Thursday, May 2, 2024

Poverty, by America by Matthew Desmond

Poverty, by America by Matthew Desmond
304 pages
Read by Dion Graham
5 hours, 40 minutes
Published March 2023 by Crown Publishing Group

Publisher's Summary: 
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.

My Thoughts (and those of others): 
“Provocative and compelling . . . [Desmond] packs in a sweeping array of examples and numbers to support his thesis and . . . the accumulation has the effect of shifting one’s brain ever so slightly to change the entire frame of reference.”—NPR 

 “[Poverty, by America is] a book that could alter the way you see the world. . . . It reads almost like a passionate speech, urging us to dig deeper, to forget what we think we know as we try to understand the inequities upon which America was built. . . . A surprisingly hopeful work.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune

“A powerful polemic, one that has expanded and deepened my understanding of American poverty. Desmond approaches the subject with a refreshing candidness and directs his ire toward all the right places.”—Roxane Gay

“This book is essential and instructive, hopeful and enraging.”—Ann Patchett

Yes, yes, yes, and yes. This book is every bit of all of those things. It's another book that makes me so angry while I'm reading it; so hopeful that maybe, just maybe, we can start making that changes needed to, at a minimum, reduce poverty; and, so disappointed in myself for not knowing more about this subject and doing more to help. 

Desmond doesn't just offer up an accounting of the failures of this country, its leaders, and its citizens. He offers solutions. Solutions that seem reasonable and doable, if only we could get our priorities straight and see how lifting everyone up with help all of us. 

But in me, Desmond is preaching to the choir. I'm open to listening to what he has to say and can see the logic in his thinking. Unfortunately, I doubt that the people who most need to read this book will ever pick it up. 

This book made me feel smarter, more informed. In fact, as I was listening to it, the issue of the minimum wage came up in a discussion and I was able to contribute an idea that I had learned from listening to this book. My only issue with this book - I wish I'd had it all in print so that I could have highlighted passages to save and refer back to later. There is so much here I want to make sure I don't forget. 

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