Reader’s Forum – Evelyn Dougherty on POVERTY, BY AMERICA

I loved this book by Matthew Desmond — although painful, relevant as hell! Thank you for your honesty and decency in Poverty by America. I like the call to all Americans to take up this mantel as we clearly can’t depend (nor should we)on the politicians or government who have been failing at it for years. Also what Matt Desmond says about all of us benefiting by poverty, is critical for us to see. The detail about how neighborhoods are zoned to segregate was eye opening! What he says about our needed participation to change it, imperative. I also appreciated the examples of places things are changing like New Jersey, Ireland and Spain.

My favorite chapter is Empower The Poor, and it starts with this paragraph: “We all deserve a fair deal, but the poor are too often denied one. CHOICE is the antidote for exploitation. So a crucial step toward ending poverty is giving more Americans the power to decide where to work, live, and bank, and when to start a family.”    

I’m a social worker and have both benefited from the system – invisible welfare and been very close to those who are very poor who receive visible welfare.

I grew up in a small town in DE, one of 5 kids in the 60’s & 70’s. My dad was a car salesman and never made more than $25,000 a year and my mom did work raising 5 children. He put 4 of our college tuitions on credit cards. I graduated in 1979 with a BA in Sociology from the University of Delaware.  

One of the things that spurred me to go back to school in 1982 was I needed to make more $. I was waitressing for the prior 6 years and working for minimum wage at a psych hospital doing recreation aide work. (I took the clients outside and played sports and games with them) I was making about $14,000 a year working 50 hours a week and I was 25 years old. A friend I met in college worked as a hostess in the restaurant where I was waitressing and she had gone on for her Masters and persuaded me to apply to Social Work School. One night she put an application in my knapsack as I kept telling her I didn’t have the brains or the $ to go to school again. I sent off the application and got an interview and off I went from Claymont, DE to the big city of Philadelphia and the expensive Ivy league University of Pennsylvania. I was sitting in the lobby and picked up the first brochure I had seen on the program and it said the cost was $1,000 a credit, (University of DE had been $480. a semester and my dad had let me know, he was done paying for school for us kids). I started gathering my things to leave when the interviewer appeared to take me upstairs. We sat down and he said, “we loved your application and want you to come to our school”.  I thought to myself -well the gig is up – and I started laughing.  He said what’s so funny and I said with all the seriousness in the world, “I can’t come to your school, I don’t have any $.”

His response surprised me and he said, “we’ll give you half and teach you how to get loans for the other ½ and you can get a job in our library if you want.”  I graduated in 1984 with a Masters in Social Work and the way I looked at it then was – “Oh this is how the rich do it”. Thanks for giving me a greater understanding of my invisible welfare, Matthew Desmond.

I went on to do social work in many settings but the one that stands out regarding this discussion about poverty is when I was hired at the largest human service agency in the African American community in Boston to lead a team of counselors (which I did for 8 years) to work with the clients of the Dept. of Mental Health who wouldn’t come to their offices. So we went out to find them – under bridges, in jail, in psych units, nursing homes and rarely family. We worked to build a relationship with them to see if we could get them signed up for financial benefits, help them get housed and receive counseling. We spent more time in housing court trying to fight evictions, trying to outsmart burnt out lawyers who were representing them as public defenders, begging probation officers to believe in client’s capacity to change and give them one more chance when they couldn’t pay their monthly fees before sending them back to prison.    

Thank goodness I went on to become an independent voting activist in the late 80’s and work with (but that’s another story). The Ruling Class has the lobbyists do their bidding, let’s join Matt Desmond and organize Poverty Abolitionists!


Evelyn Dougherty 

Evelyn Dougherty is the Chair of the Massachusetts Coalition of Independent Voters.

July 25th at 3pm ET

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


Massachusetts 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 Massachusetts.

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

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