top of page

NENA Reads Notes Ch 1-3

Updated: Jun 24

We are so excited about our book group! Below are notes for Chapters 1-3 of Poverty, by America by Matthew Desmond. Of course we encourage you to read the book, but if you don't have time, but still want to join, please do. We can't wait to see you on Thursday!


The preface highlights the amount and extent of poverty found in the US.

  • p.6 More than 2 million Americans don’t have running water or a flushing toilet at home.

  • P. 6 Tropical diseases have reemerged (such as hookworm) due to broken irrigation systems in rural America.

  • P. 6The US produces $5.3 trillion in good in services annually. (This is more than China)

Chapter 1: The Kind of Problem Poverty Is

This chapter looks at the definition of poverty, and gives explicit statistics and examples to show that it is harder to climb out of poverty with this outdated definition.

  • P. 10 Mollie Orshanky created the poverty line in 1965 by looking at the price of food, and deciding that a family should spend about 1/3 of income on food.

    • The poverty line has never been adjusted to include the rising price of housing.

    • P. 15 most renting families below the poverty line spend at least ½ of their income on housing with ¼ people spending 70% on rent/utilities alone.

    • P. 19 Poverty measures in the US do not include people in prison/jail, psych wards, halfway houses, or homeless shelters. This means the number is much higher than what statistics post.

  • P. 14 30 million Americans are uninsured

  • P. 15 Gov only provides housing assistance to ¼ who qualify for it.

  • P. 16 ½ of new positions are eliminated within the first year a job is created.

  • P. 16 Temporary jobs have grown as an employer does not need to pay for healthcare for temporary workers.

  • P. 17 1/18 people live in “deep poverty”, defined as half of what the poverty line is.

  • P. 18 5.3 million Americans get by with less than $4/day

  • P. 18 There are 1.3 million homeless children in the United States.

  • P. 21 Bandwidth tax—“Being poor reduces a person’s cognitive capacity more than going a full night without sleep.”

    • Due to constant anxieties, many people can’t focus on day-to-day tasks.

  • P. 22 Black unemployment rate is nearly double white unemployment rate; black job seekers are just as likely to be discriminated against in the labor market as they were 30 years ago.

  • P. 23 Wealth gap between black and white families is as large as it was in 1960.

  • P. 23 Most 1st time home buyers get down payment help from parents.

Chapter 2: Why Haven’t We Made More Progress?

This chapter looks at government programs through the years and how policy has effected poverty.

• P. 24

Year % of US population under poverty Line

1970 12.6

1990 13.5

2010 15.1

2019 10.5

  • P. 27 Aid for those below poverty has grown substantially: Social Security benefits in 1989: $1,015 per person; $,419 when Trump was president.

    • Most went to healthcare spending.

  • TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families)

    • P. 28 For every $1 spent on TANF, only .22 gets to the people in need.

    • P. 30 States don’t need to spend TANF yearly, and many have billions of dollars worth of unused TANF funds.

  • P. 30 1/3 of people who apply for disability are approved.

    • P. 32 Much of the funding given is given to the lawyers that prove the person is disabled.

    • P. 34 ½ of all immigrants live in Florida, California, and Texas.

  • P. 36 1/3 single mothers are below the poverty line.

    • P.38 Families can receive more benefits if father does not live with the family.

Chapter 3: How We Undercut Workers

This chapter looks at policies, unions, and shareholders, and how they have influenced the workforce and wages.

  • “Complexity is the refuge of the powerful.” P. 44

  • P.46 raising minimum wage helps. Using policies of two neighboring states to show the affects of raising wages.

  • P. 47-48 1930’s-- Nearly 1/3 of workers were a part of unions and unions outwardly discriminated against black people.

    • Reagan got rid of unions

  • P.50 bottom 90% of income earners’ wages increased 24%; top 1% of earners more than doubled since WWII

  • P. 51 NAFTA incentivized companies to move to Mexico.

  • P. 53 Google has more temp/contract workers than full time employees for lower wage jobs.

    • No upward mobility

    • No healthcare

    • Noncompete clauses

    • Restricts competition; easier to exploit people.

  • P. 55 2022 US chamber gave $35 million to influence government policy; unions spent $25 million to government policy. (Meta, Amazon, and Comcast spent more than all of the labor unions combined.)

  • P. 57 Earned Income Tax Credit—US’s biggest antipoverty policy.

    • Walmart has initiatives to help employees apply for it.

  • P. 58 Shareholders When Walmart announced it was going to raise wages, stocks fell by 10% (losing $20 billion in market value); it was their biggest single day loss on record.

  • P. 61 As minimum wage raises, neglect, alcoholism, teen birth rates lower.


bottom of page