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Private opulence, public squalor: How the U.S. helps the rich and hurts the poor

Pulitzer Prize winning author Matthew Desmond talks about the roots of American poverty and how he says so many affluent citizens benefit from government subsidies and exploitation of the poor. His new book is Poverty By America.


Other segments from the episode on March 21, 2023

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, March 21, 2023: Interview with Matt Desmond; Review of three songs



This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross. My guest, Matthew Desmond, a Princeton sociologist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author, begins his new book with a simple question - why is there so much poverty in America? The United States is the richest country on earth, he writes, with more poverty than any other advanced democracy. Much of the book deals with the many things that keep people poor - housing segregation, predatory lending and bank charges, the decline of unions and tax policies that favor the wealthy and promote inequality.

But Desmond also focuses on ways that affluent Americans, including many with progressive political views, benefit from corporate and government policies that keep people poor. They get lower prices from exploited workers and tax breaks for mortgage interest, college savings and retirement accounts. And they benefit from zoning rules that keep affluent communities financially segregated and tax policies that starve public services that poor and working people depend on. Desmond argues that Americans need to become poverty abolitionists, supporting policy changes and making personal choices that undercut poverty.

Matthew Desmond is the author of four books, including "Evicted: Poverty And Profit In The American City," which won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. As principal investigator of The Eviction Lab, Desmond's research focuses on poverty in America, city life, housing insecurity, public policy, racial inequality and ethnography. He's also the recipient of a MacArthur Genius Fellowship and a contributing writer for the New York Times magazine. His new book is "Poverty, By America." Matthew Desmond, welcome back to FRESH AIR.

MATTHEW DESMOND: Thanks, Dave. It's great to be back.

DAVIES: You know, we hear poverty statistics all the time - for families, for kids. Where does our official measure of poverty come from, and does it really capture the problem?

DESMOND: It comes out of the war on poverty, which President Johnson launched in 1964. And having launched a war, he needed a metric to know if he was going to win it or not. And so a bureaucrat named Mollie Orshansky came up with a pretty simple formula to measure poverty. And she said, if poverty is not having basic necessities, and if nothing is more basic than food, you could calculate if a family was poor by taking the cost of food as a slice of their family budget. So if food took more than a third of their budget, Mollie Orshansky considered them poor.

And when she released the figures, she found that so many more million Americans were below this official poverty line than was believed. And that is still our poverty line today, adjusted for inflation. That captures a level of scarcity in America. And at last count, 38 million of us fell below the official poverty line. But there are problems. It doesn't account for all government aid and it doesn't account for living expenses, for example. So $25,000 in LA is the same as $25,000 in rural Alabama, for example. We know that doesn't make a lot of sense.

So in 2011, the federal government launched a different kind of poverty line called the Supplemental Poverty Measure, which does account for living expenses and government aid. And when it did that, the country officially gained 3 million more poor people, actually. So accounting for government spending was more than offset for accounting for accelerated housing and medical costs. So I think that poverty isn't just an income level. Poverty is often chronic pain on top of, like, tooth decay, on top of mental depression, on top of, like, the the harassment of debt collectors, on top of the nauseating fear of eviction - over, on and on and on it goes.

So poverty is this exhausting piling on of problems. And I think that means we should consider it an abomination. You know, this should spark our moral urgency to address all this scarcity in this land.

DAVIES: You know, even by the official poverty measure which you described - I'm just doing the rough math - that's a little more than 10% of the American population that are below that level, right?

DESMOND: About 1 in 9 of us officially. But there's plenty of poverty above the poverty line as a lived experience as well. You know, about 1 in 3 Americans live in a household that's making $55,000 or less. And many of those folks aren't officially considered poor. But what else do you call, you know, trying to raise three kids in Portland on $55,000? So I think the poverty line is a good place to start, but it doesn't encapsulate the full, you know, picture of economic insecurity in America.

DAVIES: You know, you say poverty is not just numbers. It's daily pain and insecurity and problems. Give us just a little sense of your own experience here. I mean, you - your family experienced some real scarcity when you were young, and you've spent time observing this close hand.

DESMOND: Yes, I grew up in a little town in Arizona. My family never had a lot of money. We often got our gas shut off. Our home was foreclosed before everyone else was doing it. And, you know, I think that those experiences really shook me and impacted me. You know, I learned firsthand how economic insecurity can affect a family's stress level, can capture our minds.

And then, you know, I pursued this question, this idea of, like, why is there so much poverty in this incredibly wealthy nation? And for my last book, I pursued that on the ground. I lived in a mobile home park and in a rooming house in inner city Milwaukee and spent time with families getting evicted. And that was when I saw a kind of poverty in America that was utterly shocking and was so far away from even the poverty that I experienced growing up.

You know, I met grandmothers who were living without heat in Wisconsin, you know, during the winter and were just piled under blankets and praying that the space heaters wouldn't go out. I saw this family evicted one day, and it was this cold spring morning, and it was just kids living in the home. There was no adults. And what had happened was the mom had died and the kids had just gone on living in the house until the sheriff came. And the sheriff evicted the kids, and the landlord changed the locks, and they put their stuff out, called Social Services, and we were on to the next eviction.

This is a kind of poverty in America that should shame us, and - because we clearly have the resources to address this problem.

DAVIES: You know, if you take the long view of this, I mean, you know, for most of human history, most people have been pretty desperately poor. You know, it wasn't really until the Industrial Revolution that we even had the capacity to generate enough material goods for broadly shared prosperity. But of course, it wasn't broadly shared because it was driven by capitalism that produced terrible inequities and awful conditions and factories and mines. And then eventually we get unions and eventually some form of government regulation, which, you know, moderates some of the ill effects of the inequality. In the United States, we had the beginnings of a social safety net in the '30s and then expanded in the 1960s with the war on poverty. How much difference did that make in putting a dent in poverty in the United States?

DESMOND: It cut poverty in half. It made a huge difference. So the poverty rate between 1964 and '74 fell by half. So the Great Society and the war on poverty made an incredible difference. And what was that? Well, these were really robust interventions into the lives of the poorest families in America. They made food aid permanent. They expanded Social Security. There were so many elderly Americans, you know, dying penniless before the war on poverty and Great Society. And there was just massive gains in pulling older folks out of poverty. So these were robust interventions. And it's also important to realize that, like, when those programs were rolled out, Congress looked a lot like Congress does now. It was polarized. It was obstructionary. You know, the Southern Democrats were aligning with Republicans to block progressive reform. And even in that situation, a situation that looks a lot like Washington today, these incredible reforms were passed. So why? And I think the reason is - and this is an idea that I borrow from Julian Zelizer's fantastic book "The Fierce Urgency Of Now." The reason is grassroots organizers, like the civil rights movement and the labor movements in particular, put unrelenting pressure on lawmakers to move their hand. So I think if we want to confront this problem, I think that our hope lies in the movements.

DAVIES: You know, you say that you used to think that poverty began rising when Ronald Reagan became president in 1980 with an agenda of smaller government and thus reduced a lot of this anti-poverty spending. What did you find when you actually looked at the numbers?

DESMOND: So it's true that Reagan cut some very important parts of the social safety net. Most importantly, he reduced spending on affordable housing by almost 70% - seven-zero percent. So he gutted affordable housing initiatives, and we, as a country, have never recovered. But other kinds of anti-poverty spending didn't shrink during Reagan's administration. They actually grew and by a lot. So if you look at the 13 biggest means-tested programs - these are things like food stamps, Medicaid - and you look at per capita spending between Reagan and the first year of Donald Trump's presidency, they increased by about 237%. That's a big increase - adjusted for inflation.


DESMOND: Yeah, it was a shocker to me. You know, it was kind of - it was something that made me really rethink my prior assumptions.

DAVIES: So even though there was a lot of spending, it seems that a lot of the spending wasn't actually going directly to the people who needed it, right?

DESMOND: Exactly. And, you know, let me tell a quick story on this. So when I was living in Milwaukee, my roommate in the rooming house was named Kimball, but everyone called him Woo. And we were close. And Woo stepped on a nail in this rundown rooming house that we shared. And his foot got infected, and his leg was eventually amputated. He had diabetes. It accelerated the amputation. And I met Woo in the hospital. We cried together, and then, we got to work. I applied for disability on his behalf, you know, helped him fill out the paperwork. But it was denied.

And in poor communities, this is, like, commonplace. It's like - it's, like, a normal thing to get your application denied when you apply for disability. So Woo hired an attorney, and an attorney worked on contingency to help him get on disability. And he was successful, and the attorney took home, you know, several hundred dollars in back pay that Woo received. And Woo was fine with that. He thought that that made a lot of sense. But if you look at the data, that story plays out over and over and over again in America. And the last time I calculated, over a billion dollars - billion with a B - is not going to people like Woo to get them on disability. It's going to lawyers to help people like Woo get on disability. And I just can't shake that, you know?

Or if you look at welfare, which is called the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF - so that used to be distributed as cash in hand to poor families. But since Clinton reformed it in 1996, the federal government has given states a lot of leeway about how to distribute that money, and they exercise a lot of discretion. And so for every dollar budgeted for welfare, only $0.22 actually reaches families in terms of dollars in hand. Where does the rest of the money go? Well, some states use it for Christian summer camps or marriage initiatives or job training. Some of these things are related to poverty alleviation, but many aren't.

DAVIES: You know, we were just talking a moment ago about disability payments. We're talking about Social Security, disability income, right? This is a federal program. And if I understand what you're saying, it almost seems as if applications are routinely denied the first time. But then, the government will actually provide funding for an attorney so that you can make your case. Is this right? And that's where $1 billion goes, to help people argue their cases and get help?

DESMOND: That's right. And this is seen as normal today for us - right? - being rejected...

DAVIES: It's a billion a year.

DESMOND: ...And then hiring a lawyer - over a billion dollars a year. This is - you know, and this is one of the reasons - right? - why a - you know, a dollar in the federal budget doesn't mean a dollar in a family's budget. And, you know, another thing that really blew me away writing this book is how much money low-income families leave on the table every year, too. And, you know, we heard a lot about welfare dependency during COVID, right? We heard politicians especially say, you know, people aren't getting back to work because we're paying them to stay home, for these unemployment benefits. And that sounded, like, logical to us. It kind of made sense.

But it just wasn't true. The data didn't show that at all. And in fact, when some states rolled back those extra benefits, they didn't experience a huge jump in job numbers compared to states that kept the benefits. And if you dig into the data, the bigger problem isn't welfare dependency, it's welfare avoidance, the fact that so many families out there are not taking advantage of programs designed for them.

So there's no official number for this, but I counted - you know, the amount of money left on the table by elderly folks that don't use food stamps, but could - that's about 1 in 5. Or workers who could receive a wage supplement called the Earned Income Tax Credit, but don't - also 1 in 5. Add that up with the amount of aid that's unclaimed by folks that are out of work or uninsured. And you learn that every year, over $140 billion is left on the table by low-income folks. This is decidedly not a picture of welfare dependency. It's a picture of us not doing a good enough job getting families the aid they need and deserve.

DAVIES: We need to take a break here. Let me reintroduce you. We are speaking with Matthew Desmond. He's a professor of sociology at Princeton University. His latest book is "Poverty By America." He'll be back to talk more after this short break. This is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR, and we're speaking with Matthew Desmond, a professor of sociology and a Pulitzer Prize-winning author from Princeton University. His new book examines why poverty rates are so high in the United States and what can be done about it. It's called "Poverty By America."

You know, one of the things you say in the book is that, you know, people express concerns about the poor getting government assistance. But you say that we are all on the government dole, often in pretty big ways. What are some of them?

DESMOND: Giant ways. And so if you look at a tax break - like, let's say the tax break we get - if we're homeowners and we take the mortgage interest deduction, we deduct the interest of our mortgage from our tax bill. That's a government benefit. And many of us say, well, that's very different than, like, a housing subsidy or food stamps. But I disagree. You know, both of those things cost the government money. Both of those things drive up the deficit, and both of those things put money in our pocket. So instead of taking the mortgage interest deduction, the government could just mail you a check. That would be the savings you would take. So it's the same difference.

So if you add up the amount that the government is dedicating to tax breaks, mortgage interest deduction, wealth transfer tax breaks, tax breaks we get on our retirement accounts, our health insurance, our college savings accounts, you learn that we are doing so much more to subsidize affluence than to alleviate poverty. Most government aid goes to families that need it the least. Let me just give you one statistic. If you add up all the aid, everything - you know, welfare, housing assistance, food stamps, but also tax breaks - you learn that the families in the top 20% of the income distribution in America receive, on average, about $35,000 a year from the government. But families in the bottom 20% of the income distribution only receive $25,000 from the government. That's a 40% difference. That's huge. And so our welfare state is clearly lopsided.

DAVIES: Right. Now, of course, the argument for the mortgage interest reductions and, you know, tax deferment on retirement savings account and college accounts is that they reinforce important social values - stable neighborhoods, thinking ahead, planning for retirement, you know, giving our kids education.

DESMOND: Yeah, and they're also really nice to have if you can get them, you know? And I think that's basically the reason they exist so much. But if you look at the mortgage interest deduction, there's no evidence that it increases homeownership. You know, because the thing that helps with increasing homeownership is helping folks with the down payment. The mortgage interest deduction doesn't do that. All it does is make my home more expensive than it should be if it was just market valuation. And I think that there are ways to reward college savings and homeownership in a way that doesn't require this giant government investment. And let me just put some numbers on this.

So if you look at the amount of money we spent on homeowner tax subsidies, like the mortgage interest deduction, that's around $190 billion a year. Well, how much have we dedicated to housing assistance for low-income families? Around $50 billion a year. So it's just a colossal difference. And, you know, if we didn't have so many evictions and so many families paying 50, 60, 70% of their income on rent today, maybe we could live with that inequality. But it doesn't make any sense to have an enormous, painful rental housing crisis and to be spending so much money on mostly families with six-figure incomes who are the biggest beneficiaries of the mortgage interest deduction.

And I guess what really angers me, even, about this conversation is that, you know, a lot of times when we put forward a proposal to stabilize people's housing situation or cut child poverty in half, we hear over and over and over again, how can we afford it? How can we afford it? And the answer's staring us right in the face. Like, we can afford it if many of us took a little less from the government.

DAVIES: Let me reintroduce you. We're going to take another break here. We are speaking with Matthew Desmond. He is a professor of sociology at Princeton University. His new book is "Poverty By America." He'll be back to talk more after a short break. I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I am Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross. We're speaking with Princeton University sociologist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Matthew Desmond. His new book explores the reasons for the United States high poverty rate compared to other industrialized nations and ways that affluent Americans benefit from government policies and corporate practices that keep poor people poor. His book is titled "Poverty, By America."

There's been a lot of attention to growing inequality of wealth and income in the United States in recent decades. You cite a pretty striking statistics that in - just in the year 2020, there were 130,000 powerboats purchased in the country. And there's, you know, a lot of people who have a lot of discretionary income. But one of the things you say - one of the trends that we see in government policy and government spending which hurts poor people is a decline in investment in public services. And this is related to sort of financial and racial segregation of neighborhoods. Tell us - just explore this with us for a moment.

DESMOND: So when you have a country like ours, where there are millions of poor people living alongside millions of people with considerable means, a system locks in, a system for private opulence and public squalor. And this is an old phrase, goes back to the Roman time, but it was really brought out and brought to life by the mid-century economist John Kenneth Galbraith in his wonderful book "The Affluent Society." And it goes a little something like this.

If you are a family of means, you have the incentive to rely less and less on the public sector. So we used to want to be free of bosses, but now we want to be free of bus drivers. We don't want to take the bus. We don't want to often enroll our kids in the public school system. We don't need to play in the public park or swim in the public pool. We have our own clubs, our own schools. We have our own cars. And as we withdraw into the private opulence, we have less and less incentive to invest in public services.

DAVIES: One of the ways this affects the attitudes of the wealthy and poor alike is that it tends to make them suspicious of and mistrustful of government 'cause if they do such a crappy job of running the transit system or, you know, unemployment compensation, why should we give them more money?

DESMOND: It's a really deep point. And a lot of us that are benefiting from the government in ways that seem invisible - and this is a point that I attribute to Suzanne Mettler's work. She's a wonderful political scientist at Cornell. You know, a lot of us that are getting these tax breaks - and we don't see that as the government helping us, you know? We see that as us getting to keep more of what is rightfully ours. And often, that leads to a kind of attitude, a political attitude, where we don't think the government is in our lives.

And so those of us who are more apt to take that mortgage interest deduction are also more apt to vote against affordable housing proposals. Those of us who already have employer-sponsored health insurance, which, by the way, is government subsidized in a massive way, we're often apt to vote against the Affordable Care Act. And so it does have this kind of strange, political, maddening irony in our lives.

This one statistic that I calculated just blew me away. So a recent study was published, and it showed that if the top 1% of Americans just paid the taxes they owed - not paid more taxes, just stopped evading the taxes they owe - we, as a nation, could raise an additional $175 billion every year. That is just about enough to pull everyone out of poverty - every parent, every child, every grandparent. So we clearly have the resources to do this. It is not hard.

DAVIES: Right. And I was going to get into this. But when you talk about what to do about this, the amount of money that it would take to bring the people under the poverty line up to the poverty line is just about that, just about what it would cost to have the top 1% pay the taxes that they are owed, right?

DESMOND: That's right. And let me just preface this by saying this is a rough estimate. You know, I arrive at this number by looking at everyone under the poverty line, calculating the average it would take to just bring them over the poverty line, and adding that all up. It's pretty equivalent to what we could earn by just enforcing fair taxes at the very top of the market. What else could we do with $175 billion? We could more than double our investment in affordable housing. We could reestablish the extended child tax credit that we rolled out during COVID. And it's worth taking a beat just to talk about what that did. So the extended child tax credit was basically a check for middle- and low-income families with kids. That was just - that's all it was. And that simple intervention cut child poverty almost in half in six months - in six months. And we could bring that back again with $175 billion and still have money left over.

DAVIES: Let me reintroduce you. We're going to take another break. We are speaking with Matthew Desmond. He's a professor of sociology at Princeton. His latest book is "Poverty, By America." We'll talk more in just a moment. This is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR, and we're speaking with Princeton sociology professor and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Matthew Desmond. His new book explores the reasons for the United States high poverty rate to compare to other industrialized countries and ways affluent Americans benefit from government policies and corporate practices that keep people poor. His book is titled "Poverty, By America."

Well, let's talk about some of the specific changes that you think would make a difference. You said there is what you call low-hanging fruit - stuff that is relatively straightforward, that if we just did, would make a big difference. And a lot of that involves connecting poor people with programs that they qualify for but don't take advantage of because they don't know about. Give us a sense of these programs and how much difference it would make.

DESMOND: OK. These are so simple that it's, like, hilarious. And so a lot of us thought that people weren't applying for food stamps or applying for wage supplements because that was stigmatized. They were embarrassed. And there is something to that. But the weight of the evidence, I think, suggests that the reason people aren't accessing aid is because it's confusing. It's hard to apply for. Often, you have to apply every year, again and again, and people often lose their aid just because they couldn't make the appointment or forgot to reapply.

And so these small, tiny interventions that address those problems see massive returns on people accessing aid that they need. You know, so, for example, if you make the font bigger and clearer and use less words, you can get many more people applying for the Earned Income Tax Credit, this benefit designed to lift poor working families out of poverty. If you connect elderly folks with someone that just kind of walks them through the application process of applying for food stamps, you get many more folks in their silver years having access to more food security. So you're right. There are just these incredibly simple interventions that can get people connected to aid, and we should put those in place immediately.

DAVIES: Now, in terms of new programs that would target poverty, you know that there are different ways of doing it. You can have, you know, targeted programs that address a specific issue like, you know, food insecurity or housing or bigger programs that are broader - and that they have different impacts, including impacts on the attitudes of people. And you say that if we want to abolish poverty, we should embrace policies that foster goodwill and be suspicious of those that kindle resentment. How do they kindle resentment?

DESMOND: For a lot of our policies, there's an income cutoff. So if you're - I'm just making this up - but if you make $25,000 or less, you're eligible for this program. That's really helpful. But if you make $25,000 and $1, you're out. You can't touch this program. So that often does kindle resentment between poor families and working-class families, where the working-class families often say, gosh, you know, I - you know, I'm stressed. I'm squeezed. I need help. And I can't get it, and these guys do. And so I think that we do not need to settle for that kind of arrangement.

It's true that universal programs, like some universal basic income ideas, are incredibly expensive, and that should concern us. But it's also true that a nation as rich as ours needs to reject this scarcity mindset and just move toward broader tint targeting, as I say in the book. So the Child Tax Credit that we saw in COVID was a pretty good example of this. It had this massive intervention into the lives of low-income families, right? Just historically drove down their poverty, especially child poverty. But it also reached the lives of working-class and some middle-class families, too. And so I think that those kind of bigger-tent targeting can make a big difference in how we design policies. So I think that our goals should be ambitious, and they should reject this, like, in a world of scarce resources talking point.

DAVIES: Yeah. You know, you do make the point that some of the programs during the pandemic had remarkable impact. There was, you know, the Child Tax Credit, which pulled a lot of kids out of poverty until it ended. Also, the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, once it got moving, just had an enormous impact in terms of keeping people in houses and stopping evictions. You know, there are economists who say, yeah, but look at all the inflation we ended up with, and that was a reason for it. Is that a concern, or is it a concern that you address? Does that tell you that you have to pay for it by a tax reform which makes the super wealthy pay their share?

DESMOND: I do think that the inflationary side effect was a huge concern, but it doesn't take away the incredible intervention we made into the lives of families who are facing eviction or facing poverty. And I do think there is a way to keep those interventions in a way that doesn't have this inflationary impact. I mean, the American Rescue Plan was a pretty unique set of social policies, and I certainly think there is a way to make deeper investments in American families without all this inflation. And the evidence for that is in a lot of other countries, right? So Canada has a right to housing. There is a right to housing in the United Kingdom. There are countries that have far less child poverty than we do, like Germany, for example. And so these are countries that have made deeper investments in their people. And there's no reason we can't follow suit.

DAVIES: You know, you make the point in the book that it's one thing to shop at a store that - where you might pay a little more because it treats its workers better or make - alter your investment portfolio for your retirement account to account for a company's social policies. But changing your neighborhood is harder. Is there evidence that this is happening anywhere, that people are taking this seriously and trying to, you know, break down these walls and bring more integration into their communities?

DESMOND: So the state that is doing the best job at this is New Jersey, my state. And the reason is that because of the tireless activism by Black families in New Jersey, there was a Supreme Court case, and the New Jersey Supreme Court mandated - and it's still law to this day - that every jurisdiction in the state has to do its fair share of affordable housing, that fair share being the result of, you know, how many jobs and how many people live in your community.

So what makes New Jersey very unique is that just about everywhere - suburban, urban neighborhood - has affordable housing because if a municipality won't invest in that, a court can redraw its zoning laws and make it happen. And so suburban communities have figured out how to make space for affordable housing developments in their towns. And what's kind of amazing about watching this happen is a lot of the investment and development of affordable housing has been done without any federal or state money because developers can often make a bigger return building multifamily apartments than they can building, like, you know, a 3,000-square-foot McMansion and even if they set aside some of those units for affordable housing. And so I think that we could look at New Jersey as a test case. So let's ask, well, what's happened to the New Jersey public education system in the years since this Supreme Court case was passed? It's basically the top in the nation. New Jersey and Massachusetts often compete for the No. 1 and No. 2 spots in public education. Let's look at property values in New Jersey. What's happened? They're some of the robust, highest in the nation. So I think New Jersey does serve as this case of - for economic integration in a way that kind of Massachusetts did for health care.

DAVIES: So let me - as we wrap up here, how optimistic are you that we as a nation can make progress on this issue?

DESMOND: Oh, completely optimistic. For one thing, you know, despair is useless and just, you know, gives no help, no solidarity to families that are below the poverty line. I'm hopeful in the fact that we've been here before, you know? I'm hopeful that - you know, in the 1960s, we were here. We were polarized. We were obstructionary (ph). We were divided. And we got massive pieces of civil rights legislation. And we got the modern safety net built because of the efforts of social movement. So my hope is in the social movements today, you know? It's in the Poor People's Campaign. It's in the new labor movement. It's in the revised movement for housing justice. And these movements are stirring and growing around the country.

And I got to tell you, if you're looking for a fun, meaningful place to be, join one of these movements. I mean, these are incredibly openhearted, beautiful spaces. I'll just tell you a quick story. I wrote a piece on a movement in Minneapolis where tenants were fighting their landlord for control of their apartment building. And they would go to eviction court when one of them was facing displacement. And they would bring pizza or tamales. And they would turn it into, like, this fun, supportive environment.

And I remember talking to one tenant who, you know, kind of started slowly but surely joining this movement. And she said, you know, before, we were just neighbors. But now we're a family. God, that's just so attractive. So my hope is in the movements. And my hope, too, is in the fact that ending poverty in America is better for all of us. It is clearly better for folks that are facing homelessness and hunger and humiliation. But it's also better for those of us who have found security that are diminished and depressed by all this poverty in our midst. So I do think there's quite a lot to be hopeful about.

DAVIES: Well, Matthew Desmond, thank you so much for speaking with us.

DESMOND: Thanks, Dave. I really appreciate the opportunity.

DAVIES: Matthew Desmond is a professor of sociology at Princeton University and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for his book "Evicted: Poverty And Profit In The American City." His latest book is "Poverty By America." This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF BILL EVANS' "MILESTONES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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