Reader’s Forum – Leah Clifford on POVERTY, BY AMERICA

By Leah M. Clifford

The poverty that plagues us in America is not a natural phenomenon, and it is not a consequence of laziness or personal failure. It is the direct result of deliberate political and economic systems that prioritize their own interests while “reducing the lives of others,” and more importantly, the average American wholly ignores their own complacency in perpetuating this cycle. In Matthew Desmond’s novel, he takes you directly into the gaping maw of poverty, and shows you a new kind of America no one wants to see.

When you take a moment to reflect on the insane amount of research Demond put into the statistics compiled in this book, you come to an even more terrifying reality. These statistics are not just numbers; they are people. The more you read this book, the more overwhelmed you feel at the realization of how deeply cemented these issues are in our country and in our own lives.

“According to the latest national data, one in eighteen people in the United States lives in “deep poverty”, a subterranean level of scarcity. Take the poverty line and cut it in half: Anything below that is considered deep poverty.”

The American dream has become a cruel joke for those trapped in poverty. The promise of upward mobility and economic security has been replaced with a reality of stagnant wages, rising costs of living, and a great decrease in access to government assistance despite the increase in spending for those in need, according to Desmond. To quote Dolly Parton’s iconic song, “9 to 5”,

Yeah, they got you where they want you

There’s a better life

And you dream about it, don’t you?

Everyone, especially young adults like myself, dream because we see the “dream” everywhere we look. We live in a consumer culture that makes it easier than ever to compare our own failures to those who’ve “made it”. Our consumer-driven culture makes it simpler than ever to contrast our own shortcomings with those of others who have “made it”. Influencers who support the “hustle” lifestyle and are financially successful are regularly popularized and promoted on social media. These celebrities promote their fantastic lives while residing in stunning homes, dressing in the newest fashions.Desmond, in more eloquent terms, takes this hoax of financial literacy and drops it into the trash. This mentality, which is ceaselessly pushed into our feeds and dominates social chatter, shifts the blame onto the individual rather than the systematic issues that are at the root of the issue.

Even the news, which is supposed to be the watchdog of democracy, is constantly inundating us with sensationalist political conflicts and political rhetoric that either divert our attention from the genuine problems or feed prejudices and stigmas about underprivileged individuals and communities. The political polarization the media thrusts upon us is, according to Desmond, is “…just another kind of scarcity diversion, just another way to narrow our visions so that an emancipated future remains outside of our field of view” (pg. 188) 

Our politically fragmented country is traumatized by poverty. “Poverty is the dream killer, the capability destroyer, the great waster of human potential. It is a misery and a national disgrace, one that belies any claim to our greatness.” Desmond can’t tell us “why” America has such a severe poverty problem since there is no single explanation. Desmond argues that poverty “is connected to every social problem we care about – crime, health, education, housing – and it’s persistence in American life means that millions of families are denied safety and security and dignity” (pg.23). 

The reader’s perception of their own complacency in contributing to the cycle of poverty is changed by this book. I hope that more people finish this book feeling as uncomfortable as I do and prepared to discuss the topic rather than avoiding it. I am looking forward to hearing Desmond speak about his book and the new discussions we will be having on July 25th.

Check out the new state poverty FAQ sheet included below, which describes how poverty is affecting New York state. I learned that New York state has the 2nd highest rate of student homelessness in the nation.

Stay Tuned: With each Reader’s Forum post, we will be attaching the poverty statistics for the state of the post author.

Leah Clifford lives in Saratoga Springs, NY and is an Administrative Assistant at Independent Voting.

July 25th at 3pm ET

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


New York Poverty Fact Sheet

Founder of the Politics for the People free educational series and book club for independent voters. Chair of the New York County Independence Party.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: