“Tens of millions of Americans do not end up poor by a mistake of history or personal conduct. Poverty persists because some wish and will it to.”
MacArthur “Genius” Matthew Desmond and Princeton sociologist was launched onto the national stage as an expert on contemporary American poverty with the publication of his Pulitzer Prize winning bestseller Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. Combining years of embedded fieldwork with painstakingly gathered data, Evicted transformed our understanding of inequity and economic exploitation in America.
Even in the most desolate areas of American cities, evictions used to be rare. But today, most poor renting families are spending more than half of their income on housing, and eviction has become ordinary, especially for single mothers. With vivid, intimate storytelling, Desmond takes us into the poorest neighborhoods of Milwaukee to tell the story of eight families on the edge: Arleen is a single mother trying to raise her two sons on the $20 a month she has left after paying for their rundown apartment. Scott is a gentle nurse consumed by a heroin addiction. Lamar, a man with no legs and a neighborhood full of boys to look after, tries to work his way out of debt. Vanetta participates in a botched stickup after her hours are cut. All are spending almost everything they have on rent, and all have fallen behind.
“[With Evicted,] Desmond has written a brilliant portrait of Americans living in poverty. He gave me a better sense of what it is like to be poor in this country than anything else I have read.”
As we see families forced into shelters, squalid apartments, or more dangerous neighborhoods, we bear witness to the human cost of America’s vast inequality—and to people’s determination and intelligence in the face of hardship. Along with the Pulitzer, Evicted won the National Books Critics Circle Award, the Andrew Carnegie Medal, the PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award, the Heartland Prize, and more, and was named one of the Best Books of 2016 by nearly three dozen outlets, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, and The Wall Street Journal.
Desmond’s latest book, the instant #1 New York Times bestseller Poverty, by America investigates why the United States, the richest country on earth, has more poverty than any other advanced democracy. Why does this land of plenty allow one in every eight of its children to go without basic necessities, permit scores of its citizens to live and die on the streets, and authorize its corporations to pay poverty wages?
In clear and compelling prose, Desmond draws on on history, research, and original reporting to conclude that poverty persists in this nation because the rest of us benefit from it. Those of us who are financially secure knowingly and unknowingly exploit the poor, driving down their wages while forcing them to overpay for housing and access to cash and credit. Prioritizing the subsidization of our wealth over the alleviation of poverty, our welfare state that gives the most to those who need the least. And we stockpile opportunity in exclusive communities, creating zones of concentrated riches alongside those of concentrated despair. Praised by Esquire as “another paradigm-shifting inquiry into America’s dark heart,” Poverty, by America introduces Desmond’s startlingly original and ambitious case for ending poverty: he calls on us to become poverty abolitionists, engaged in a politics of collective belonging to usher in a new age of shared prosperity and, at last, true freedom.
“Poverty, by America deserves to be one of those books you see people reading on the subway, or handing around at organizing meetings, or citing in congressional hearings. Its moral force is a gut punch.”
Desmond is the Maurice P. During Professor of Sociology and the founder and principal investigator of the Eviction Lab at Princeton University. In 2018, The Eviction Lab published the first-ever national dataset of evictions in America, collecting millions of data points going back to 2000, and it has gone on to serve as a resource hub for the millions of American renters who faced increased housing insecurity due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
A former member of the Harvard Society of Fellows, he is also the author of the award-winning book On the Fireline, the coauthor of two books on race, and the editor of a collection of studies on severe deprivation in America. He has written essays on educational inequality, dangerous work, political ideology, race and social theory, and the inner-city housing market. His work has been supported by the Gates, Horowitz, Ford, JBP, MacArthur, and National Science, Russell Sage, and W.T. Grant Foundations, as well as the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. He is a Contributing Writer for The New York Times Magazine, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, the New Yorker and The Chicago Tribune.here.