Matthew Desmond Calls for a New Language for Talking About Poverty
On September 11, 2018, The New York Times featured a piece by Matthew Desmond, “Americans Want to Believe Jobs are the Solution to Poverty. They’re Not.”
Matthew Desmond, author of Evicted, spoke in October 2017 at a Public Policy Forum in NJ, reports, “U.S. unemployment is down and jobs are going unfilled. But for people without much education, the real question is: Do those jobs pay enough to live on?”
Desmond profiles Vanessa Solivan, a single mother of three children, living in Trenton. For three years, Vanessa was homeless alternating between sleeping with her three children in her mother’s home, in motels and in her car. Vanessa works as a home health aide but didn’t make enough money to afford her own apartment. In May of 2018, she moved in to her own apartment in Trenton.
Vanessa was what Desmond calls among the “working homeless.” She makes a very low wage as a home health aide not earning enough to afford increasingly high rents. She must juggle the demands of difficult, physical work with hours that very week to week along with the demands that come with raising and parenting three children.
Writes Desmond, “If you believe that people are poor because they are not working, then the solution is not to make work pay but to make the poor work — to force them to clock in somewhere, anywhere, and log as many hours as they can. But consider Vanessa. Her story is emblematic of a larger problem: the fact that millions of Americans work with little hope of finding security and comfort.”
- And the Trump Administration’s priority of expanding work requirements for individuals and families who rely on the U.S. government’s safety net will not make life for families like Vanessa’s any easier.
- Work requirements are proposed for a variety of safety net programs including Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP.)
- A dozen states have applied for a federal waiver requiring Medicaid recipients to work.
- The U.S. House of Representatives included increased work requirements for SNAP in its version of the farm bill while the U.S. Senate’s version did not include work requirements.
- “The Congressional Budget Office estimates that work requirements could deny 1.2 million people a benefit that they use to eat.”
“Judging from the current state of the nation’s poverty agenda, it appears that most people creating federal and state policy don’t know many people like Vanessa. “Half of the people in City Hall don’t even live in Trenton,” Vanessa once told me, flustered. “They don’t even know what goes on here.”
On July 25, 2018, over 350 people from New Jersey traveled to Washington, DC for the Congressional Reception with New Jersey’s elected officials in DC carrying the messages “Opportunity Starts at Home” and “No Cuts to Housing.”
With the mid-term elections on Tuesday, November 6, 2018, low-income voters have the opportunity to vote for those who will be making critical decisions about the safety net that they rely on. Now is the time to register to vote.
Desmond concludes “And if we respect hard work, then we should reward it, instead of deploying this value to shame the poor and justify our unconscionable and growing inequality.“