoverished. In Poverty, by America, Desmond casts away the stereotypes that it is the impoverished that persists off the government nanny state and shows that it is the very rich and middle class that exploit the government even more through tax breaks and subsidies. If you simply just taxed capital and the rich more and stopped given a leg up to people that already have wealth accumulation and targeted those government funds into people who are actually poor, poverty could be abolished without adding a dime to the deficit.

We have an entire tax system designed by the rich and for the rich including low capitals gains taxes, mortgage interest deduction and overall regressive taxing on capital. We don't even need to get into multi-national companies completely avoiding taxes and the ridiculous low corporate taxes. And no, taxing capital less does not lead to trickle down wealth. Supply side economies is a corporate lie is demonstrably not true as evidenced by wage stagnation and nearly flat poverty rates for the last forty years. Desmond makes it pretty clear that most government aid doesn't even go to the poor and states widely misuse government funded programs designed to benefit the poor. And let's not mention the myriad ways in which the poor are exploited: suppressed wages, non-compete contracts, forced in house arbitration, contracted work. Housing zoning ordinances are just rebranded redlining. The argument "well anyone claim invest money" is ridiculous. The entrance fee to grow your wealth is extremely high, falls along racial lines, and the majority of stocks are own by a minority of the very rich.

He sheds the ideological monikers and gets into the technical and wonky details about how to engineer a poverty-free society. In this way, Desmond is a technocrat and clearly supports social democratic policy. I personally don't care what someone wants to call it to align with their ideology but the facts are that our system supports the aristocracy. There are nothing free about American markets. A system that is actually pro-competitive market, not pro-business, and taxes capital progressively to bolster the social state, would benefit our entire society.

Key question: is technocracy enough to implement these changes? In my opinion, absolutely not. And I think Desmond gets into this a little bit saying that anti-poverty action needs a flare of populism. Instead of corporations having BLM logos on their websites, a better questions to ask them is: how much are you paying your workers. Activism should become anti-poverty, something that would unite across racial and class lines.
Profile Image for Liz Hein.
232 reviews64 followers
February 25, 2023
A very convincing call to become poverty abolitionists. Desmond, again, persuasively debunks common rationalizations for why America has so many living in poverty. Read this.
Profile Image for Peg.
38 reviews30 followers
April 4, 2023
The thesis of this book is so important, and I was totally disposed to be impressed by it because Evicted was memorably well done. But man, when you put forth an entire chapter on how tax policy unfairly favors the wealthy—which is absolutely true—but you don’t understand marginal income tax rates, it is just so hard to take the rest of the research seriously. Ugh.

See p. 93: “The federal income tax is progressive, meaning that tax burdens grow as incomes increase—in 2020, it was 10 percent for the poorest individuals (with incomes at or below $9,875), 24 percent for middle-income individuals (with incomes between $85,526 and $163,300), and 37 percent for the richest individuals (with incomes at or above $518,401)—but other taxes are regressive….” This isn’t how marginal income taxes work. All single filers with income above $9875 in this example pay 10% on that segment of their income; those in the 24 percent bracket pay 10 percent on their first $9875, 12 percent on dollars 9,876 to 40,125, and 22 percent on dollars 40,126 to 85,525, and then 24 percent on the dollars in the income band he specified above. That means that a single filer with income of $100K would pay a little over $18K, not $24K.

It may seem pedantic, but anybody who has taken a basic class in tax or accounting would know this. When he makes mistakes this basic to a subject he devoted an entire chapter to, it makes the whole book seem slipshod and sloppy. Super disappointing.
Profile Image for Payel Kundu.
319 reviews18 followers
April 5, 2023
I enjoyed this author’s previous work, Evicted, which was balanced and rigorous, as well as compellingly written. Starting this book, I was immediately struck by a more righteous and aggressive tone which continued throughout the book and detracted somewhat from an air of credibility or objectiveness. My bigger issue with this book though is that I don’t see how it can be effective in instigating change.

Desmond takes the stance that while systemic inequality exists, much of modern American poverty is perpetuated by the American wealthy and middle class because we benefit from it too much to want to change it. Some of it is directly actionable, like we could ban predatory loans and banking practices for low income Americans, not paying workers a living wage as part of keeping costs low for consumers, and homeowners advocating for exclusionary zoning to keep their neighborhoods looking a certain way. But for some of Desmond’s objections, it’s hard for me to see what he wants an individual to do, like the fact that when you account for tax breaks for home ownership etc. rich and middle class people actually get a lot more “government aid” than poor Americans. I guess he’s mad at us about that and wants middle class people to give it back?

Ok, first of all, as a person in her 30’s who has no scope of buying a home any time soon in my expensive AF city, it wasn’t clear to me what Desmond was so mad at me about since I’m not collecting these nice fat tax breaks, doling out predatory loans, paying anyone sub-minimum wage, or charging prisoners too much to call their families. I don’t remember ever acting in a way to perpetuate any of these practices on purpose, and would be really open to hearing how we can reorganize taxes and social programs to address these issues.

I found some of Desmond’s points interesting, like how we’re ignoring inequality by siloing the rich and poor more and more in terms of where we live and how we interact, as well as how much government aid the wealthy and middle class are actually absorbing in relation to those Americans who need it more. However, his tone of impetuously sanctimonious chiding was so unprofessional, in the absence of more data (which Evicted was full of), I found myself having a lot of lingering skepticism after finishing the book. Dude sets out to make well-meaning liberals the villain here. Cool, good luck accomplishing social change having blamed and isolated the very people most likely to act in service of national poverty reduction. The author would do well not to lump middle-class liberals in with tax-evading billionaires.

I wouldn’t recommend this book, and am hoping a more evenhanded and more data-heavy book is written on the topic because the topic is quite interesting.
Profile Image for Ryan Bell.
55 reviews28 followers
April 6, 2023
Once again, as with Evicted, the first part of the book is eye opening, especially for folks who don’t work day in and day out around people experiencing poverty, homelessness, evictions, job loss, and more. It appears that his goal is to awaken middle and upper class people to realize their complicity in our inequality problem.

Desmond then misdiagnoses the problem, saying we can have capitalism and eliminate poverty. He is at great pains to redeem capitalism even though this is the essential cause of exploitation. This is not to say he doesn’t have some good policy suggestions but, as one example, expanding Section 8 vouches with no talk of rent control is massively missing the point. Inequality is a symptom, and the solution is not getting individuals to care more and do more, but to create systemic solutions that root out the cause of poverty. And that cause is the exploitative native of the capitalist economy. The results we’re getting are not unusual. They are exactly what you would expect.
Profile Image for britt_brooke.
1,288 reviews96 followers
May 2, 2023
To better understand this country, read both this and Evicted. With Desmond’s years of immersive research, and smooth narrative style, he thoroughly explains major socioeconomic and societal issues that keep the impoverished in a holding pattern. Recognizing that, in America, there are two housing markets and two labor markets is a much-needed perspective. This is a must-read; go audio. Dion Graham, please narrate my life!
Profile Image for Bam cooks the books ;-).
1,850 reviews231 followers
May 23, 2023
The United States is the richest country on Earth, but almost 1 in 9 Americans live in poverty — a higher rate than any other advanced democracy. More than 1 million public school children are homeless. Matthew Desmond asks why. “The end of poverty is something to stand for, to march for, to sacrifice for,” he writes. “Because poverty is a dream killer, the capability destroyer, the great waster of human potential. It is a misery and a national disgrace, one that belies any claim to our greatness. The citizens of the richest nation in the world can and should finally put an end to it."

At s recent appearance at the University of Chicago’s Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy and Practice, Desmond urged the audience to visit endpovertyusa.org, a site that provides state-by-state facts about poverty, as well as how to get involved in abolishing it.
Profile Image for Daniel Liu.
8 reviews2 followers
March 22, 2023

What if poverty persists not because society is incapable of preventing it, but because society benefits from it?

That's Matthew Desmond's argument. Poverty, by America does not focus on the plight of the poor, but rather turns the lens towards the wealthy to highlight their complicity in a system that sustains poverty. This isn't the ethnographic nonfiction narrative of Evicted. Instead, Poverty is one big argumentative essay full of data and statistics that answers the question of why people are poor: "because society exploits them for profit." Desmond convincingly argues that the United States has the money to effectively end poverty overnight, but chooses not to do so for selfish reasons. Affluent homeowners would rather government welfare take the form of mortgage interest deductions than housing vouchers (and corporations praise and promote the Earned Income Tax Credit as a government subsidy for poverty wages); banks abuse punitive overdraft fees to turn poverty into a multibillion dollar industry; retirees whose nest eggs depend on the stock market just want to see the line go up with no regard as to the human toll exacted on the other end.

Poverty is a searing indictment of conventional attitudes towards poverty - of the laughable trite conservative cliches (the myth of the "lazy poor"), but also of the liberal hand-wringing "it's all systemic." It is systemic, argues Desmond, but we need to recognize that we are the system and we manufacture poverty not as an unfortunate byproduct of economic progress, but as an intentional decision: to make some poor so that others may prosper. Desmond quotes Tolstoy: "If I want to aid the poor, that is, to help the poor not to be poor, I ought not to make them poor."

Desmond's writing brims with fury. Poverty reads like a manifesto, and that to me is where it falls slightly short. While Desmond supports his argument with evidence, I'm reminded uncomfortably of a dressed-up Malcolm Gladwell; Desmond seems more interested in presenting data as a way to lend his claims the veneer of credibility rather than critically interrogating the statistics to paint a comprehensive picture of the world. His writing also sometimes descends into platitudes and sweeping generalizations that I think are too broad. In talking about affordable housing and NIMBYism, for example, he argues that "we" like the concept of affordable housing in the abstract, but mobilize en masse when affordable housing comes to "our" neighborhoods. Desmond may well be right, but the sense I get when it comes to constructing new multifamily housing is that the opposition is strong not because of the size of the movement but because of how loud they can make their voices. Local politics seems profoundly anti-majoritarian and undemocratic in that there are available levers for even just a few dedicated NIMBYs to pull to stall a project for years or indefinitely.

All the same, I still found Desmond's main argument persuasive because I was willing to accept that the purpose of the book was to propose a high-level mindset change - to invite people to become poverty abolitionists - rather than to serve as a nuts-and-bolts technical manual on dismantling poverty. I would recommend this book to everybody.
Profile Image for Elizabeth Stolar.
438 reviews23 followers
March 25, 2023
6/7. I pre-ordered this book and ended up leap-frogging my prior book to read this one in its entirety. I have to admit that when I first opened the package and saw the physical book, I was slightly disappointed. The book is the size of a regular paperback (about an inch shorter in height and a half inch shorter in width than a typical hardback) and when you take out the endnotes and acknowledgments, there are only 189 pages of actual narrative. So I knew this wasn't going to be quite as in-depth as the author's previous book, Evicted. This seemed like it was easy for this very knowledgeable author to write and it's more of a call to action than anything. But a call to action for a worthy cause is a good thing, and there are some very profound points made here that everyone should consider -- so, really, everyone should read this book and then we could have a worthwhile national conversation.

The main take-away is that it is well within our ability to end poverty in the U.S. The big issue will be having well-off people give up what they get from the government to get it. The author points out that wealthy/upper class Americans take advantage of government programs at the same rate as poor Americans. Foregoing the mortgage interest deduction would go a long way toward funding anti-poverty programs but this is rarely suggested. I think this makes a lot of sense, yet at the same time I question how much energy I want to put into fighting for something that ultimately will harm me personally. I actually really like my mortgage interest deduction (and government-subsidized employer-based health insurance, and 529 programs and retirement programs), so even though I think it would make so much more sense to get rid of it to fund programs for the poor, it's not the easiest thing for me to put all my energy into, and it will be even harder to get other people who are not as convinced to do so.

We can do so much better than we are now, and this book reminds us of that. If only everyone would read it and heed its call.
Profile Image for Lydia Scheel.
5 reviews1 follower
May 2, 2023
Desmond’s perspective indicates the book was written for guilty liberals who want to feel good about themselves by conceiving themselves poverty abolitionists. While the vision to abolish poverty is worthy, the means and argumentation are weak and put the burden of progress on individual choice, not collective action.

Will poverty still exist if rich elites choose to only buy their products from B Lab certified companies (as the author suggests in the “Empower the Poor” chapter)? Yes. Will poverty still exist if lower income families are shuffled to higher income neighborhoods, abandoning their communities and historical homes, in pursuit of exclusionary educations purposely concentrated in areas of the rich and white (chapter “Tear down the Walls”)? Of course. Will poverty still exist if we do not “restore unions to their former glory” (an exercise the author calls “foolish” on p 140), forget organizing individual workplaces (p 141), and simplistically pursue raising the minimum wage for workers who are exploited in hundreds of ways? Duh. Will poverty still exist if we do not demand “redistribution” (p 132) and instead pursue a “capitalism that serves the people” (p 143), as the author wants? Absolutely, it will.

Poverty is a requisite symptom of the system of capitalism. It is infuriating for the author to speak of abolishing a symptom, when he would have us salvage the very system that produces it and prospers from it.
Profile Image for Kawai.
Author 5 books598 followers
May 27, 2023
A worthy follow-up to EVICTED. Desmond's treatise here is clear-eyed, straightforward, deeply researched, and passionately delivered. I try to be skeptical of my own biases--and in the case of this book, Desmond is 100% preaching to the choir (me)--and the only reason I don't give this straight up 5 stars is because it's hard to know whether the figures he's presented, even with all the angles he looks at them, really do capture the major contributions to American poverty. Nevertheless, the case he makes here for who benefits from poverty (most of us) and why (a combination of preferential laws, particularly several that favor property ownership) had me thinking about a career change to try and find a way to make a difference.
Profile Image for Suzanne.
913 reviews34 followers
April 12, 2023
My favorite thing about this book, aside from the in-depth research and human touch, is that Desmond doesn’t just explain the problems, he offers solutions. And not just one!
Not to say that his answers are easy or quick. They’re not. We got into this mess through hundreds of years and slid backward in the last 50. It’s hard to invest the time and resources into solving problems we think don’t stem from our behaviors. It’s hard to see the problems that some part of us knows do come from our behaviors.
This is such a great jumping off point for constructive community conversation and action at all levels. I’m going to be putting it as many hands as I can.
Profile Image for Ashley Basile.
150 reviews21 followers
April 5, 2023
An excellent look, at a disgusting issue in America. It's a searing accounting of poverty and it digs into the meat of the issue. Everyone should read this book.
Profile Image for Colleen.
630 reviews47 followers
May 16, 2023
A scathing, no-holds-barred look at how America's economic system is rigged to continue the cycle of poverty in perpetuity for certain segments of our population. Though the author doesn't go into a lot of detail about it (the topic would be extensive enough to fill another book), it's insane how many of our societal ills stem from the policy decisions made by the Reagan administration. The more I read, the more I understand that the '80s were the beginning of the end of American exceptionalism.
Profile Image for Catie.
213 reviews19 followers
April 5, 2023
"This is who we are: the richest country on earth, with more poverty than any other advanced democracy. If America's poor founded a country, that country would have a bigger population than Australia or Venezuela. Almost one in nine Americans--including one in eight children--live in poverty."

"According to the latest national data, one in eighteen people in the United States lives in 'deep poverty,' a subterranean level of scarcity."

"Our vulnerability to exploitation grows as our liberty shrinks."

"Complexity is the refuge of the powerful."

"Money made slums because slums made money."

"Where there is exclusion, there is exploitation."

"The duality of American life can make it difficult for some of us who benefit from the current arrangement to remember that the poor are exploited laborers, exploited consumers, and exploited borrowers, precisely because we are not. Many features of our society are not broken, just bifurcated."

"Poverty isn't simply the condition of not having enough money. It's the condition of not having enough choice and being taken advantage of because of that."

"the fundamental lesson that emerges from this debate is that if we want to abolish poverty, we need to embrace policies that foster goodwill and be suspicious of those that kindle resentment."

"In fact, a guiding set of principles for an antipoverty agenda might be the following: Rebalance the safety net and insist on tax fairness in order to make significant investments in eliminating poverty through policies supported by broad coalitions."

"Franklin Roosevelt was right: 'True individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. Necessitous men are not free.'"

"there are no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent issues."

"Every person, every company, every institution that has a role in perpetuating poverty also has a role in ameliorating it."
Profile Image for Emily.
91 reviews5 followers
February 21, 2023
Matthew Desmond’s ���Evicted” is one of the most impactful books I have ever read. I was very excited to read “Poverty, by America,” which was also impactful, but in a different way.
Instead of primarily using stories of people he knew and befriended to tell his story, Desmond has created an essay mostly filled with data and statistics on the breadth, causes of, and potential solutions for US poverty. I was especially interested in his discussion of poverty abolition and what we can all do to get involved. While this book didn’t have the same emotional impact on me as “Evicted,” I still recommend this book.
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