To experience poverty first-hand, Harvard sociologist Matthew Desmond moved to Milwaukee and lived in a rundown trailer park and then later a rooming house. During his year as a field worker, he came to learn just how detrimental high rents can be for already struggling families. Some of America’s poor are spending upwards of 80% of their income on housing.
In Evicted: Poverty and Profit In the American City, the MacArthur “Genius” shares the plights of eight families struggling to keep a roof over their heads. Their stories read like fiction. Arleen and her boys have only $20 to spare after paying for their ramshackle apartment. Doreen and her family lived in a five-bedroom house for years, but an eviction notice that sent them into a downward spiral of housing insecurity. The complex dynamic of the landlord-tenant relationship is also explored. These “slumlords,” two of whom are profiled in the book, wield a lot of power that can be used for both good and bad. Readers learn about the high penalties imposed on the poor and the devastation a forced eviction can cause not only for families, but on communities as a whole. These narratives are backed up with data and years of sociological research.
Evicted provides insight into the barriers that those living on the edge face on a day-to-day basis, as well as the systemic failures that keep people in poverty. Everyone could benefit from reading such a book, particularly those of the pick-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps mindset. Desmond maintains that these housing issues are not isolated incidents affecting the “others,” but a national crisis of inequality that needs to be acknowledged and addressed.