The Cause of American Poverty: 'Exploitation'

Matthew Desmond in 'New York Times Magazine' looks at how the poor are systemically taken advantage of
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 12, 2023 4:35 PM CDT
One American Constant for Decades: Poverty
   (Getty / Tero Vesalainen)

Back in 1970, roughly 12.6% of the US population lived in poverty. In the 50 years since, the figure has remained remarkably constant—to graph it "amounts to drawing a line that resembles gently rolling hills," writes Princeton sociologist Matthew Desmond in the New York Times Magazine. Whether Republicans or Democrats were in charge hasn't seemed to matter much. Desmond, in an article adapted from his new book on the subject, digs into the "baffling" mystery of why poverty has remained so intractable for so long. It's not because we've stopped trying to fix it, or because the government has gotten stingier (the opposite is true), or because of the sometimes inefficient ways aid is delivered to recipients. "There are, it would seem, deeper structural forces at play, ones that have to do with the way the American poor are routinely taken advantage of," writes Desmond.

"The primary reason for our stalled progress on poverty reduction has to do with the fact that we have not confronted the unrelenting exploitation of the poor in the labor, housing and financial markets," he adds. Desmond details the related problems of low wages, high rents, predatory loans, etc., but he makes clear that he sees the issue as solvable. Again, this revolves around ending widespread exploitation. For example, "banks should stop robbing the poor and near-poor of billions of dollars each year, immediately ending exorbitant overdraft fees." Payday lenders should be reined in, housing options should be expanded for the poor, and the minimum wage should rise. "Poverty isn’t simply the condition of not having enough money," writes Desmond. "It's the condition of not having enough choice and being taken advantage of because of that." Read his full story. (More Longform stories.)

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