Matthew Desmond says in his prologue that he wrote "Poverty, By America" in an attempt to understand why there is so much poverty in America. According to Desmond, there is more poverty in the US, the richest country on earth, than in any other advanced democracy. Almost one in nine Americans live in poverty and many more are stuck in the zone between poverty and security. While poverty is defined as an inability to afford basic life necessities, Desmond illustrates with many bleak examples that "it is also a relentless piling on of problems" so that the poor have no options to escape their misery.
President Lyndon B Johnson declared a "war on poverty" in 1964 and introduced social programs to aid in that battle and yet little progress has been made. Desmond discounts some of the usual culprits; poor statistical models, abused or inadequate social welfare programs, the breakdown of the family, immigration. His conclusion is that "...the simple truth is that poverty is an injury, a taking. Tens of millions of Americans do not end up poor by a mistake of history or personal conduct. Poverty persists because some wish and will it." Whether deliberately or unwittingly, society as a whole, all of us who do not live in poverty are at fault for supporting policies and laws that work against the poor and for the affluent.
"Poverty, by America" is a call to action challenging readers to become "poverty abolitionists". Desmond offers some suggestions for what we could all do but not a detailed plan of action. While in places Desmond's points feel abrupt and not fully developed, "Poverty, by America" provides a new more nuanced way to look at poverty and the many ways we may be unconsciously complicit in its perpetuation.