$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:
- The War on Poverty
- The Earned Income Tax Credit
- SALT and the mortgage interest tax deductions
- Section 8 and Housing vouchers
- Brown vs. the Board of Ed
- The GI Bill
- SNAP and WIC
- 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.
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.