Most Americans hate poverty. The dominant narrative, embraced by the major media and most politicians, tells us that the poor are “welfare queens,” lazy, violent and criminals. In his unforgettable and personal study, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, sociologist Matthew Desmond has thankfully succeeded in a necessary and almost impossible task: humanizing the poorest Americans.
Imagine that you are a single mother with two young kids paying $500 per month for an apartment with no working fridge, where cockroaches fester in the sink, carpets decay under layers of slimy, black mold and the toilets haven’t flushed in three weeks. Imagine that you’re ecstatic to live there; You can’t find anywhere else because you keep getting turned down. Your past eviction record or the mere existence of your children allows landlords to deny you housing, even if you have the money. Imagine that your six-year-old son has severe asthma, and you often have to call an ambulance to get him breathing again. Imagine that, because you made “too much noise” during the incident, your landlord serves you with a legal 28-day eviction notice.
For some families, this is normal. Because of a failing support system, bad luck and/or a history of sexual and physical abuse, the poorest Americans, including many in Baltimore, continue to suffer.