Poverty, by America

Poverty, by America



A searing study of American poverty from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Evicted

The United States is the richest country on earth, yet has more poverty than any other advanced democracy. One in seven Americans live below the poverty line, a line which hasn't shifted over the last fifty years, despite the efforts of successive governments. Why is there so much scarcity in this land of dollars?

In Poverty, by America, acclaimed sociologist Matthew Desmond examines American poverty today and the stories we tell ourselves about it. Spanning social isolation, mass incarceration, the housing crisis, domestic violence, crack and opioid epidemics, welfare cuts and more, Desmond argues that poverty does not result from a lack of resources or good policy ideas. We already know how to eliminate it. The hard part is getting more of us to care.

To do so, we need a new story. As things stand, liberals explain poverty through insurmountable structural issues, whereas conservatives highlight personal failings and poor life choices. Both abdicate responsibility, and ignore the reality that the advantages of the rich only come at the expense of the poor. It is time better-paid citizens put themselves back in the narrative, recognizing that the depth and expanse of poverty in any nation reflects our failure to look out for one another. Poverty must ultimately be met by community: all this suffering and want is our doing, and we can undo it.


  • Urgent and accessible ... It's refreshing to read a work of social criticism that eschews the easy and often smug allure of abstraction, in favor of plainspoken practicality. Its moral force is a gut punch.
    The New Yorker

About the author

Matthew Desmond

Matthew Desmond is the Maurice P. During Professor of Sociology at Princeton and a contributing writer at the New York Times Magazine. A MacArthur Fellow, Desmond is a leading expert on poverty, homelessness and public policy. His previous book Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City reached millions of readers worldwide, won numerous awards - including the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award - and inspired significant changes in American public policy. Politico has named Desmond one of the 50 people across the United States who are most influencing the national debate.
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