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About the Author

Matthew Desmond received a bachelor's degree from Arizona State University and a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Wisconsin at Madison in 2010. He is a professor of social sciences at Harvard University. His books include On the Fireline: Living and Dying with Wildland Firefighters, Race show more in America written with Mustafa Emirbayer, The Racial Order written with Mustafa Emirbayer, and Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, which won the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction in 2017. (Bowker Author Biography) show less

Includes the name: Matthew Desmond

Image credit: Matthew Desmond discusses Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City at the 2017 Library of Congress National Book Festival in Washington, D.C.

Works by Matthew Desmond

Associated Works

The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story (2021) — Contributor — 1,305 copies


Common Knowledge



Group Read: Evicted by Matthew Desmond in 75 Books Challenge for 2017 (January 2017)


I read Poverty early this year, and this is just a zoomed in look at one aspect of poverty. It's heartbreaking and absolutely a systemic failure that anyone is homeless. I will never understand why women are evicted for being nuisances when it's abusive men threatening them that are the nuisance. This is excellent and should improve anyone's empathy.
KallieGrace | 198 other reviews | Nov 29, 2023 |
I loved Matthew Desmond's Evicted when I read it a few years ago. It was an eye-opening expose of the precarious housing situation faced by the less fortunate among us. In this one, Desmond asks, Why is there so much poverty in America?, and states that he wrote this book to answer that question. The book definitely proves that there is a lot of poverty in America; it goes a long way to show why that poverty exists, and why the situation does not seem to be improving. I'm not sure it comes up with any good answers about what to do about this problem, however.

The first part of the book is replete with facts that show Yes, Indeed, there is a lot of poverty in America. I took lots of notes on these factoids in my reading journal, but won't include them here. The facts are the facts, and the examples he uses to establish that there is an epidemic of poverty that is only growing worse is both infuriating and heart-breaking.

I will note that one important thing that he consistently points out is that we need to stop blaming the poor for being poor. The entire system is rigged against them. For example, due to their inability to access reasonable banking services they must rely on things like usurious payday loans, and if they manage to have a bank account they are continuously subjected to outrageous overdraft fees, and if they have no bank account they are subject to outrageous check-cashing fees on their wage checks. The conclusion is that frequently poverty is not simply the lack of money, but also the lack of choices and being taken advantage of every which way you turn. And he consistently reinforces the message, that in general we, the more fortunate, benefit from the poverty of others. We are less willing to invest in public goods, want to maintain our nice neighborhoods with restrictive zoning laws, and want the benefit of cheap goods and labor.

He does come up with some recommendations/solutions, which to a certain extent may be simplistic and/or impossible to implement (particularly in the current political situation). Here in bullet point are some of the suggestions he makes:

--Make sure low income Americans get connected to available aid, and don't make it so hard to get (One example, every year over $1 billion in social security funds are spent not on paying benefits to those with disabilities, but on paying lawyers to argue that they deserve the benefits, and appealing when the benefits are denied).

--Collect taxes that are due, but unpaid/uncollected.

--End tax-avoidance schemes by multi-nationals and the wealthy.

--Raise tax rates on the wealthy and on corporations.

--Stop subsidizing the wealthy

--Raise the minimum wage, and make increases in the minimum wage somewhat automatic, or at least easier to implement.

--Increase collective bargaining powers.

--More public housing. Make it possible for the poor to become homeowners with government subsidized financing.

--Ensure fair access to capital. Regulate banks and lending to the poor.

--End restrictive zoning laws.

This is just a sampling--there is more.

It's a pretty informative book, but I'm not sure it has any good answers, and I am sure there are no easy answers.

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arubabookwoman | 21 other reviews | Nov 21, 2023 |
I agreed with some of what Desmond said here (and I loved his book [b:Evicted|25852784|Evicted Poverty and Profit in the American City|Matthew Desmond|https://i.gr-assets.com/images/S/compressed.photo.goodreads.com/books/1442840968l/25852784._SX50_.jpg|45720714]), but there's also a lot of dramatization and emotional arguments here. Alarmingly, he never gives the poor any responsibility for their situations. I get that it's sometimes no one's fault. But there are an awful lot of people making very poor decisions that they are simply seeing the consequences of.

Right in the beginning, he claims that a man who uses cocaine regularly (supposedly to stay awake during his work shifts) is not a "career junkie" - just "a member of the working poor." Well, what about all those other members who don't resort to illegal drugs? Let's just group all these people together and pretend we're dealing with the same issues... when we're not.

Reading some of the reviews on this, some people think Desmond is too conservative, others too liberal.

My moral and religious beliefs definitely contrast with his on a few issues. For example, he wants easy access to "reliable contraception" for poor women. But rich and poor women (and men!) already have access to the only 100% reliable birth control: abstinence. Don't want a family right now? Don't have sex while you or your partner is ovulating. Don't want to start a family with a particular person? Don't have sex with them at all. It's really not so difficult.

Similarly, with payday loans, Desmond acts as if people have no choice but to borrow money, whether it's in a traditional way with good credit, or through payday loans. What about doing without a few things, living within your means? Or even just better financial education in public schools? The government doesn't always need to step in and say something isn't allowed - we, the people, can choose not to use a business's services, and the business will simply fail, like so many do. (Also, he never even mentioned that credit unions exist and they tend to be far better than banks.)

He bemoans the situation of a woman ("Crystal," who he followed in Evicted) who has nowhere to stay precisely because she burned everyone she came into contact with. People gave her chance after chance and she screwed everyone over. The solution here is not one of the government doing more, it's this woman doing more - and better. Desmond doesn't acknowledge this at all.

(And I say all this as someone who is living below the poverty line here in America, so it's not just that I "don't understand.")

I do agree that people should examine the practices of the businesses we invest in and utilize, whether that's their stance on unions (which Desmond obsesses over a bit), their minimum wage or benefits packages, or their support of political and moral policies, to decide if we really want to support them.

I also appreciate that he broke down some of the math and showed that middle class families often receive just as much "welfare" help from the goverment as the poor, but it's delivered and marketed in a completely different, less degrading way. (I don't get why all programs can't be adjusted to take place at the tax-filing stage. Would make things so much simpler!)

So, it was an okay read, but nowhere near as good as [b:Evicted|25852784|Evicted Poverty and Profit in the American City|Matthew Desmond|https://i.gr-assets.com/images/S/compressed.photo.goodreads.com/books/1442840968l/25852784._SX50_.jpg|45720714]. And honestly, I think it's because the author focuses on his own personal views in this book, instead of presenting more objective portraits of others.

Note: The author swears a couple times, including misusing the name of God. I always find profanity so unprofessional.
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RachelRachelRachel | 21 other reviews | Nov 21, 2023 |
I picked this up at the library on a whim, never having heard of it. (Although it apparently won a Pulitzer.)

It's an excellent book about poverty and how hard it is to make ends meet, let alone get ahead, when housing (crappy housing, at that) eats up the vast majority of your budget, and when the rich exploit the poor.

There is a fair amount of language in the book, as recorded in dialogue.
RachelRachelRachel | 198 other reviews | Nov 21, 2023 |



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