I recently read (most of) the incredible book, Evicted: Poverty & Profit in the American City. I have already returned it to the library, so anything I refer to in it will not be in quotes. It is the kind of book one buys, though, so I doubt this will be the only time I write about it.
This book is technically an Ethnography – research done by someone living the day in, day out lifestyle of the culture studied. Author Matthew Desmond planted himself in Milwaukee, WI – one of America’s most racially segregated cities – for a long period of time. He lived among those caught in the cycle of poverty, particularly interested in how the private housing market affects those in this cycle.
But although ethnographers lean toward qualitative, relational research, this is an incredibly detailed, notated, evidence-based book. Essentially, if pure facts and research data bore you, the first-person narrative, relatable characters, and storyline will keep your interest. If you tend to distrust pure relational data, Desmond includes the quantitative stats to back up his claims.
There is so much to say about this tome, but the bottom line to start with is this: the majority of the poor in this country are paying 70-80% of their monthly income in rent. And before you wonder about housing programs – government and non-profit – that is all addressed in the book. The beautiful people Desmond lived among had tried multiple times with different assistance programs. There is simply only so much to go around and the rest of the population below the poverty level are stuck in the cycle of rent (often in dangerous and sub-standard housing), get behind because they cannot afford rent, eviction, loss of possessions, struggling to start again. And a significant majority of this population is single mothers with children.
Other than wanting everyone to read this book to get a scope of the housing crisis in our country, it also seems important for those of us way above the poverty line to put ourselves in the shoes of those below: imagine spending 70% of your monthly income on rent or a mortgage simply because you have no other choice. How would you choose to spend the rest? Clothes for your kids? Medicine you have to pay for out of pocket? A birthday cake or decent shoes?
What if you are hopelessly addicted to drugs? Or your spouse or child is? What if you had to quit school at a young age to go to work and help with rent and bills? And therefore decent jobs are out of your reach. Or you’ve gotten behind and now have an eviction record and no one will rent to you except those with sub-standard housing?
Desmond never paints those he lived among as angels. They have their flaws like all of us and make poor choices at times. But he does an excellent job of helping us above the poverty line understand the mindset of those below it. And he makes a compelling case that the powerful majority can sacrifice in ways that benefit those with much less power.
How about you? This stir anything in your heart? Ever read the book?