Poverty of America by Matthew Desmond
Published March 2023
Poverty of America is the follow-up to Princeton University sociology professor Matthew Desmond’s 2016 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City.
where eviction ethnography and policy analysis combined, Poverty of America It is more than a statement. Desmond’s central argument is that the relatively high poverty rates in the United States are the result of a range of active choices made by the wealthy.
In Desmond’s analysis, poverty is not the result of poor individual life choices. Instead, the wealthy manufacture poverty to ensure the continuation of the privileges of their class.
Examples of choices of the rich and powerful that directly harm low-income Americans are:
- Not raising the minimum wage.
- The lack of universal health care.
- Lack of government-supported affordable housing.
- The high cost of childcare.
These policies disproportionately harm low-income Americans and benefit groups such as businesses (wages are low) and landlords (rents are high).
I suspect most of us within higher education The community will be sympathetic to Desmond’s arguments. We Academics are (largely) a progressive group.
When it comes to poverty alleviation, higher education sees itself as part of the solution. But could we be part of the problem?
Take 529 Plan. These plans allow tax savings for education. Last appearance I could find (2017) that 529 plans cost the federal government $2 billion annually in lost revenue.
How likely is it that any of us in higher education would support repealing the 529 Plans? I know I’d be against that idea, because it was with my 529s that I saved up for my kids’ college expenses — and I’m sure the plans benefit colleges and universities.
Or what about tax-exempt endowments? I think taxing college endowments would be a bad idea, because endowments enable some students from low-to-middle-income families to attend college without the burden of debt.
One of the central arguments in Poverty of America is that tax money that would be better spent on alleviating poverty often goes to those who need the help the most. Becoming an abolitionist requires subsidizing more resources for the poor and fewer benefits for the upper class and wealthy.
At this point, I am not prepared to say that federal spending related to higher education and tax subsidies (equivalent from a fiscal point of view) should be redirected to poverty alleviation. I probably subscribe a lot to the idea of higher education as an engine of opportunity.
I’m also skeptical of zero-sum thinking, the belief that there are only a certain amount of resources to go around, and that a dollar spent on higher education is necessarily a dollar less spent helping people in poverty. Spending on higher education is a better investment than a cost.
Still, Poverty of America He was questioning some of my beliefs. The world is delicate and complex. Higher education can be beneficial to society (including the poor) and an integral part of a system that creates poverty.
at least, Poverty of America It must raise some uncomfortable questions on our campus that are worth exploring.
what are you reading?