How is poverty discussed in Evicted by Matthew Desmond?

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caroline-harrison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Poverty is a major theme in Evicted by Matthew Desmond. Nearly all of the individuals Desmond speaks with are struggling with poverty. Some of the individuals in the story who are not impoverished, like Sherrena, actually depend on the poverty of others to make money. Sherrena has a successful real estate business because most of her tenants are below the poverty line. Landlords can charge these impoverished individuals high rent—comparable even to the rents in much nicer parts of the city—but are under no pressure to keep the buildings in good condition because they know their tenants are desperate for any place to live. Many of the individuals in Evicted have criminal records or prior evictions, which means they are effectively shut out from the housing market in the nicer parts of the city. Desmond also discusses how the current welfare system makes it difficult for those living in poverty to get back on their feet. Welfare checks typically end up being less than $700, and about 70% of that $700 must go to rent. It is extremely difficult for those living in poverty to save up enough money to actually get on their feet, especially considering that individuals who save over $2,000 are no longer eligible for welfare. Many of the characters Desmond speaks with also suffer from other costly problems such as drug addiction, which makes it difficult for them to afford enough rent to stay in one place for long. Desmond also points out that it is very difficult for people living in poverty to pursue the educational certificates and degrees that are often touted as a path to financial success. Attending classes becomes a practical impossibility when people must balance erratic work schedules with constant evictions and moves.

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