Reading Poverty, by America by Matthew Desmond was reminiscent of our Fall 2017 selection “$2:00 A Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America” by Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Schaefer. Six years later, the problem remains the same and a solution still eludes us.
In my 2017 blog piece I stated that …greed will always rear its ugly head on every level, ignoring the struggles and suffering of others. Matthew Desmond appears to agree that the wealthiest Americans buy political influence to secure favorable tax treatment while simultaneously funding propaganda platforms that promote cutting spending on safety net programs. As do I, he proposes revamping the tax code to raise additional revenue that could be directed to anti-poverty programs, but he also acknowledges that we cannot simply spend our way out of the problem.
We can’t just spend our way out of this. Over the past fifty years, we’ve tried that—doubling antipoverty aid per capita—and the poverty line hasn’t meaningfully budged. A big reason why is that we insist on supporting policies that accommodate poverty, not ones that disrupt it. Our largest cash assistance program is the Earned Income Tax Credit, which props up corporate profits and depresses wages. Our biggest affordable housing initiative is the Housing Choice Voucher Program, which, by paying a portion of a family’s rent, subsidizes private landlords and pushes up costs.Desmond, Matthew. Poverty, by America (pp. 137-138). Crown. Kindle Edition.
That being the case, ending poverty will require not only revamping the tax code but also reimaging and restructuring existing programs. As I said in my earlier piece, Obviously, such changes would involve complex coordination of input and effort between multiple agencies and both political parties. Discovering that there may actually be solutions to some of the collective problems we face as a country will require thinking outside existing partisan boxes.
As with any problem of national interest, abolishing poverty will require changes to governmental administration via direct action by Congress. Unfortunately, our election system does not provide incentives for legislators to solve problems, let alone thinking outside the box if/when attempting to do so. Quite the opposite.
Sadly, our current political system operates exactly as it has been designed to over time. A multi-faceted network of gain-seeking entities have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. The situation didn’t evolve overnight, and while reforming the system seems to move at a snail’s pace, progress is being made. Currently, there are active electoral reform campaigns in Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Nevada (Phase II), New Mexico, New York City, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Washington D.C., and Wisconsin.
Across the political spectrum, polling continually confirms Americans’ dissatisfaction with Congress’ performance. Polls also confirm majority support on many individual issues, yet Congress is unable to act. As a result, more and more voters are recognizing the harm caused by our divisive, dysfunctional government and they are distancing themselves from the political duopoly.
The conversation is, ‘Oh, this issue is so polarizing. We’re so polarized. We think so differently,’ ” Saru told me. “And it’s just such bullshit. We are not polarized from each other. We are polarized from our electeds.Desmond, Matthew. Poverty, by America (p. 188). Crown. Kindle Edition.
The above quote encapsulates the essence of our broken electoral system. Desmond is right when he says a mass movement is needed, but I believe we shouldn’t limit ourselves to the poverty issue alone.
As Katherine Gehl has said,
You have a choice to make. You can continue applying your agency elsewhere, indirectly perpetuating the political-industrial complex that undermines the very causes you are prioritizing separately (and nobly, to be sure). Or you can redirect your agency to further catalyze a twenty-first-century wave of political innovation to break partisan gridlock and save our democracy; in which case you’re advancing every cause. Without a sea change, our political system will continue to do more harm to education, the environment, the economy—you name it. A transformation of the politics industry can do more than we can do on our own to help those sacred corners of America.Gehl, Katherine M.. The Politics Industry (p. 172). Harvard Business Review Press. Kindle Edition.
Steve Hough is a lifelong independent and became an activist for political reform after retiring as an accountant. He is the director of Florida Fair and Open Primaries.
July 25th at 3pm ET
Join our host, Cathy Stewart, for a Virtual Discussion with author Matthew Desmond
Florida 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 Florida.