Non Fiction

Poverty, by America

Posted by Max Bellmann

Poverty, by America

Written by Matthew Desmond, published in 2023. Summary and review.

Took this read on a flyer as suggested by Spotify, now in the audiobook game. The author, Matthew Desmond, grew up poor himself and has some ties to the subject matter (he also studied this in college and certainly as a profession for this book).

Another pretty quick and easy read, one that does a good job of outlining the issues while also suggesting real ways to solve the crisis in America. I will note, mental illness (or whatever we’d like to call it) was not addressed in this book… I do personally believe this is a major (or at least compelling) issue that adds to the issue in both numbers and complexity.

That said, the most fascinating thing in this book are some of the stats or insights regarding poverty in America. I certainly did not do any fact checking, will take him at his word, but here are a few highlights I snagged from this read:

  • The number of poor in America out numbers the entire population of Australia… like what?!?
  • 2 million Americans do not have running water or toilets. 2 million!
  • 1/18 are in deep poverty, as defined as making under $6,000 per year as an individual or less than $13,000 annually as a family of 4. Also meaning they can allocate only $4 per day for food. This, to me, is absolutely inconceivable (Princess Bride style).
  • Medicaid out spends all other social programs every year… by A LOT.
  • 1/3 single mothers are poor. And with more and more privatized child care (not government subsidized child care) the problems only get worse.
  • Marriage rates in the US would pop approximately 30% if we had zero incarcerated people. I know this is sort of a useless stat, but I found it wild nevertheless.
  • 9% of people pay for 80% of bank overdraft fees. The poor basically fund free checking accounts. New info for this guy. And in many cases, pulling $20 out of an account (that doesn’t have $20) can often cost upwards of $200 in total fees. Not good. Certainly avoidable for regular Joe’s… but we’re talking about the poorest of the poor here.
  • $142B per year in welfare dollars are unused due to welfare avoidance. And contrary to what many may believe, it’s not because of social stigmas of going on welfare. Mostly it’s access and how easy (or hard) it is to obtain it. Apparently California makes its very hard, Oregon very easy. I would not have guessed…
  • The group with the highest amount of government subsidies are… the uber wealthy! Namely in mortgage deductions. I’d never thought of it that way. In fact there are many wealthy forms of government subsidies, which we don’t categorize as “welfare” but effectively do the same thing. Mortgage, 529 Savings Plans, Employer Sponsored Health Plans, etc.
  • And speaking of mortgage deductions, those account for 6x the government benefits compared to traditional welfare that’s paid out to poor people. Framed in that light… things could certainly be setup differently.
  • The US loses $1T PER YEAR due to unpaid taxes (both personal and corporate). But when we think about large companies storing money overseas (I see you Ireland and the Cayman Islands) and the fact the IRS is woefully understaffed… this seems like very low hanging fruit here. And $1T is a truly massive number. One that could change MANY things here in the states, not just poverty.
  • Furthermore, when talking taxes, if we collected the full amount of taxes owed on just the top 1%, we would gain $175B. According to Matthew, the US needs $177B to remove poverty entirely from America. That alone basically solves the problem. In theory anyway. Incredible.
  • Desmond also touches on how access to abortions and/or contraception is a major key to lowering poverty here in America. Obviously with several states, including Missouri (my home state), essentially eliminating said access… problems are likely to get worse, not better.

TLDR: A gripping insight into poverty in America. While no expert myself, I do find some of his fixes likely too simple (perhaps best to avoid making the book too dense). But that said, the facts and stats provided throughout are eye-opening, even for one who is “aware” of how bad the problem really is. Might Recommend. 3/5 Stars.

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