Opinion | Let’s Really Try to Abolish Poverty

To the Editor:

“America Is in a Disgraced Class of Its Own,” by Matthew Desmond (Opinion guest essay, March 19), should be required reading for every American of high school age and beyond, and especially for anyone eligible to vote in America.

“Poverty abolitionist” is a brilliant and simple idea. It conveys the message that acceptance of America’s pernicious and lingering level of poverty is a choice, not an inevitable result of a capitalist system.

Just as important, it helps reinforce the seemingly obvious point that most of the issues of greatest concern to most Americans — like crime, homelessness, the drug crisis, and especially all their related effects on women, children and people of color — are equally rooted in poverty’s systemic effects.

Unless and until we as a country are truly committed to reducing poverty and dismantling the industries that profit from it, those other problems will remain intractable as well.

Martin Jaqua
Portland, Ore.

To the Editor:

I read Matthew Desmond’s article with interest. While I certainly agree that there is a real need for the U.S. government to help those most desperate, there is also a need for the private sector to pay its fair share.

Do conservatives really think that people can live on $7.25 per hour? Do they really think that it is OK to offer only 24 hours of work per week to avoid paying benefits? Do they really think that it is OK for people to go hungry or live on the street?

The real “welfare queens,” as some conservatives have called poor and desperate people, are the large businesses that do all they can to ensure that their workers are on some sort of social assistance, and then complain about government social programs. The U.S. Treasury and other federal agencies are left to pick up the slack.

If a country cannot provide a basic level of subsistence and security for its poorest citizens, then it has lost any justification for its existence. All that is left are empty slogans, chest-thumping, culture wars and a well-armed failed state.

Stephen Landers
Stratford, Ontario

To the Editor:

As a rabbi who works with a national organization aiming to end hunger, I was struck by the powerful indictment in Matthew Desmond’s essay and the imperatives we must embrace.

Mr. Desmond makes an eye-opening argument that we are all part of the persistent American shame of poverty because many of us benefit from systemic inequities. Moreover, he underscores that government funding for welfare programs like SNAP (formerly food stamps) — which some deride as enabling — remains a fraction of what other developed nations provide.

Hunger is among the most immediate and insidious effects of poverty and is deeply intertwined in our culture and politics. Our history reveals how we got to this point and highlights the remarkable possibilities when visionary leaders enact policies to affect systemic change.

Joel Pitkowsky
Teaneck, N.J.
The writer is the chair of the board of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, a nonprofit advocacy group.

To the Editor:

Matthew Desmond continues his track record of brilliant thinking and writing about the disgrace of poverty in our country. As he writes, we have the data showing that we reduced poverty rates for children dramatically during the pandemic with federal interventions. We also know that those in power can wipe out these programs, such as the expanded child tax credit, with the stroke of a pen.

What Mr. Desmond does not have is a solution for our soul. Income inequality, corporate salaries and breathtaking bonuses, a resistance to unions, a hesitation to raising taxes on the wealthy all flourish. There appears to be no moral guilt in having more than one needs, even though it’s well known that children in this rich country are hungry.

Finding “the will” and organizing an economic justice movement first require serious soul-searching about our core values. At the moment, cruelty wins.

Sue Matorin
New York
The writer is a social worker in the department of psychiatry at Weill Cornell.

To the Editor:

America is indeed in a disgraced class of its own as we tolerate and abet high levels of child, family and elder poverty. Matthew Desmond’s cogent analysis leaves out yet another factor that will surely exacerbate poverty. Forcing women to bear children that they may not be able to provide for financially or emotionally exacts a huge toll on women, families and society.

Do fervent anti-abortion advocates forget that raising a child well takes substantial focus, love, health and financial investment? I fear that legions of women who already juggle a precarious balance of family, work and impending poverty will be tipped into tragic difficulty if they have to care for a child while keeping a job and managing their lives with their mental health intact.

Women being forced to exit the work force to care for children, since day care is unavailable or too expensive, will affect the job market. And the effects of abortion bans on the health of women who are constrained from making essential life choices are all horrifyingly worrisome and inhumane.

The kids will not be all right.

Sally Peabody
Peabody, Mass.

To the Editor:

The following phrases in particular caught my attention while reading this very well-written essay. Matthew Desmond writes that “enriching ourselves by impoverishing others” and “profiting from another’s pain” are part of America’s “collective moral failing,” which has contributed to the ongoing poverty crisis in the United States.

I would argue that these moral failings became interwoven with the foundational myths of Manifest Destiny and rugged individualism during our nation’s creation and expansion, as evidenced by slavery, the near extermination of the Native peoples and the mistreatment of almost all newly arrived immigrant groups.

That some should profit at the expense of others has unfortunately become viewed as inevitable, akin to wartime collateral damage, in the pursuit and realization of the American dream.

Until we collectively as a society change our mind-set to something along the lines of “a rising tide lifts all boats,” things will not fundamentally change.

Alexander P. Anthopoulos
Malvern, Pa.

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