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Getting Ahead: Poverty by America

Posted Aug 17, 2023 2:34 PM
By Patricia Jones,
Alliance Community Task Force: Creating Opportunity

“No one is for poverty. Not Republicans, not Democrats, not Independents. Everyone wants poverty to end. But the solution is not that simple.” These words were spoken at a Bridges Out of Poverty workshop I recently attended.

Matthew Desmond, Pulitzer-prize winning author of Evicted, would disagree with this speaker. This spring he published the book Poverty, by America. With Poverty, by America, Desmond argues that the wealthy punish the poor and keep people living in poverty. Sometimes this is purposeful; sometimes they don’t realize the effects of their actions. Either way, those who are well-off benefit.

The book shows us how poverty injures the impoverished—physically, financially, and spiritually. Poverty is connected to crime, health, education, housing, and pretty much every social issue we can think of. Many families are denied safety, security, and dignity in one of the richest nations on the planet. According to Census data, about 38 million Americans live in poverty. Why is poverty in the United States so commonplace?

Many people argue that poverty is the fault of the poor, caused by their choices and actions. Others argue that poverty is caused by the loss of manufacturing jobs. Or is it caused by racism? Immigration? Drugs? Maybe it’s the fault of families no longer being strong and stable.

What is Desmond’s argument, exactly? Our systems, our tax laws, our racism, and our affluent are all to blame. There is plenty of wealth to go around. But we are taught that we each deserve more. We ignore those at the bottom of the income scale who need assistance. Instead, we look for ways we can benefit from someone else’s problems.

Many businesses exploit workers, paying less than minimum wage, not paying overtime. Who might hire undocumented workers who they can abuse with threats that they might be turned in? Who never pays penalty fees like overdrafts at banks? Who avoids paying 39% interest on credit card debt and higher rates on all loans? Who gets a special, lower, capital gains tax rate so they don’t have to pay so much income tax? Who gets to roll part of their income into non-taxed benefits? Who writes off mortgage interest, moving expenses, deductions to private schools? Not the poorest 20% of America!

There is plenty of government support for low-income Americans. They can get Medicaid, the Earned-Income Tax Credit, housing vouchers, TANF, SNAP, or other benefits. But it’s hard for those who need it to access this support. They may not know what is available. Programs often have complicated, confusing applications. Offices may be hard to reach, or have limited hours. Nebraska requires now that virtually everything be done online, and many households don’t have access to computers or internet.