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Poverty, by America (2023)

by Matthew Desmond

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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7432830,236 (4.05)31
"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"--… (more)

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» See also 31 mentions

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I should imagine that there are quite a few people who hate this book and think that he has got it all wrong but what can't really be argued is that the ways in which we try to reduce poverty are not working. And Desmond argues that this is because the rich want the status quo. Someone is always making money out of poverty and it is this that needs to be stopped.

I listened to this as an audiobook but it is one that would be better being read as a book because it is so hard to go back and find quotes and there are obviously no page numbers. Desmond argues that we are all to blame for poverty because we don't stand up and shout about it and even when we do have successes, we don't shout about those either. There are several interesting ideas for reducing poverty, none of which are earth shattering:

Pay a decent minimum wage. This in itself has the power to make a significant difference. It offers stability and fairness to those who wait and clean and do all those jobs that most of us wouldn't want to do but like to have others who will do it.

Unionise - it is these groups that fight for social/class/race justice, fair working conditions and pay and are on the side of workers. If we have to wait for each Starbucks or Amazon workplace to do this, we will wait for ever. Desmond encourages us to ask 'Who benefits?' when we see the unfair work practices and pay.

Affordable housing where maintenance is a priority so that tenants are not left in conditions that are unsuitable to live in.

Benefits that are universal and then targetted. He states that it is only the wealthy who can get mortgage interest relief because the poor can't get bank accounts never mind loans to buy houses they can afford.

Ensure that schools are excellent so that everybody has the chance to learn which means the same funding, staffing, resourcing and opportunities.

I don't know how this book would be received in America, who likes to be told they are part of the problem, but it is an interesting discussion particularly as some of these ideas have roots in research and trials. What would happen if there were a county or state that did it all? That set out to reduce poverty and this drove all of their policies. I wonder who would complain?

A fascinating and well-written narrative around poverty that was like listening to a story. ( )
  allthegoodbooks | Feb 29, 2024 |
"An Amazon Best Book of March 2023: Matthew Desmond’s Evicted, published in 2017, won the Pulitzer and, perhaps more surprising, was a best-seller. Evicted followed eight families in Milwaukee as they fought to keep roofs over their heads—as readers, we were drawn into their stories and their struggles under a housing system that seemed designed against them. Desmond’s new book, Poverty, by America, does not take such an intimate approach but may be an even more vital work. In Poverty, he draws back the lens to illustrate how poverty injures the impoverished—physically, financially, and spiritually—and how the wealthiest country in the world has developed a bifurcated system that favors those who are better off (in the form of tax breaks, hoarded benefits, and walled-off communities). With so many resources available, Desmond argues that poverty could be abolished fairly easily in the U.S. There’s just one hitch: those whom the system favors must be willing to give up some of their advantages. This is a book that is bound to start a lot of conversations, and it will ask difficult questions of readers of all political stripes. They are questions well worth asking, and answering." (Chris Schluep, Amazon Editor)

“[Desmond’s] arguments have the potential to push debate about wealth in America to a new level. . . . The brilliance of Poverty, By America . . . is provided by effective storytelling, which illustrates that poverty has become a way of life.” (The Guardian)

“Poverty, by America is a searing moral indictment of how and why the United States tolerates such high levels of poverty and of inequality . . . [and] a hands-on call to action.” (The Nation)

“A fierce polemic on an enduring problem . . . [Desmond] writes movingly about the psychological scars of poverty . . . and his prose can be crisp, elegant, and elegiac.” (The Economist)

"#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • The Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Evicted reimagines the debate on poverty, making a “provocative and compelling” (NPR) argument about why it persists in America: because the rest of us benefit from it."

"ONE OF THE CALIFORNIA REVIEW OF BOOKS’ TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR • A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR: The New Yorker, The New York Times Book Review, NPR, Oprah Daily, Time, The Star Tribune, Vulture, The Christian Science Monitor, Chicago Public Library, Esquire, She Reads, Library Journal"
  staylorlib | Feb 15, 2024 |
So much information to unpack in this searing polemic on one of the most enduring problems in the richest country in history—with the highest level of poverty than any other advanced democracy. With the exception of a period during the COVID19 pandemic when emergency relief lifted up quite a number of people who had previously been below the poverty line (child poverty was reduced by 46% in six months!), the number of Americans living below the poverty line has steadily fluctuated between 10% and 15% for the past half century. And while poverty certainly respects no color line or geographic boundary, it remains true that the worst poverty is in Black and urban communities. And, also as Mathhew Desmond points out, our poverty is not the result of scarce resources, as it is in some other countries, but rather scarce compassion in our institutions and culture. I cannot help but agree with that assessment.

I had read Desmond's fascinating essay in The 1619 Project about how poverty and other forms of subordination intersect, but he takes that thesis further in this book, concluding that the wealthy in this country subordinate the poor for their own benefit and keep it that way. Desmond explains the myriad problems that arise out of, exacerbate, and perpetuate poverty, including but not limited to the many penalties paid disproportionately by the poor, such as banking overdraft fees and late charges. He blames, in part, a government that has enabled businesses to coerce people into doing more work for less money, by reaping profits for wealthy shareholders while underpaying their employees. Moreover, he argues, government tax breaks systematically benefit the rich and wealthy corporations, making them the biggest beneficiaries of federal aid—but we don't call it that. The majority of poor renting families in the United States spend over half of their income on housing, and a quarter of them spend over 70% paying rent and utilities. On top of that, the IRS estimates that wealthy individuals and corporations get away with not paying $1 trillion in taxes per year (but they don't have the resources to go after them). If tax breaks are factored in, the top 20% of Americans receives an average of $36,000 in government benefits, while the bottom 20% receive only $25,000, the bottom line being that we do a lot more to guard fortunes than we are to expand opportunities. In addition, America’s legacy of racism and legacy of economic exploitation have gone hand in hand since the Founding.

Other problems in the current economy also exacerbate poverty. Full-time careers in corporations have been recast as individual contractor positions, preventing many people from obtaining health care and employment savings through their employers. Unions have been gutted of their bargaining power, a trend that began when Ronald Reagan fired the striking air traffic controllers. And poverty, in turn, exacerbates other problems, such as precarious housing situations and health care and violent communities. "Poverty is often material scarcity piled on chronic pain piled on incarceration piled on depression piled on addiction—on and on it goes." Desmond thinks that it would not take an unfathomable amount of money ($177 billion) to eliminate poverty and provides some not overly complicated solutions that would require systematic reform. I just don't know how to overcome what would be well-funded resistance. He urges everyone to become "poverty abolitionists." Many of us who are “privileged” want an end to this morally urgent issue, and we need a government that is committed to ending poverty.
( )
  bschweiger | Feb 4, 2024 |
A valuable read but tedious at times. The author tries to pack too many factoids into the narrative and deadens the arc. ( )
  monicaberger | Jan 22, 2024 |
This book should be required reading. America's economic system and class system is appalling. The segregation of the "have nots" from the "haves," the preferential treatment of the "haves" by the entire system, and the exploitation of the poor and working classes are exposed in this excellent book. ( )
  jaylcee | Jan 21, 2024 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Matthew Desmondprimary authorall editionscalculated
Graham, DionNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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We imagine that their sufferings are one thing and our life another.

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Why is there so much poverty in America?
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.
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"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"--

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