Dec 10, 2020
This interview is a special KGNU pre-publication interview (the book comes out in February 2021 from BenBella Books) of 'Broke In America.
The authors, Joanne Samuel Goldblum, (@jgoldblum), founder of the National Diaper Bank Network, and journalist Colleen Shaddox who argue that the systems that should protect our citizens are broken and that poverty results from flawed policies—compounded by racism, sexism, and other ills—rather than people’s “bad choices.”
Federal programs for the poor often fall far short of their aims: The U.S. has only 36 affordable housing units available for every 100 extremely low-income families; roughly 1 in 3 households on Navajo reservations lack plumbing; and inadequate counsel by public defenders can lead to harsher penalties for crimes or time in “debtors’ prisons” for those unable to pay fines or court fees.
An overarching problem is that the U.S. determines eligibility for government benefits with an outdated and “irrationally low” federal poverty level of $21,720 for a family of three, which doesn’t take into account necessities such as child care when women work outside the home.
The authors credibly assert that it makes more sense to define poverty as an inability to afford basic needs in seven areas—“water, food, housing, energy, transportation, hygiene, and health”—each of which gets a chapter that draws on academic or other studies and interviews with people like a Baltimore resident who had to flush his toilet with bottled water after the city shut it off due to an unpaid bill.
This plainspoken primer in the spirit of recent books like Anne Kim’s Abandoned and Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s Tightrope, Goldblum and Shaddox interweave macro analyses with examples of micro interventions that might work in any community.
A Head Start teacher in Lytle, Texas, says her program saw benefits just from giving toothbrushes (and a chance to use them at a classroom sink) to children who had none at home: “They come here, and they scrub like there’s no tomorrow.”