Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City Themes

Matthew Desmond



Drug abuse is an important theme in Evicted. Drugs are everywhere: in the pot Lamar and his kids smoke, in the crack to which Pam and Ned become addicted, in the fentanyl patches Scott drains in order to feed an addiction to painkillers. Drug abuse destroys Scott's life, consuming his day to day activities as he searches for his next hit and resigns himself to the fact that he might never get to be a nurse again. In addition to devastating his career and health, drugs waste precious resources, and the many drug abusers in Evicted seem not to realize how much money they're spending on drugs. Money that could, of course, be put toward rent.


Education is one of the less prevalent themes in the book, but does help explain why the characters in it are in these dire financial straits. Many have little formal education, no college degree, and no specialized skills, which relegates them to jobs in factories and fast food chains and prevents them from finding higher-paying work. Even when they do want to get an education, such as a GED or a community college degree, they find it impossible to do so, given their schedules and their need to move around every few months in search of decent housing.


As Desmond writes, home is a safe place, "the wellspring of personhood" where someone's life can either blossom or wither on the vine. Without a stable home life, someone is statistically less likely to pursue higher education, maintain steady employment, and devote enough time to their children. Similarly, children who live in unstable homes tend to do poorly in school, have developmental or emotional problems, and become involved in gang and criminal activity. Home in this context isn't just a roof over your head, but a place of shelter where one can focus on more than just one's basic needs. With a home, the immediate demands of survival give way to the higher order concerns of pursuing an education, finding higher-paying jobs, and building a better future for one's children. It should come as no surprise, then, that homelessness strips one not only of shelter and safety but of the opportunity to think of anything other than poverty, starvation, and where to find drugs.


Poverty is one of two central themes in Evicted, the subtitle of which is even "Poverty and Profit in the American City." Desmond's central thesis is that poverty is a condition not only exacerbated by but, in some cases, caused by the lack of affordable housing. Poverty (in addition to race) keeps the characters in Evicted from moving into safer, higher-class neighborhoods, which aren't...

(The entire section is 1133 words.)