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Justin Fox

‘A Problem That Diminishes Us All’

A conversation with Matthew Desmond, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Poverty, by America, on how the choices of affluent Americans keep the poor trapped in destitution. 

Down and out in L.A.

Down and out in L.A.


Princeton University sociology professor Matthew Desmond burst onto the national scene in 2016 with the book Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, a deeply reported account of the lives of tenants and landlords in Milwaukee in 2008 and 2009 that won a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award. He followed that up with one of the lead essays in the New York Times’ influential and controversial “1619 Project,” on the role slavery played in shaping American capitalism. Desmond’s new book, Poverty, by America, has generated attention for its unconventional take on the root causes of poverty and inequality in the US. I spoke with him about it via videoconference. What follows is an edited transcript of our conversation.

Justin Fox: You ask at the beginning of the book, “Why is there so much poverty in America?” So I’m going to ask you, why is there so much poverty in America?