Matthew Desmond wants all of us to become "poverty abolitionists."

It's a brilliant term because of the associations it carries throughout Desmond's lively "Poverty, By America": There's the connection to slavery, another American institution designed to oppress our own. There's the acknowledgment that, although poverty seems like something everyone would oppose (like slavery), it actually helps many of us, even if we don't realize it. And there's the insistence that, if we want to get rid of poverty, we need to actively fight it.

Desmond's follow-up to his Pulitzer Prize-winning "Evicted" continues to get at the roots of inequality in America. "Evicted" was powered by generous portraits of the people he met while embedded with Milwaukeeans whose housing was precarious for a variety of reasons. But "Poverty" dispenses with the character studies.

Instead, it's a book-length, unapologetically wonky essay (76 pages of footnotes, many of which cite his own work) which argues passionately that the only reason so many Americans live below the poverty line is that people above it benefit from keeping others down. We can call ourselves compassionate when we worry about someone sleeping outdoors, for instance, but Desmond believes we should worry about the systems that keep that person there and us in our comfortable homes.

"Poverty is the feeling that your government is against you, not for you, that your country was designed to serve other people and that you are fated to be managed and processed, roughed up and handcuffed," Desmond writes. In 2020, 18 million Americans lived in "deep poverty," which he attributes to high levels of incarceration, voter disenfranchisement, housing inequity, poor health care, shifts in employment and more.

The chapters have clear, uncluttered titles such as "Why Haven't We Made More Progress." In that one, Desmond insists that poverty is not a partisan or blue state/red state issue but one that has been contributed to, even encouraged, by practically everyone — because most of us enjoy products created by poor people who can't get better jobs and from the stock market that rides high when our poor are at their poorest.

Desmond spends the bulk of "Poverty" talking about society's ills but also points out what the poor could contribute if we thought of them differently (for instance, if we recognized that rich Americans are given larger "government handouts" than the poor). And he has remedies. He figures it would cost $177 billion to solve poverty in the U.S., money that could come from the wealthy and corporations paying their fair share of taxes.

The book argues persuasively that there is lots to be done globally and that it should start locally, on city councils and zoning boards. Desmond points to organizations working to diminish poverty or democratize housing, such as Minneapolis' Inquilinxs Unidxs por Justicia, a movement started by working class folks who bought their apartment building and turned it into a tenant-owned co-op.

Examples like those help make "Poverty" a hopeful book, one that reframes its titular problem sensibly and helps us see how we could be part of solving it.

Chris Hewitt is a critic and writer at the Star Tribune.

Poverty, By America
By: Matthew Desmond.
Publisher: Crown Publishing, 304 pages, $28.

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