Will This New Book Change the National Debate on Poverty?

Eyal Press in The Nation:

ScreenHunter_1824 Mar. 30 22.42In the spring of 2008, a graduate student named Matthew Desmond began renting out a trailer in a mobile-home park on the south side of Milwaukee. Like much of the south side, the park’s population was predominantly poor and white, with an outsize number of its residents addicted to drugs or working as prostitutes. After four months, Desmond moved to an equally impoverished, predominantly black neighborhood on the north side of Milwaukee, into a duplex bordering an alley covered in gang graffiti. Unlike most of his neighbors, Desmond didn’t live in these places because he had no better options. He was an ethnographer interested in studying the dynamics of eviction, a familiar ritual at his fieldwork sites, where movers arrived seemingly every day to dump the possessions of another evicted tenant on the curb. How often did this actually happen? No one knew. When Desmond searched for data on the eviction rate in Milwaukee, he couldn’t find much.

The dearth of information might have discouraged some researchers. Desmond took it as a sign that he was onto something. Countless studies have traced the way factors like jobs, wages, and mass incarceration fuel urban poverty, but the role of housing had been curiously overlooked. Since no good data existed, he decided to oversee a survey of his own. When Desmond crunched the numbers, the results were astonishing. As it turned out, eviction wasn’t a daily event in Milwaukee; it was more like an hourly one. In a city with less than 105,000 renter households, 16,000 adults and children were being evicted every year, amounting to one in eight renters between 2009 and 2011. The movers were especially ubiquitous in black neighborhoods, where female renters were nine times as likely to be forced out of their homes as women in poor white neighborhoods.

More here.