cover image Poverty, by America

Poverty, by America

Matthew Desmond. Crown, $28 (304p) ISBN 978-0-593-23991-9

Pulitzer winner Desmond follows up Evicted with a powerful inquiry into why the U.S. is “the richest country on earth, with more poverty than any other advanced democracy.” Noting that 38 million Americans cannot afford basic necessities, Desmond argues that poverty persists because others benefit from it: workers are paid non-living wages and unions are discouraged in order to boost the pay of corporate executives; poor consumers are overcharged for rental housing and financial services so that landlords and banks can prosper; and affluent families benefit from tax breaks, student loans, and other forms of federal aid while welfare programs are publicly belittled and made difficult to access. Poverty is further entrenched by the underfunding of education, mass transit, and healthcare, Desmond argues, creating a world of private opulence and public squalor. His solutions include eliminating the residential segregation that blocks poor families from well-funded public services and employment and housing opportunities. More broadly, he calls for better-off Americans to acknowledge their complicity in perpetuating poverty and to pressure the government to undertake “an aggressive, uncompromising antipoverty agenda.” Though the path to achieving these reforms isn’t always clear, Desmond enriches his detailed and trenchant analysis with poignant reflections on America’s “unblushing inequality” and the “anomie of wealth.” It’s a gut-wrenching call for change. Agent: Katherine Flynn, Kneerim & Williams. (Mar.)