“Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City” by Matthew Desmond

If this book doesn’t bring tears to your eyes and perhaps a bit of sorrow to your soul, well, I might argue you simply are not human. And it is a story of Milwaukee…

I read Evicted as part of Political Science 250: Law and Society at UWM over the summer of 2021. The author, Matthew Desmond, spent over two years living in some of the most impoverished areas of the city of Milwaukee, studying the tragic impact of poverty and evictions, on the people and families of Milwaukee. He lived in predominantly white trailer home parks on the south side, where drugs and poverty ruled, and he lived in “the inner-city neighborhood” off First and Locust, sharing a room where cabinets were paddle locked to protect food and the alley was tagged with graffiti. He met and lived with countless poverty-stricken families and individuals, and tells the story of how they truly live, and truly suffer poverty traps them in a nearly endless downward spiral.

So, what did I take away from this book politically? Other than opening my eyes to a world I sadly did not know existed, it also made me consider political and economic strategies. We have moved in our society, from supplying structural help – public housing, for example – to supplying monetary help. However, what that does economically, is increase demand rather than supply, thereby increasing prices. Desmond explains, for example, that landlords make the most profit from the most dilapidated homes, who they rent to the most desperate because they know those renters cannot risk calling inspectors about the condition of a home – rodent infestations, backed up pipes, broken windows and doors, leaking roofs, etc. – for fear of being evicted. And so, those with the absolute least, are taken advantage of the most.

Now consider the recent Child Tax Credit law from 2021. It is absolutely beneficial to the majority of people who receive it – up to $300 per child. Yet, ironically, those poorest families, living in situations like Desmond describes, are likely to again be taken advantage of. Why? Because now landlords know that if they have children, they may have a whisper more money. So it seems reasonable to assume landlords will increase rents for those with children, yet have no incentive to actually provide a safer home.

I’m not saying it was a bad policy. I am saying we need to think a layer or two deeper and address the problem of housing specifically, in a better, more efficient, and effective way.

As with most of the books I read today, I take advantage of an electronic version, and one of the benefits is the ability to highlight text and take notes, which can be reviewed and searched. I’m providing my highlights and notes so that if you want, you can dig a little deeper into my mind to see what I found important. As always, I look forward to our conversations about this book and other issues facing us today.

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