Watch the P4P Discussion with Pulitzer-prize winning author, Matthew Desmond

On Tuesday, July 25th, 2023, people from across the country joined Politics for the People host Cathy Stewart for a virtual discussion with Matthew Desmond, about his recent book: POVERTY, BY AMERICA.

You can watch the full video below:

Cathy Stewart kicked off our conversation with the following question:

Thank you so much for this book – such a chilling portrait of the inhumane cost of the levels of poverty in the US, and a provocative and urgent call to all of us to act, to become poverty abolitionists.  

One of the things you write in the book that stays with me, and in fact should haunt us all is the simple sentence, Poverty is an injury, a taking.

You talk about how poverty in the US looks different and is more severe than in other advanced democracies and comparable economies.  Can you talk about what that looks like and why this is the case?

Matthew Desmond responded:

“Well it’s an honor to be back. It’s good to see you post pandemic. Thank you so much for having me.

I think when we talk about America and what makes us different as a country, I think there are a lot of wonderful things that make us different and stand out as a country. But there are other things too and we really do stand out with respect to our poverty rate. So, if you look at our child poverty rate, the percentage of kids below the poverty line in America, it’s not just more than Germany or South Korea, it’s double. It’s double the rate. We have about 38 million Americans living below the official poverty line. If they all formed a country that country would be bigger than Australia or Venezuela.”

One in three of us live in homes making fifty five thousand dollars or less, many of those folks aren’t officially counted as poor but what else do you call it, you know? Living in Portland, Oregon or Austin, Texas trying to raise two young kids on 55K. So there’s an incredible amount of economic insecurity in America that sets us apart from other advanced democracies, especially with respect to the amount of riches in this land, of dollars, and you asked “why.” And I think in a nutshell the answer is because we like it in a way. We benefit from it. Now there’s pains to this and I think poverty encroaches on all of us in a way, and it’s a threat to all of us even those of us are very secure in our money. But I think at the end of the day we have to face a cold hard fact that many of us benefit from poverty, unwittingly, sometimes wittingly, and this book is trying to get us to realize that. It’s trying to get us to take action to unwind ourselves, to divest from our neighbors’ suffering.

Watch the full conversation above.

Stay tuned for a full transcript!

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Dr. Jessie Fields and Lowell Ward on POVERTY, BY AMERICA

On Ending Poverty in America

By Dr. Jessie Fields

As a primary care physician in the Harlem community I see poverty in the poor health of many of my patients. There is no single factor that has a bigger impact on an individual’s or a family’s or a community’s health than the social, historic and physical environment in which they live. The book, Poverty By America by Matthew Desmond explores all of these interrelated realities.  

“…Black poverty, Hispanic poverty, Native American poverty, Asian American poverty, and white poverty are all different. Black and Hispanic Americans are twice as likely to be poor, compared to white Americans, owing not only to the country’s racial legacies but also to present-day discrimination.”

Ending poverty is a deeply practical way to address illness, social isolation, despair, violence, crime, and much more, “since poverty is a catalyst and cause of an untold number of social ills, finally cutting the cancer out would lead to enormous improvements in many aspects of American life.”

Reading and studying the book, Poverty By America, can be a very helpful catalyst for the success of a movement to end poverty in America. As others of this Politics for the People book club have written, the independent political movement by transforming the political process and bringing diverse Americans together across partisan divides, can play a leadership role in that task of ending poverty in America.

Dr. Jessie Fields is a physician practicing in Harlem, and a Board member at Independent Voting and Open Primaries.


Matthew Desmond in his book, Poverty By America, does an amazing and truthful  job of exposing some devastating truths about poverty in America.  

To add insult to injury our politicians  hold sham hearings in Washington in a vain attempt to smear Joe Biden and his son Hunter. No hearings on homelessness, poverty, inflation, mass shootings, etc.  Just a total waste of taxpayer money that should be going to fund some of the stuff Desmond recommends in his book.

I agree with Mr. Desmond when he suggests we create mass movements to attack poverty and homelessness. We also need to create action on the local and state levels as well. Also start creating and nurturing our own candidates for office. This is key to overcoming politicians selling us out. Right now congress is holding sham hearings to protect Donald Trump.  Nothing is being done about poverty, gun violence, LGBQT violence, etc 

Our politicians need to figure out better ways to get along so that things can get done.  As Americans we have opportunities and the resources to achieve our visions.  We can destroy homelessness, poverty, gun violence, racism and all the other ills this country suffers from if only we could learn to communicate our differences calmly and respectfully.  Compromise has to be at the forefront of any real conversation for change.

Lowell Ward, an activist with MA Coalition of Independent Voters, Founder of Build Black Better (an initiative to stem violence, crime & poverty) had lived the street life, spent many years in prison, and is now working to make the world a better place.

July 25th at 3pm ET

Join our host, Cathy Stewart, for a Virtual Discussion with author Matthew Desmond



I want to thank Matthew Desmond for this book, Poverty, by America.

I can’t tell you how much I love this book. I love the title that says to me in big bold letters that poverty is a product produced by America, not a product of poor people who are often accused of just being too lazy to take advantage of what America has to offer.

I hate the fact that poverty even exists in a country that has so much wealth. I am someone who knows first hand about the pain, humiliation and stigma that comes from being poor, that comes from all quarters, even from other poor people. So when Desmond says things like “poverty is the feeling that your government is against you,” and “poverty can cause anyone to make decisions that looks ill advised and even downright stupid, “ and “poverty is often material scarcity piled on chronic pain, piled on incarceration, piled on depression, piled on addiction and on and on,“ I know intimately what he’s talking about.

I hate the fact that poverty gets hidden away, like it doesn’t exist. Desmond puts it this way, “When politicians propose anti-poverty legislation, they say it will help “the middle class.” Even when social movement organizers mobilizing for higher wages, or housing justice, they announce that they are “fighting on behalf of working people “or the many.” And “when poor people take to the streets, it’s usually not under the banner of poverty.”

This is why I am so appreciative of the many years of research by this author, to make his case not only to why there is so much poverty in America, but also how to eliminate it. I totally agreed to his assertion that it will require new policies and renewed political movements, as well as each of us, becoming in our own way, poverty abolitionists.

I am someone who has been active in grassroots organizing for the last 30 years or so, to change the culture of politics, and bring people together, who would not ordinarily even be in a room together, like rich people and poor people, young people  and old people, cops, and kids, people in the corporate world and inner-city youth,as well as working with health providers to promote health and the prevention of diseases to reduce disparities and achieve equity within the black community.

This is why I feel close to Michael Desmond, when he quotes Alicia Garza when she says “to build the kind of movement that we deserve, we can’t be afraid to establish a base that is larger than the people we feel comfortable with. We have to reach beyond the choir.”

And lastly, he states that “poverty abolitionism should transition partisan divides because poor and working class people deserve more than either political party has delivered for them over the last 50 years, and we should not view liberals and conservatives, the young and the old, undocumented, immigrants, and citizens, as adversaries, but political allies in the fight against poverty.” Well stated Michael Desmond.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is concerned about poverty in America.

Allen Cox lives in the Bronx and is a lifelong independent and grassroots community organizer. He is an outreach consultant for the Black Leadership Commission on Health.

July 25th at 3pm ET

Join our host, Cathy Stewart, for a Virtual Discussion with author Matthew Desmond


Reader’s Forum – Sadie Stewart and Nancy Hanks on POVERTY, BY AMERICA

The Fear of Poverty: Moral panic and other psychological mind games in latent capitalism

By Nancy Hanks

Some years ago, I asked my dad (who was born in 1929, at the beginning of the Great Depression and grew up marginally poor in Arkansas) for some money to see me through a particularly rough patch of joblessness when my unemployment benefits ran out.  The infusion helped but didn’t outlast the “bad economy” of the moment. At the time, I was getting older and less desirable and productive in the labor market, and went back to him to ask, apologetically, for another sum to see me through another few months while I continued to look for work. 

He obliged and sent the check with a note that read “Nancy, if you can’t take care of yourself now, what are you going to do when you get older?”

 “I’m going to be poor like everybody else,” I said – silently.

I’m not afraid of poverty. 

America is afraid of the poor, not of poverty. America is afraid of race-mixing. America is repelled by the poor, especially poor people “of color”. America’s failing institutions exist and continue to survive and rule through fear – institutions that depend on the denigration, de-humanization, and finally the elimination of poor people, not the elimination of poverty.

I’m not afraid of America. 

I welcome this America and the decisions we are making and will have to make in the coming years and decades. I embrace the possibilities that come with the creative struggle by ordinary people to have and live decent lives that give the world so much beauty and compassion. The issue, in my humble opinion, is not so much the elimination of poverty as it is the creation of new forms of life, the active creation of new cultures, new songs, new visions, new ways of speaking with each other, new ways of being together.

Nancy Hanks is a life-long grassroots independent political activist currently living in Philadelphia PA. She works closely with Independent Pennsylvanians and is the Interim Philadelphia County Chair for the Forward Party PA.

Sadie Stewart on POVERTY, BY AMERICA

While I appreciated all this book, I found it profoundly interesting that the assumptions about the economic impact the extended government aid to the poor would have on local economies, were not supported by the data.

Also, I was glad to have had the opportunity to read some of the other’s comments before making my own. And here is why.

I had initially felt that the book pointed out how integrated we are in the creation and sustaining of poverty. And that it was too complicated to be unraveled, but then I read one reader’s response to this very thoroughly researched and digestible book, and I was amazed:  instead of her feeling pessimistic about our plight, she was moved to act, and disinvest in the maintenance of Poverty.

This is certainly inspiring that some will be compelled to action, However, I fear the majority will do as I did and see any opposition to this evil system as futile. And to an extent it is. 

If society finds merit in Capitalism as a viable economic system: trying to tweak it into some kind of acceptable economic form (via unions, labor laws, Social Security Benefits etc.)  is impossible, as we are essentially trying to fix an inherently evil system dependent for the most part on poverty.

Any system that produces millions of dollars annually for some, off the backs of those least compensated for actual labor, does not represent just income disparities, it is probably equivalent to slave owners’ wages. The cost of shelter food in the 1800s is probably about what amounts to what many today who are paid minimum wage and below. No money for vacation or boat rides, less alone own a boat. And there are of course yacht owners and private planes and other over-the- top materialistic ownership.

It will indeed take a “paradigm shift” to eliminate the capitalist system that depends on poverty, disguised as the all holy “free market”. 

Sadie Moore Stewart is a 70 year old lawyer and independent activist from Ohio.

July 25th at 3pm ET

Join our host, Cathy Stewart, for a Virtual Discussion with author Matthew Desmond


Ohio Poverty Fact Sheet

In conjunction with the release of Poverty, By America, Matthew Desmond also developed a fact sheet with information on poverty indicators for each of the 50 states.

We will be sharing the fact sheet for the state of each Reader’s Forum author. Below is the fact sheet for Ohio.

Reader’s Forum – Alice Rydel & June Hirsh on POVERTY, BY AMERICA

Alice Rydel is an activist with Independent Voting and lives in Manhattan.


Every area of discrimination, be it class, race or gender, has been created and maintained by the corporate/political partnership that dominates our society.

Forty five % of the voting population sees this partnership as corrupt, and working against our interests. This grouping is growing and self-identifies as independent. and OpenPrimaries, two national organizations I fervently support, are building an Independent political movement. They’re harnessing and empowering the energy of national and local  organizations dedicated to social, economic and cultural change, and are committed to ending poverty.

 It’s said that those who write the rules, rule. This grass roots independent political movement is electing people’s candidates, opening closed primaries, doing away with gerrymandering laws. Rewriting the rules  –  and as it gets stronger, it’s turning politics on its head. 

With what Matthew Desmond so brilliantly and passionately has uncovered and ardently advocates for, I envision him a powerful poverty abolitionist within the grassroots Independent movement”.

June Hirsh is an independent political activist and an organizer for the Politics for the People Book Club. She lives in New York City, in Greenwich Village.

July 25th at 3pm ET

Join our host, Cathy Stewart, for a Virtual Discussion with author Matthew Desmond


Reader’s Forum – Sue Davies on POVERTY, BY AMERICA

$173 billion. That’s the number that stuck in my head after reading Poverty by America by Matthew Desmond. $173B. That’s a big number … and not a big number if the goal is to end poverty. It’s a number reachable by closing tax loopholes, and other strategies that Desmond eloquently outlines. 

$173,000,000,000. That’s a lot of zeros. A zero for every failure:

  1. The War on Poverty
  2. The Earned Income Tax Credit
  3. SALT and the mortgage interest tax deductions
  4. Section 8 and Housing vouchers
  5. Headstart
  6. Brown vs. the Board of Ed
  7. The GI Bill
  8. SNAP and WIC
  9. And every other pseudo attempt we have made over the past decades.

The one that pisses me off the most is the GI Bill. It successfully brought thousands of white servicemen out of poverty, including my father and my family. It deserted and penalized African Americans. It was such an opportunity and such an abysmal failure. 

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Desmond issues a challenge to all of us to become poverty abolitionists. And it is indeed a challenge. Especially to those of us that were brought up working class and succeeded in upward mobility. We see that as our success. But it was built off the back of the poor who were not allowed mobility—except the downward kind. Do we have a particular role to play in the elimination of poverty?

We can do as Desmond says—make donations to anti-poverty organizations, take mass transportation, support unions and buy from companies that are unionized. But that is not going all the way as a poverty abolitionist. Poverty by American is a call to arms to do all we can to win this fight. 

One thing that I would have liked to see more about in the book was a discussion about our political system. I loved the quote that we are polarized from our elected officials not each other. I could not agree more. I have been an independent for nearly 40 years. Our anti-poverty mass movement needs to give political expression, needs to impact on how our political decisions are made. LBJ was able to break through and get the Civil Rights Act passed because of a mass movement. In our decade that mass movement needs to have an independent component. Independents are the people on this country that find a way to talk to and build with people from all every political persuasion. We need to help lead the way in the elimination of poverty. 

Thank you Matthew Desmond for writing such an inspiring book. In the words of Dr. Lenora Fulani, “Let’s Kick Some.”

Sue Davies is a longtime independent activist and the founder of New Jersey Independent Voters. For the past 30 years, Sue has been a senior nonprofit executive in New York and New Jersey and now serves as an Adjunct Professor at NYU.

July 25th at 3pm ET

Join our host, Cathy Stewart, for a Virtual Discussion with author Matthew Desmond


Critiques of Poverty, By America

Below are three articles that criticize Matthew Desmond’s premises and work in Poverty, By America. It is always valuable to take a look at what the opposition has to say.

Wrong Diagnosis, Wrong Prescription

A prominent sociologist’s new book will only add confusion to the national conversation on poverty.

By Kevin Corinth – May 5th, 2023

“The book’s original sin is its confused understanding of poverty’s causes. Opting for tropes over scientific research, Desmond’s explanations range from irrelevant to backward. While the book reads like a narrative strewn together from talking points borrowed from political advocates, it contains a surprisingly extensive set of notes that reference serious research. Unfortunately, these largely serve as window dressing. Desmond often fails to engage seriously with this research, and as a result, his policy recommendations are unproductive.”

Read the full article here.

Matthew Desmond’s ‘Poverty, by America’

Somehow both on-target and disappointing.

By Matt Reed – April 24th, 2023

“His [Desmond] new book, Poverty, by America, feels like it was written by a different author. It’s an impassioned manifesto—I’d almost call it a jeremiad—in support of what he calls “poverty abolitionism.” It’s short, punchy, angry, urgent, sometimes self-indulgent and as broad as his earlier work was subtle. I’m still trying to decide if that’s disappointing or just disorienting.”

Read the full article here.

Matthew Desmond is wrong about poverty in America

By James Rogan – March 30th, 2023

“Put simply, the war on poverty is largely won.

Desmond’s ideology is likely guiding his alternate reality. He proposes, for example, that the U.S. adopt the progressive dreams of confiscatory tax rates, massive redistribution, high minimum wages, broad tariff barriers, and powerful labor unions. Desmond wants to create a European social welfare state where statism, not creative dynamism, is the ideal.”

Read the full article here.

July 25th at 3pm ET

Join our host, Cathy Stewart, for a Virtual Discussion with author Matthew Desmond


Reader’s Forum – Lou Hinman on POVERTY, BY AMERICA

“. . . the Kantians too were not indifferent to virtuous activity; they worked for the poor and did make an effort to improve the world, but always with a sense of futility.”

– Robert Solomon, In the Spirit of Hegel

“Shame is a revolution in itself.”

– Karl Marx, 1833

In Poverty, By America, Matthew Desmond does a great service to all American patriots of good will – the real patriots. He shows us, in unsparing detail, how poverty has not merely persisted in the wealthiest country in the world, but how it has continuously been produced by our political institutions, the policies pursued in our name by our elected representatives, and the ignorance and/or passivity of the not-poor. Matthew Desmond makes us ashamed.

I won’t try to excerpt, paraphrase, or summarize a book that’s already clearly written and no longer than it needs to be – please read it.  Instead, I’d like to say a few words about futility.

Mr. Desmond speaks to us largely as individuals, consumers, and comfortable members of the not-poor.  As such, he calls on us to be poverty abolitionists – to refuse to benefit from the super exploitation of the poor.  For example, he calls on those of us who have retirement portfolios, or other financial assets, to disinvest from companies that lobby against affordable housing, and those that oppose (legally or illegally) the unionization of their own employees. He calls on us to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” I support this, and pretty much all of the demands Mr. Desmond makes on the comfortable not-poor. 

And, with all due respect to Mr. Desmond, as a senior citizen and life-long activist, I have a few observations to make.  

The BDS movement (Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions) has had significant impact on the international movement against Israel’s oppression of Palestinians. This is not because of the damage (surely marginal, at best) it’s done to the financial interests of the state of Israel, but because the BDS campaign, its target, and the oppression of the Palestinians are all highly visible, and forces Israel to confront the issue openly.

Divestment from private corporations by individual stock holders does not share these characteristics, and Mr. Desmond himself notes that the richest 10% of Americans own 80% of the total value of all stocks (page 59).  It seems well established in the United States that corporations have a fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders to maximize corporate profits. It follows that the economic pressure that divestment can put on bad corporate actors is, under present social and political conditions, again, marginal. These conditions may change, and I think they are changing, but possibly the ability of the non-poor to call corporations to account will be as much an effect as a cause of a broader social movement to abolish poverty.

My bigger concern is that Mr. Desmond, in his determination to cast a wide net – to hold all not-poor Americans responsible for poverty in America – has paradoxically understated the problem of poverty.  He has shown clearly that America has the resources – the wealth – to eliminate poverty and near-poverty, but suggests that this can be done without disturbing the social and political order – without afflicting the comfortable – too much.

I believe this is a mistake. Getting rid of poverty demands a new political culture.  

By emphasizing primarily what we can do without disrupting things too much, we risk turning our separate individual efforts into mere virtue-signaling. But more importantly, we miss the opportunity to call poor and not-poor Americans to a joint national project. I feel quite certain that we can’t abolish poverty without empowering the poor. But here’s the kicker: We can’t empower the poor without also empowering the not-poor.

If poverty were simply (as William Buckley liked to say) “undesirable” but not “wrong,” then the not-poor could just advocate for the poor and hope for the best. But the poor and the not-poor now share the same underlying condition: our government no longer represents us – neither the poor nor the not-poor.  So this is the problem we have to solve – the empowerment of the poor, the not-poor and, importantly, even a good many of the very-not-poor.

How to achieve this goal is an open question, and we should revisit it every day. I believe that the first step is to break the power that has been usurped by the two-party monopoly (the political establishment, composed in equal parts of the Democratic and Republican party organizations) and that’s why I am a founding activist in Independent Voting. But breaking the power of the duopoly will not be enough to create a new political culture – everything depends on how we do it.

Is a new political culture a “revolution”? Am I “going down a Marxist path,” as the “senior analyst,” the smug ideologue at the Kennedy School asked Mr. Desmond (page 43)? I don’t have to answer that question, and neither do any of us poverty abolitionists. (Oh, and by the way, I don’t know what path I’m on anyway!) 

To conclude, my fellow poverty abolitionists (poor, not-poor, and very-not-poor) Matthew Desmond has done his work well – he has shamed us. The ball is in our court now!

Lou Hinman has been a political activist for most of his adult life. He is an Associate of the East Side Institute, works closely with Independent Voting, and is an avid supporter of Open Primaries.  He divides his time between New York City and the Catskills.

July 25th at 3pm ET

Join our host, Cathy Stewart, for a Virtual Discussion with author Matthew Desmond


Reader’s Forum – Tiani Coleman on POVERTY, BY AMERICA

A Call to Repentance

Guilty as charged.  This book convicts me – and most of us.

When I started the book Poverty, By America, written by Matthew Desmond, I dreaded the impending call for all of us to throw more money at the problem of poverty, a problem which he demonstrates is serious. He compares poverty to sitting in a hospital emergency room, where “all other concerns and responsibilities feel (and are) trivial,” saying, “when we are preoccupied by poverty, we have less mind to give to the rest of our life.” 

Despite knowing that that’s painfully true for those trapped in poverty, as they’re constantly overwhelmed with the fear of how they’re going to pay for the next gas fill-up, the next bit of food for the table, the next rent payment, or other basic survival needs, I somehow still felt the “scarcity” and “zero-sumness” of it all.  

Why? Perhaps because my family is classified as wealthy, yet we can’t send our kids to college, unless they get a generous merit scholarship. We’ve never been on a luxurious vacation and scrimp big time on the few trips we do take; we can’t afford to fix or replace things around our home that are falling apart; we drive our cars for 15 to 20 years; I don’t wear expensive clothes or get my hair done at nice salons; we turn down myriads of things and opportunities because they simply “cost too much.”  So where is the money to help the poor going to come from?  

Refreshingly, Desmond takes an innovative approach and breaks down many of the typical stereotypes about poverty and the resulting propagandized narrative. Still, the book is a national and personal call to repentance – we can’t claim to care about the problem if we’re not willing to make some crucial changes.  

Desmond brings to the reader’s attention that: “[d]ecade after decade, the poverty rate has remained flat even as federal relief has surged,” meaning that, “a fair amount of government aid earmarked for the poor never reaches them.”  Of every dollar budgeted for TANF, for example, only 22 cents goes directly to the poor. Desmond calls the American welfare state “a leaky bucket,” with funds diverted in many ways. “It’s not about spending; we’ve doubled anti-poverty aid per capita, but the poverty line hasn’t meaningfully budged.” The real problem, he says, is that “we insist on supporting policies that accommodate poverty instead of ones that disrupt it.”  

“Poverty persists,” he declares, “because some wish and will it to.” “One man’s poverty is another man’s profit.”  

Desmond makes three primary points in this regard: (1) we make the poor in America poor by exploiting them; (2) we prioritize the subsidization of affluence over the alleviation of poverty; and (3) we create prosperous and exclusive communities.  

He provides countless examples of how blaming the poor for bringing poverty upon themselves, or blaming other things for poverty, such as immigrants, is misplaced. For example, the poor are continually exploited by banks, by payday lenders, by landlords (who extract more in poor neighborhoods than in affluent ones – rent prices have exceeded income gains by 325%), etc. Statistics show that immigrants give more to the government in taxes than they receive in welfare benefits, and increasing the minimum wage has little effect on unemployment rates.  We’ve adopted mass incarceration and other anti-family policies that trap and exploit.  We engage in tactics to restrict competition because “competition breeds choice and choice makes exploitation difficult.” The median annual compensation in 2018 was $30,500, for example, but if the market were perfectly competitive, it would be closer to $41K or even as high as $92K. That’s a big rise in income just by making markets fair.   

“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.”  Many believe the poor should change their behavior to escape poverty, but Desmond claims it’s the other way around: “Economic security leads to [people making] better choices.” 

Desmond attacks the age-old belief that aid to the poor is a poison of government dependency. He makes a strong case for how the American upper class puts way more stress on the welfare state. “Big money is what led to big government,” he claims. Once we have money, we work to keep it – the biggest subsidies go to ensure that well-off families stay well off. “It is we, the members of the protected classes who have grown increasingly dependent on our welfare programs.” Desmond asserts, “We’re all on the dole.” The mortgage interest deductions we get are government subsidies we can claim for a longer time period than the poor can claim cash welfare benefits.  Although student loans look private, the federal government pays half the interest and guarantees the loans.  We also get government subsidized health benefits (through employers), and government subsidized retirement benefits. And wealth (in the form of capital gains) is taxed at a lower rate than wages. The EITC enjoys bipartisan support because it’s a generous handout to corporations whose low wages are subsidized through the program. So the biggest beneficiaries of federal aid are the affluent. 

Finally, Desmond describes how the wealthy are engaging in what he terms “private opulence and public squalor.”  We aren’t putting resources and attention into renewing and maintaining public schools, public parks, public housing, public transportation, and safety net programs. As private fortunes outpace investments in public services, affluent people become less dependent on and less interested in supporting the public sector. We see a dilapidated “public world increasingly abandoned to Blacks [and other poor minorities], and a new private one created for whites.” This plays out in exclusionary zoning laws on the local level, as well.  We’ve been building a new kind of segregation that promotes more unequal opportunity and more poverty. George Romney called for the government to stop subsidizing segregation more than 50 years ago!   

We could afford to actually tackle poverty, says Desmond, “if we designed our welfare state to expand opportunity and not guard fortunes.” He says we can start with the cheaters, the multinational corporations and wealthy families who avoid taxes.  Desmond talks about  countless ways to deepen our investments in economic opportunity and security without increasing the deficit. “We just have to stop spending so much on the rich.”  And each of us needs to make a commitment to tackling the problem by making better, small decisions each day. 

Desmond recognizes that most of us want less poverty and less inequality, but we lack the will to do something if we feel those policies could cost our families.  We don’t recognize the massive tax benefits we already enjoy, which spreads resentment towards a government perceived to be giving handouts to poor families. So we stand against government spending on the poor while also protecting our own perks.  We need to develop policies that foster goodwill, not those that kindle resentment. Desmond asks, “Will the policy unite people struggling with economic security, those below the poverty line and those above it?  Will it drive down poverty and promote economic opportunity?” Desmond believes we can rebalance the safety net and insist on tax fairness in order to make significant investments in eliminating poverty through policies supported by broad coalitions.  

Can we?  This is where our work as independent voters comes in. It may sound doable, but I know it will only take one TV talking head to label Desmond a socialist or a communist for many people to immediately discard anything he’s said and start demonizing.  Desmond says, “I’m not calling for redistribution. I’m calling for the rich to pay their taxes; more poor aid and less rich aid.”  He also says, “I’m not anti-capitalist; I’m anti-exploitation.” Can we talk about this rationally and collaboratively?  We need not agree with everything Desmond says, but I think he successfully challenges misplaced assumptions and offers new approaches. 

On a personal level, I relate to where he talks about how “so many people have so much yet feel so deprived and anxious.” Like Desmond says, those feelings “have proven incredibly effective at preventing us from seeing ourselves as authors of inequality.” Our desires to consume fast and cheap – our appetites and amusements – lay many costs on the poor. “Winners have cultivated rationalizations that allow us to avoid a more painful truth: our lives are interlaced with the lives of the poor.”  We need to get out of the scarcity mindset and stop allowing our gains to come at another group’s expense.  We can take the higher road, the moral road. I feel motivated to start with at least one thing to change that will bring about less exploitation, true integration, and more equality – leading to a better life for all of us.

Desmond calls for us to be poverty abolitionists.  I loved his allusion to the idea that in “defying economic injustice and unfair taxes, [we can be] the true heirs of 1776.”

Tiani Xochitl Coleman is a mother of five, a graduate of Cornell Law School, and President of New Hampshire Independent Voters and New Hampshire Ranked Choice Voting.

July 25th at 3pm ET

Join our host, Cathy Stewart, for a Virtual Discussion with author Matthew Desmond


New Hampshire Poverty Fact Sheet

In conjunction with the release of Poverty, By America, Matthew Desmond also developed a fact sheet with information on poverty indicators for each of the 50 states.

We will be sharing the fact sheet for the state of each Reader’s Forum author. Below is the fact sheet for New Hampshire.