Today’s episode is all about money! What is the debt ceiling? Why does it matter? Why is poverty such an issue in America? And what can we do about it? Amanda, our resident economist, explains the debt ceiling, the deal that was just reached, how we're underinvesting in our communities, and why women know more about the economy than they think they do. We’re joined by Shereen Boyer, a mom in Ohio who’s worked in finance for over 30 years, to explain more about why the Democratic party aligns better with her values - not just her social values, but her economic values too.
After that, Amanda sits down with Dr. Matthew Desmond, author of “Evicted” and “Poverty, By America.” Matthew explains what he learned when he walked a mile in the shoes of the people he studied and what misconceptions Americans have about poverty. He says that poverty is not a “them” problem, it’s an “us” problem - so many of us benefit from poverty in this country, but that also means that we can be part of the solution. If you’re inspired by his work and want to help be a “poverty abolitionist,” you can visit https://endpovertyusa.org.
Finally, Amanda, Rachel and Jasmine raise a glass to kids growing up, Joe Biden, and our brave military service members in this episode’s “Toast to Joy.”
Red Wine & Blue has been holding AMA events as a part of our Freedom To Parent 21st Century Kids campaign. AMA stands for Ask Me Anything! And on Thursday June 8th, we’re holding a special AMA event for the Gen Xers in our community. So get your 5 disc changer ready, pull on your best oversized flannel, and head down to the rec room with Jess McIntosh for a virtual conversation about gender where you can feel free to ask questions without any judgment. You can learn more and sign up here.
For a transcript of this episode, please email email@example.com.
You can learn more about us at www.redwine.blue or follow us on social media!
The Suburban Women Problem - Season 3, Episode 20
Amanda Weinstein: Hi everyone. Thanks for joining us. I'm Amanda Weinstein.
Rachel Vindman: I'm Rachel Vindman.
Jasmine Clark: I'm Jasmine Clark.
Amanda: And you're listening to the Suburban Women Problem. Whether we're talking about high level politics like the debt ceiling, or individual families struggling to put food on the table, so much in this country comes down to money. And being the economist of the pod, of course I'm excited to talk about all things econ on this week's episode. I know that these topics can sometimes feel complicated or confusing, and in fact, I think a lot of politicians want it to be confusing, so I'll be sure to explain why it actually matters to all of us.
We'll be joined by Shereen Boyer, a mom in Ohio who's worked in finance for over 30 years. Shereen used to be a Republican, but now is outspoken about why the Democratic Party not only aligns better with her social values, but with her economic values too. And after that I'll get to share my interview with Professor Matthew Desmond. We talked about his latest book, Poverty By America, and what it means to be, as he says, a poverty abolitionist.
So speaking of the economy, can we talk about the debt ceiling? And we have brand new news on that one. I know it’s not the sexiest thing to talk about, but it is important and we did just break a deal.
Jasmine: So I'm gonna be really honest. Like I feel like we do this song and dance every year, and although I like vaguely understand like what it means, I'm really not clear on like why we have to do this every year. I feel like every year it's like this big crisis of like, “oh no, the debt ceiling.” And to be fair, I feel like it’s every year since Trump. And I don't know, maybe we were doing it before and I just wasn't noticing, but I felt like during the Trump years and then after, it just felt like it was always this like crisis of… “The debt ceiling! The debt ceiling! The debt ceiling!”
And I think that it's one of those things like when Republicans say “socialist” where some people are saying it and they don't really know what it means. So I would love like the most simplified definition of the debt ceiling for those who don't quite understand what it means.
Amanda: Yeah. I mean, so the debt ceiling, there's really in the, you know, industrialized nations, there is only one other country that has a debt ceiling, but we're the only country that uses it like we use it. It's just ridiculous. It's really just used by Republicans as a negotiation tactic. It should be, I think, gone. And even if you think about why it doesn't make sense… so it's a monetary value of basically how much we're willing to pay back. So that would be like, if we put a maximum on how much, you know, credit card debt we're willing to pay back. And we're like, “Hey, I'm only willing to pay back $3000.” And it just doesn't work that way. For most American families, we pay back what we owe.
And what this is, they're essentially arguing, is they're threatening not to pay back what we already owe as a way to, in their view, to bring down spending. Completely ignoring the other side of the equation. That there's also how much money we bring in. And you're absolutely right when Republicans are in power, when Trump was in power, it's not an issue. But when Democrats are in power, suddenly it becomes a big issue for them, and now they wanna talk about negotiating reductions in spending.
Jasmine: All right. So I think I kind of get it now, but yeah, no, I, I see what you're saying. So it's basically like raising the debt ceiling is another way of saying, paying our credit card bill. To me, it just seems like a whole lot of pageantry. Maybe pageantry isn't the right word, because I guess pageants are supposed to be nice. It seems like a circus. But I guess in this circus we have reached some type of resolution and I don't know if you guys have seen what the resolution was. I'll be honest, I was traveling so I only got bite size pieces of what's going on. Cause yeah, it's a lot.
Amanda: Yeah. So the deal would suspend the debt limit through January 2025, which you can guess what we're gonna do when January 2025 comes around if there's a Democrat in office, right? Then we're gonna have the same discussion.
You know, it's gonna cap spending in 2024 and 2025 budgets. It's gonna claw back some of the unused Covid funds. And so they also are taking back some of the money being put to the IRS and some of the money being put for the IRS was really to make sure that corporations and wealthy Americans pay what they already owe. So I think that's pretty interesting that that was one of the things the Republicans really wanted to claw back. But it also adds some extra work requirements for food aid programs for poor Americans.
Jasmine: Well, I don't like work requirements. I always thought that work requirements were bad. So you talked about like, there's two sides to it. There's the debt and then there's the revenue. So if we cut the funds from the people who make sure that we get the revenue, then doesn't that kind of negate the whole point, which is to bring in the money?
Amanda: It does. So that's how you know a lot of what they're doing is not really about spending, because we saw deficits increase under Trump. We know that's really not what they're trying to do. This is all a battle for them to wage a war, you know, against spending and against, especially, spending against people who are in poverty because they have assumptions and views about who people in poverty are and what they do with their money, and they don't view it as a safety net to help them bounce back. They view it as a crutch they don't want them to have.
Rachel: Yeah, I mean, I, it, and unfortunately I think it takes seeing, like, this is the actual consequence of when I said this, this happened.
Jasmine: Yeah, exactly. “Wait, no, no. Not like that.”
Rachel: I've talked about it before, but you know, when my husband, when their family first moved to this country, his mom, his biological mom, passed away in Ukraine, she's buried in Ukraine. So my father-in-law had three boys and his mother-in-law and she never learned English. She was older when they moved here, and she received SNAP benefits or whatever it was called in the seventies, and she took care of the boys so that my father-in-law could work and learn English.
And that's just one example. But it is an example of, of look what that became, you know? I mean the investment in that, in her, in her being here and her being able to support herself became three productive citizens. Plus my father-in-law. And it doesn't have to be just caregivers to children. It can be caregivers to other adults so that another adult can support more family.
Amanda: I think it's interesting, if you look at the history of welfare. Welfare was originally intended to especially help widowers take care of their kids, recognizing that caregiving is a full-time job. Taking care of kids is a job. Taking care of sick loved ones is a job and that care meant something. It was a very pro-family and pro-children, welfare originally. But then you mix that with the Reagan era “welfare queen” idea and suddenly racism takes it to a whole different level and takes away a benefit from people of all races and backgrounds who just need help.
Jasmine: Oh, Heather McGhee, like her whole The Sum of Us, I swear.
Jasmine: There are so many examples of this throughout our history where we will take something that is good for everyone and we will take it away or try to, you know, dismantle it just because someone that we don't like also is benefiting. So now no one can benefit because these people were benefiting. Why do we do this in this country? It just does not make any sense to me.
Rachel: Yeah, no, I, I, I completely agree with you. People think if they work and they pay in to you know, they pay taxes and some of those taxes go to support someone, then they think they can drive by subsidized housing or projects or, and they can say, look at, “Look at what they're buying. Look at the food they're eating. Look at how they're doing.” No, I'm sorry. It doesn't work that way. I mean, you don't have the right to do that. So it's ridiculous. It's preposterous. I mean, maybe they bought that with their own money. I don't… all this is stupid. You don't get to decide how other adults and other people live their lives, right? It is not your choice and why do you want to?
Amanda: I know! They must be so bored.
Rachel: Yes! Like read a book. I mean, there’s so many more things you could do with your time. Go for a walk, spend time with your family, play a game. I could go on and on and on. There's so many worthwhile ways rather than getting yourself riled up about what other people are doing.
Amanda: So they're doing that with Target, right?
Jasmine: Oh my gosh.
Amanda: So like they're so offended by a rainbow T-shirt in Target that they have to take it away from other people. Right? It is possible to walk into Target and not buy a thing that you see there. I do it all the time.
Jasmine: Or just don’t walk into Target if it really offends you that much.
Amanda: I know!
Rachel: You guys, we went to Target the other day cause my daughter needs some stuff for a camp and I walked by the underwear section and they sell thongs and I don't wear thongs and I, them didn't buy them and I didn't, like, I didn't make a video of myself with a target employee.
Jasmine: Yeah. Did you not make a video of you putting on the thong to show everyone that Target sells thongs? Like, did y'all see that one ridiculous video of the man walking around in the store? What is happening? Like are we losing our collective minds?
Amanda: I mean, let's face it, ladies, men are just too emotional for going into Target. I think they're too emotional for shopping. They should stick to other things that, you know, make them less emotional. They should smile a little more.
Rachel: Yeah. Haha. They should smile more.
Amanda: I know. But we also just like, oh, like we need to listen to women. Do you know how many women walked in that store and we're perfectly fine walking by those shirts and not purchasing them, but no, Senator JD Vance for Ohio had to be like, “well, guess who's not shopping at Target anymore.” I'm like, “Well, guess what, JD?” I doubt you have ever stepped foot in a Target. So it's not you. Maybe you're not gonna let your wife do it anymore, but you're not exactly the Target demo and we all know it.
Jasmine: That's the whole thing about it. I'm like, people are just looking for things to be outraged about because I'm like, yeah, I'll be honest, when I walk into Target, I usually have about $20 worth of things that I need, and I probably end up leaving with about $200 worth of things that does happen. But I promise you there's not this, like, ominous force inside of Target that is like, “you must buy the rainbow things.” No! Honestly, it's just, you know, when I'm in there I'm like, “oh, that's cute. Oh, that's cute.” And I'm like, “I don't really need this, but when am I gonna be in Target again? So I'll just buy it now.” The side that accuses the other side of being fragile are the ones that really get up in arms about the silliest things.
Rachel: And I love the things that, by the way, can I just put a plug in for the stuff that Red Wine and Blue is doing. Like that, you know, Ask Me Anything for the parents of trans children. And there was another event just yesterday about gender affirming care. These are really good and just a good place to like, cause I mean, there's no one in my life that I can ask these questions.
Like the debt ceiling. We can just listen to Amanda. I mean, I don't know, but I'll just send Amanda a text.
Jasmine: Yes, I was just gonna say that. Like the debt ceiling, I didn't really understand it, so I asked. I didn't get all weird about it. I didn't go hide under the covers about it. I was like, hey, maybe I should ask someone who does understand this stuff, instead of having this whole freak out session by myself about it and being like, “Oh no, I dunno what we're gonna do. What are we gonna do?”
Amanda: Yeah. So I mean, our economy, about 70% of our economy is consumer spending and the people that make the majority of consumers spending decisions are actually women, and women are left out of a lot of these decisions. So I am very excited to welcome our Troublemaker. We actually have a lot in common. Not only is she a mom in Ohio, she's also a former Republican, and one of the things that changed her mind was their economic policies.
Hi Shereen. Thanks for joining us.
Shereen Boyer: Good morning. Thank you.
Amanda: So I'd love to hear about why you previously identified as a Republican and what it was that changed your mind.
Shereen: Well, I grew up in a family of Republicans, and so–
Shereen: Yeah and so by default, you start out the way your family starts out. But one of the things that really changed it for me is a lot of the economic principles, which I thought made sense were really at odds with my values. And so every election it was kind of a… a tension between those two. And under the George W. Bush administration, the Republicans really left the economic principles that I believed in. And as a result, for the last 25 years, I have not had that tension. The Democrats have been both more fiscally responsible as well as more reflective of where my, my social beliefs are.
Rachel: You know, this is something that's really... we hear it all the time, and I think there's this, like, legacy hangover with the idea of “Republicans are good for the economy.” It's a narrative that has really stuck to them, but it's just… we know it's not true. And you're really passionate about empowering women to talk about the economy to counter those narratives.
So first of all, why is having those conversations so important to you and how do you convince people or what not? Maybe not convince, but what, what do you tell people to kind of dispel that myth?
Shereen: I find that a lot of women know these things, but oftentimes the louder voice wins out. And so part of what I wanna do is just provide women a little bit more insight and understanding so that they have the confidence to engage in those conversations.
Along the way, a couple of facts, a lot of people don't, you know, we may have a resolution to the debt crisis, Congress still has to pass it, but a lot of people have forgotten that we had no deficit when Bill Clinton left office. Or that the country in the last 25 years has turned toward a Democratic president and administration in a time of crisis. And so oftentimes just a couple of facts can kind of change the narrative of where we're going.
I've heard a lot this last month about how “The deficit is terrible. We can't possibly go on like this.” I agree, the deficit is a concern. But a lot of people don't realize that what typically happens in the country economically is during the good times, we pay down the deficit. So that, much like in our own homes, you save for a rainy day when you're doing well, you put some aside because you know something will go wrong, the furnace, the roof, the whatever. But during the Trump administration, again, for, for the first time in, in many, many years, the deficit expanded during an economic expansion. That was when we should have been saving for a rainy day. So it's utterly disingenuous now to say, “Ah, we can't do this.” We already have. And so sometimes just a few facts too, like that can really derail somebody who's stuck in their demagoguery.
Jasmine: I love that. So I am in politics and it's a lot of males in the room and you're in finance and I know that economics and finance are notoriously male dominated fields.So like what is it like being a woman working in finance?
Shereen: Well I've been there 30 years and I can say it was very lonely for many of those years. It's gotten a little bit better but still it remains a very male dominated field. But what I think I take away from that is that there's no– you probably know this from politics– the louder voice is not the more accurate voice.
Jasmine: Oh, yes.
Shereen: And that there's not this deep well of knowledge that you need to overcome. Most women that I know and meet, and my friends, already have a lot of that knowledge. They just grade themselves on a higher curve before they say it with such authority.
And so what I would say is we really already know. We really already know. Maybe we need a little bit of insight, a little bit of confidence, but women intuitively know if something makes sense or not.
Amanda: That's such a good point. I love how you talk about how you just know and it's like this… women have a lot of really good experiences that we call almost like a gut feeling, right? But that gut feeling is really all of the experiences that we have built up over a lifetime from, you know, raising kids or you know, whatever it is just going on. Like all of those experiences kind of build up in your gut.
So then you really have a better sense to talk about all of this than I think a lot of, especially women, give themselves credit for. So I know you have two daughters in college. And I hear they've been helping you collect signatures for the ballot initiative in Ohio for abortion rights. What's that been like doing activism with your kids?
Shereen: It's been fantastic. You know, we've always been an engaged family. It's really an expression of our values, isn't it? I was thinking back sometime when they were around 9 or 10. We must have watched a documentary about the Women's Rights movement and the ERA amendment, and I remember my oldest daughter immediately went upstairs. She was just furious and all around the house appeared these little signs that said “ERA Now” on the staircase, on the refrigerator, on the door to the garage.
And I think that, just to circle it back to economics, that you know, when you have a solid economic plan and when we all have buy into that, it lifts all of us up. Not just women, not just Democrats, but all of us. And it's a conversation that we get to have about what kind of country do we want to have? I think of money like a magic wand. What you point it to happens. So if we value early childhood education, we point the magic wand there, the money wand. And that's what we can have. But it has to be grounded in something sustainable. And so, yes, the economics, the way we engage in the world, the way we bring our children into this, is really going to be where we're pointing the future.
Amanda: I love how you said that because I absolutely tell people “follow the money” and it is not because I'm obsessed with money, but it's just kind of our measuring stick. It is a measuring stick of people's values. So if a politician tells you they are pro-family, how much money are they putting into early education? Which you just mentioned. That is pro-family. If they're taking money away from families that's not pro-family and like it is a great measure of where their values truly lie.
So we talked a little bit about abortion rights earlier and how your daughters are activists. So I'm curious, as someone in finance, what do you see are the overlaps between finance and abortion rights?
Shereen: Oh, there’s so many. There's so many, but to simplify it to just kind of two thoughts right now, the cost of raising a child is roughly the cost of buying a home in the country and the time to raise a child is equivalent to a full-time job or more. So if you're sitting there and you're trying to think about this, imagine that you randomly in your life will be told you are now getting another full-time job and you're buying a house. Whether you're prepared, whether you have plans. You know, the economics of it can be devastating. So if you happen to be 18 years old and you are now buying a house and getting a second full-time job, obviously that is going to take away time and energy and money from other things that you might have been able to pursue. I would not say that abortion is primarily an economics issue.
For me, it's really about rights and justice and women having autonomy, but there is absolutely an economic and financial component to it. It's financially devastating if it's something that you did not prepare for, do not want, are not ready for.
Amanda: Wow. So I'm curious, so we were talking a little bit about, you know, things like TANF and assistance that we have for people who are in poverty. And I think a lot of those policies come from a place of misunderstanding of not understanding why someone would need that. And I think there can be a similar misunderstanding to people who are struggling with finances as well. So like, why would you go to a payday lender, right, when they have such exorbitant fees, right? Why not go to another bank? So how do you think our misunderstandings of people's circumstances play with the finance industry?
Shereen: When I think about finance and poverty, many people misunderstand how truly expensive it is to be poor. And as a result of that, rather than coming at it from a place of understanding and compassion, there's a tremendous amount of judgment.
But just as an example, you know, if you can afford to buy a good pair of winter booths, right, it may cost you $200 to buy those good winter boots, but they see you through many, many years. If you are struggling economically, you may buy the cheap pair of boots that you then have to replace every year. It may cost you $40, and that may seem like a savings. But if you're buying that every year, over the course of 10 years, you spent $400 on boots where somebody with a little bit more economic cushion has spent half that amount.
And there are endless examples of that. It's not just the money, it's the time. If you need to go get a physical for work and you have a car and you can drive your car there, it may take you half an hour back and forth. If you have to get a bus and make a connection, it may take you three or four hours and the hours that you're doing those things are hours that you don't have available to work, for childcare, et cetera.
And so the judgment that's often brought without an understanding really turns a lot of the policies that we enact as a country on their head. And what I would like to do is sort of step back from the anger and the assumptions and really go back to economics. What are the facts? How do they play out? You know, what is the trend line? And then from there, there can be honest disagreements about what the policy should be, how much we wanna engage. We as a community, we as a country, can have that, can have that conversation, but we can't have that conversation if we don't even agree on, you know, what the facts are.
The myth of the welfare queen… again, it's a powerful naming image, but it's packed with all kinds of misinformation, racism, a lack of understanding about poverty. And if we can wrestle back some of those words and have a conversation about the people who are struggling economically and why, we would be in a far better place as a country.
Amanda: Oh, that was amazing. Shereen, thank you so much for joining us. This has been a wonderful conversation.
Shereen: Thank you all. I appreciate it.
Rachel: Thank you.
Jasmine: You know, I loved what she said about how expensive it is to be poor. I'm a part of this Facebook group where it's a nonprofit that basically, you know, asks people for donations to help people out, and usually they tell the story of the person and why the person needs a donation. And a lot of times it's things that seem so simple, but they are really devastating to a family.
So, I mean, just for an example, a mom was pregnant and they put her on bedrest for three weeks. The baby was born, but because she did not work for those three weeks, she did not have a home to go to. And so basically the hospital was like, “we cannot let you leave unless you have a place to go.” And so they were asking for donations to get her a room, not even a whole apartment, a room, just so she had a place to go because the hospital wouldn't let her leave if she was homeless.
And I see so many of these stories of just people that are just trying to get by. And as a person who's on salary, sometimes it's really hard for me to understand that there are people, like, when you don't show up to work, that is money that you will not see. And if you're depending on that money, and now if that baby gets sick, she has to decide, “do I stay with my sick baby or do I go to work so I can make money so my child has a roof over their head, otherwise I'll make a situation worse for them?” And so a lot of times we judge people for the decisions that they make without considering that they probably put a lot of thought into the decision, even if we look at it as a bad decision. And so you just never know people's circumstances, like they don't want to be in that situation.
Rachel: Yes. That's the whole thing that I don't understand most of all about this trope of the welfare queen is… show me these people who want to live like that. Truly. Show them to me because I just don't think they exist. Or certainly not that you could make a caricature of them because there's so many. I just, I don't buy it.
Amanda: A hundred percent. And I think it's a lot about judgment and to me, it reminds me of like when you're… you're seeing like a mom at her worst, like when her kid is melting down. And like the judgment that sometimes can happen of “what did that mom do for that meltdown?” Right? I think as moms we're, I hope most of us are beyond this now, but I feel like we still do that with people in poverty, when we see someone at their worst, facing who knows what circumstances, right? That judgment that we shouldn't put on moms, we shouldn't put on people in poverty either. And it really doesn't do anyone any good at all to have that judgment be there.
Alright, now we're gonna take a quick break and when we come back we'll have my interview with Matthew Desmond.
Amanda: Our guest today is a professor of sociology at Princeton University. His research focuses on poverty in America, housing insecurity and racial inequality. He's the author of four books, including Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, and his newest book is called Poverty, By America. Dr. Matthew Desmond, thank you so much for joining me on the Suburban Women Problem.
Dr. Matthew Desmond: Hey Amanda. Thanks for having me.
Amanda: We are excited to have you. So, full disclosure, I am a big fan, so I've read the books, they're fantastic. So you've spent much of your career studying poverty in America. What drew you to that particular topic?
Matthew: Things were tighter on my house growing up. You know, our gas got shut off, so we lost our home to foreclosure before everyone else was doing it, and I think seeing my family stretched and pushed by poverty did something to me. Worked its way under my skin. And then, you know, for my last book, Evicted, I moved into a mobile home park. I moved into a rooming house in the inner city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. And I followed the families getting evicted, and I saw a kind of poverty that I had never seen before, I'd never experienced before. You know, I saw grandmas living without heat in the winter. I saw kids evicted on a routine basis. And I think those experiences really affected me and really drove me to ask the question that this book asked, which is why, you know, why is there so much poverty in this land of abundance?
Amanda: That is an important question and it's really important for America because we are the richest country on earth and we have about the highest poverty rate of any advanced democracy. So what's going on there? What are the causes of such high poverty in such a rich country?
Matthew: Yeah. So why do we have a child poverty rate that's double Germany or South Korea or Canada? Why do 38 million of us live below the official poverty line? That's enough folks to start a country bigger than Australia, you know? And you know, why do one in three of us live in homes making $55,000 or less? Many of us making that aren't counted among the poor, but man, what do you call it, right? Trying to raise two kids in Miami on that?
So what's going on? And you know, this book has a pretty clear answer to that question, which is that there's so much poverty in America, not in spite of our wealth, but because of it. You know, some lives are made small, so others may grow. You know, a lot of us benefit from poverty. We consume the cheap goods and services that're working poor produce. Many of us who are invested in the stock market see our savings go up even when that comes sometimes a human sacrifice, you know, cost. Many of us benefit from this imbalanced welfare state that we have, a welfare state that gives the most to families that need it the least, especially in the form of tax breaks that starve anti-poverty spending.
And then many of us continue to be segregationists. You know, we build walls around affluent communities and we hoard opportunities behind those walls. And that creates not only concentrated affluence, but concentrated poverty. So this means that poverty isn't about “them,” as it usually is discussed, it's about many of us. And we are connected to the problem, which means we're connected to the solution.
Amanda: Wow. So I think that will be surprising to a lot of people when, when we tend to think of, you know, the welfare state, we think about people in poverty. When we tend to think about government handouts, we think about people in poverty. We don't tend to think about ourselves and what we get when we think about government handouts and what we get from the government and how we benefit from poverty.
So I know you used the phrase “poverty abolitionist,” which I love. How can we change that? What can we do to become poverty abolitionists?
Matthew: So poverty abolitionist is a perspective on the world. It shares with other abolitionist movements the conviction that poverty isn't like a minor social ill or something we have to all live with, but an abomination. And it also shares with other abolitionist movements like the movement to abolish slavery or the prison, the conviction that, you know, profiting from someone else's pain corrupts all of us.
And so a poverty abolitionism movement is a personal and a political movement. You know, those of us who embrace it try to divest from poverty and our consumer choices in our investment decisions. We try to shop and invest in solidarity with the poor. We support government initiatives that try to rebalance our safety net, you know, by rethinking tax policy, fair tax implementation. We want a government that does a lot more to fight poverty than to guard fortunes, and we are against exploitation and segregation. We fight for open and inclusive communities. Now that sounds kind of abstract, so let's bring it home a little bit, you know? And so, you know, a lot of us when we're shopping, you know, we know where our cucumber came from. You know, we know it's a local organic cucumber, but we don't know how much the farmhand made picking it.
Amanda: Yeah. We have organic labels. There's no label of how much the person was paid. Right.
Matthew: Often we really have to do some homework about, you know, is this a union shop or not? You know, and so consulting organizations like B Corp or Union Plus can give us some guidance about, you know, if I'm gonna mail a package, UPS is unionized, FedEx isn't. And there's all those kinds of decisions with regards to candy and the beer you drink and the shoes you buy. And I think I'd like us to start making those decisions, not because we can shop our way out of this problem, but because that helps us build the political will, I think, necessary to reach for something bigger.
And when we're talking about tearing down our walls and fighting for open inclusive communities, that's not a vague recommendation. That means like you and me, you know, might need to go down to a zoning board meeting on a Tuesday night and stand up in front of our neighbors and say, “look, you know, I refuse to deny other kids opportunities that my kids get living in this community. Let's build this thing.”
Amanda: So I know that you have sometimes an unconventional approach to research, or I, well, I'm saying this as an economist, I usually deal with numbers and not directly with people, and I know you've dealt a lot more with people than I have. So this includes living in a mobile home park that you mentioned with people that you are studying and writing about in the book Evicted. So can you tell us a little bit, what was that experience like, getting to know the people that live there? And why was it important to you to have that firsthand experience kind of walking a mile in other people's shoes?
Matthew: I think that it was really life changing for me, both on an intellectual and a spiritual level. You know, intellectually, you know, I was incredibly interested in trying to write a poverty book that wasn't about the poor. You know, that was about the relationship between the rich and the poor. And I thought Eviction did that. You know, you could write about the landlords, the social workers, the tenants, the sheriffs, and I wanted to see that interaction, that conflict. And I think seeing it on the ground level not only helped me bear witness to the human cost of the housing crisis, you know? It's one thing to look at that through numbers, but it really is another thing to see a family put out on the street, you know, and their things piled on the curb.
But it also matters for the numbers too, you know? So like when I was living in the trailer park, I remember one of my neighbors, Tim and Rose, they got evicted. Tim hurt his back at construction, he lost hours, he couldn't pay the rent, he and his wife got evicted. Their names appear in the eviction record, you know? But when I asked him, “what was it like getting evicted?” He was like, “Oh we didn't get evicted. You know, an eviction is like the sheriff comes and throws you out, the landlord changes locks. That's an eviction. We weren't evicted.” And so like if we were like a survey team and we would've asked someone like Tim and Rose like, “Have you been evicted?” They would've answered no.
And I do think it speaks to the value of having some of that kind of connection to the ground level and kind of statistical work and it really helped my work. We did do that survey, but we asked the eviction question a lot differently cause I had some ground level experience.
But then like there's, like, on the spiritual level, you know? I think that living alongside folks that are facing incredible hardships makes you accountable to those families in a way that I feel it's hard to get when you don't have that proximity. And it makes you– it made me anyways– fall in love with a lot of folks that I'm met. And for you and me, you know, there's this line that often we get in the academy that, you know, you need some distance to be objective and truthful. And I think a lot of us are distant. And I think that we can write about people that we love, honestly and rigorously.
Amanda: Mm-hmm. You talk about, you know, the human cost of all of this, and you know that human cost is on people that you know, that you know firsthand. You know their first names, you know their kids, and you also talk about a lot in your book Evicted that I think was surprising to me is how we profit off of that human cost. And I didn't quite understand it until I read your books. We often come at this, I think a lot of us, as you know, think “they made a few bad decisions.” And that's typically the standpoint that I think a lot of us come from is, “Well, they made a few bad decisions,” but we don't think about how we have systems where they're taken advantage of because of their, you know, where they are, their circumstances. And so was there something that was really surprising to you when you were living in the mobile home park or any of your work when you were, you know, researching poverty?
Matthew: Yeah. On this score in particular, it was surprising how much landlords made. You know, when I started this work I was like, “If you have enough money to buy a trailer park, why would you? You know, why would you buy a mobile home park in the fourth poorest city in the nation?”
Amanda: Yeah. Buy a Chipotle, I dunno.
Matthew: Invest in the stock market. Right. Like, why would, why would that be your investment? And when I left that research, when I finished that research, I was like, “Why wouldn't you do that?” You know, the landlord that I rented from, he had 131 trailers. It was the poorest white, you know, it was a concentration of, of the highest concentration of white poverty, I should say, in Milwaukee. He let me see his writ rolls and his water bill and his property tax bill and his overhead, and I'm telling you all this because, you know, it took me a while to calculate this, but by my calculations, he was taking home over $400,000 a year. After expenses, you know, net. That was a lifetime of difference between him and his tenants.
And when you look at the statistical data that we have on this question, you realize that landlords and poor neighborhoods are not making just more, but often are making double landlords in affluent neighborhoods cause their cost of doing businesses is a lot lower, but the rent isn't that much lower. And that blew me away. And you know, I think that got me thinking of exploitation, you know, of people overcharging others for housing. And I think the poor certainly do pay more on the score because they don't have any other choice.
Amanda: Oh, I love that you said that. I mean, so in economics we talk about choice a lot. And when people don't have choices, you can take advantage of them. When we even, we think about inflation, we're talking so much about inflation right now. Why can companies charge so much more? It’s cause we don't have good options and other choices. And the same is true with people in poverty, that we aren't giving them choices. We have systems where they're left with no choices in their community. Where we often blame them for the choices they make when really, they don't have choices in a lot of cases.
Matthew: That's right. And when you don't have a choice, you get screwed. And we've all been in these positions, right? We've always been in these positions where, man, someone had us over the barrel and we just have to pay for it, you know? And that's how it is to be a poor renting family in America. You're shut out of home ownership, not because you can't afford a mortgage, but you just don't have any on-ramps to home ownership. And you're shut out of public housing and housing assistance because the waiting lists now are not counted in years anymore, but often are counted in decades. So you got one choice. You gotta rent from a private landlord, and that's why most poor renting families are spending most of their income on housing costs. Not because landlords have to charge it that much, but they can.
Or we look at the financial exploitation of the poor, right? Every year, 11 billion in overdraft fees from banks, 1.6 billion in check cashing fees, almost 10 billion in payday loan fees. Is that because people are making poor financial decisions? No, it's often because they're taking the best bad option. And that's just an enormous amount of money. And then again, just to bring it home for us, like who benefits from that? Well, some of us do, because our free checking accounts aren't free. They're subsidized by this massive amount of overdraft fees piled on the backs of the poor.
Amanda: Yeah. And for people that don't have those choices, and a lot of our reasons they don't have those choices are so I've often heard it said that, you know, “America doesn't have a safety net. We have women.” In a lot of cases, women end up being kind of the safety net that we don't have. But we do have this, you know, patchwork of systems and safety nets. When you think about food stamps and temporary assistance for needy families, TANF, it's this patchwork of systems that has huge holes in it. So what do you think our safety net kind of needs most to get it kind of functioning as a safety net for people?
Matthew: It’s the low hanging fruit, right? We need to design programs that reach families. I mean, it's really shocking how much we hear about welfare dependency, which just doesn't have a lot of data around it at all. You know, and the bigger signal you get from the data is welfare avoidance, right? The fact that we are doing a really bad job connecting families to programs that they need and deserve. Most elderly Americans who qualify for food stamps do not receive them. One in five workers that could receive the earned income tax credit, this bump once a year for poorly paid workers in America, they pass on it. And by my calculations, you know, low income families are leaving over 140 billion, billion with a B, on the table every year in unused aid.
Now, is that because folks are proud? There is something to that, like if you've ever spent a day in a welfare office, you know, there's a degradation ritual. But the research is pretty clear that it's just red tape, it's regulation. We've made it embarrassing and hard to apply for these programs. In some states, you have to get fingerprinted and photographed to apply for welfare, like you're a criminal. And so I think that this is both maddening and encouraging, right? It suggests that we can do a much better job of making these programs work for families.
But the bigger thing we can do is just make deeper investments in, in fighting poverty, you know? And for me, the clear priority is tax fairness. So I can't get over this study that I read a few years ago that showed that, you know, if the top 1% of Americans just paid the taxes they owed, not got taxed at a higher rate, just stopped evading taxes, that we would raise an additional 175 billion a year. Which is almost enough to pull everyone below the official poverty line above it. So we can afford to do this, you know, we just need a government that does a lot more to fight poverty than guard fortunes.
Amanda: Wow. So that is really shocking to hear you say that. And you were also talking about the stigma. So we've talked about on the podcast, you know, there's a lot of stigma around mental health, for example, and I think our country is starting to get a little bit over that stigma, but the stigma around poverty is something that we have not even begun to broach. When you have kids who don't, oh, they're gonna laugh at me, they're gonna do a shot every time I start to cry. But we have kids who won't get a free lunch because a child feels the stigma of that free lunch. Like that's an issue. And that is an issue of not only fairness, but it's also when you talk about the human cost, these are kids who could go on to, you know, be inventors and be business owners and be amazing researchers and be amazing business people. But there are people who will never be that because we never gave them a shot. And a lot has to do with the stigma and stigma not only that we have as a society, but that's put there by the government, when you have to get fingerprinted, like you said, to go get this. And it seems like we have some really easy low-hanging fruit solutions that we can do, but also like… why aren't we doing it already then?
So like pretty much every other issue in America, no discussion of poverty can exist without considering racism. What are some specific ways that people of color are disproportionately affected by poverty?
Matthew: Right. I mean, white poverty and Black poverty in America are just not the same thing. This collision between racism and poverty… most white families that are below the poverty line, they live in pretty integrated neighborhoods, actually. But most Black families, for example, below the poverty line, they live in poor neighborhoods. Which means those kids go to lower resource schools. Their neighborhoods are much more full of poverty. They don't have as much connection to the job market as white kids below the poverty line. Who are struggling, but it's a different kind of struggle. It looks differently.
And also racism, since the founding of our country, has just been such an incredibly effective wedge between low income families who have shared interest in fighting for economic justice, but are divided by racism. You know, one of the big reasons we don't have a labor party in America, right, like they do in Britain, is because racism infected our unions. When they were in their full power, unions barred their doors to black and Latinx workers. And you know, that's not the only reason why we lost union power, but it's a big reason. You know, unions shot themselves in the foot. And so I think that it's impossible to write a book on poverty in America without also writing a book on on race in America. And I think that the anti-racist movements and poverty abolitionism have a lot in common.
Amanda: It also, when you think about how we have so segregated people of color who are in poverty, it also gives you a racialized view of poverty itself. Where when we picture someone in poverty and when we picture someone who needs food stamps, we often have a racialized view of that. And we don't realize someone living just down the street from us may have that same need, but that's not our view of poverty. Our view of poverty is someone kind of other than us.
Matthew: That's a really important point. I think that many of us left, right and center, have a compunction to view poverty as someone else's problem. Either you know, the poor themselves, or Congress, or the guy that's just like a little richer than we are. And I think that one thing that I'm trying to do in this book is to say, look, let's take some responsibility here. You, me, everyone for this issue. Not kick it down the road. Not blame it just on structure or certainly not blame the poor for their own miseries, but really start asking how my decisions, where I live, the tax breaks that I get, are implicated in this problem.
And you know, I think a lot of us are pining for this. We kind of know this, we sense this. We sense that we're connected to all this poverty in our midst and we often don't know how to unwind ourselves. And this book is trying to give us a bit of a roadmap for divesting from poverty in our daily lives.
Amanda: I think it absolutely does that. So I've also gotten to interview the author of the, one of the authors of the Turnaway Study on the podcast, who talks about the economic implications of reproductive rights. And I know in your book it was really almost shocking to me how much children were a liability for getting affordable housing and were looked at as a liability by landlords. And how much, when we talk about evictions, how much children are affected by these evictions that we have so many children so affected by this. So from your perspective, as someone who studies poverty, what are the overlaps here between, you know, reproductive rights and poverty and eviction in America?
Matthew: Yeah. I love the Turnaway Study. I love the rigor and the design of that study, and I also love that it gives us a new kind of language for talking about reproductive rights because the debate for me is often very abstract and moral. But when I read the Turnaway Study findings that compare, you know, women who received abortions to those who were turned away because they were just over the, the cutoff limit. And the finding that four years later, you know, the women that were turned away were significantly more likely to live in poverty, that their kids were significantly more likely to grow up in poverty compared to kids that women who had had abortions had later when they were ready for those, it really drove home the issue that reproductive rights is a poverty issue.
When I started studying eviction, I thought naively that kids would be a barrier to getting evicted. You know, that that would be somehow protective, but it's the opposite, right? We did this little study in eviction court cause we were confused by why you get evicted but I don't, even though we owe the landlord the same amount of money. And you know what made the difference? It wasn't race, it wasn't gender. It was even how much you were behind. It was kids. The chances of you getting evicted triple, all else equal, if you live with kids. And that's landlord discretion. And so a lot of these things, right, that look from the outside like purely economic situations are often about kids and family structure.
Amanda: Wow. Alright. I could ask you questions for the next hour, but I know that we've gotta wrap this up soon. It has been so great talking today, but before we do let you go, we always ask our guests a few rapid fire questions. Are you ready?
Matthew: I'll do my best.
Amanda: So if you could snap your fingers and pass one piece of legislation, what would it be?
Matthew: I would implement fair tax legislation to make sure the richest among us pay what they should. And I would redirect that savings to programs proven to fight poverty like the child tax credit and affordable housing initiatives.
Amanda: Oh, love the answer. What's your favorite rainy day activity?
Amanda: Oh. Do you have any secret talents or hobbies that might surprise us?
Matthew: I can twist animal balloons.
Amanda: Oh! My kids would like you. You must be popular at birthday parties.
Matthew: I'm a hoot. I've actually gotten parents to hire me or offer to hire me.
Amanda: That's, oh, that's good in case the book doesn't do well! Haha, I’m just kidding, I already know your book is doing fantastic.
Matthew: Haha, yes, it’s backup plan!
Amanda: Alright, that is the end of our rapid fire questions. Where can people go to find out more about you and your books?
Matthew: Well, you can go to a website called endpovertyusa.org. And you can link up with a bunch of anti-poverty movements happening all around the country and also in your own very backyards and get plugged in and learn more about fighting the good fight out there. So that's where I would start.
Amanda: It was such an honor to talk to you. Thanks for joining us on The Suburban Women Problem.
Matthew: It was an honor to be here. Thanks for this great conversation.
Jasmine: Welcome back everyone. So Amanda I really loved your interview with Matthew and I think the thing that stood out to me the most was where you, where y'all talked about how we actually, and this is not good, but we all actually benefit from poverty. And basically like there's all this poverty in the US, but it's not in spite of our wealth, but actually because of our wealth.
Rachel: You know, I just wanna say, I am doing a lot of thinking and writing lately on changing minds over time and how hard that is for a lot of us. Definitely myself. And so if this conversation was hard for you, take a minute. You can digest it. You can think over it. It's okay if it's hard. I think it's, it's only a problem when we hear these things and we immediately reject it because it's hard. Sometimes you just sit in that space. You can revisit it later. But if we don't allow ourselves to take in new information and have that challenge our long held beliefs, that's when we have a problem.
Amanda: I think that's a good point. Cause I think when we were thinking about things like welfare reform, that was largely popular with both sides of the aisle, right? And when you look at what's happened since then, a lot of it has been like a Robinhood in reverse. So when you look at the temporary assistance for Needy Family, TANF, they changed that from being really a program to help people who need it to, they changed it to basically block grants. States could determine what they wanted to do with it. And what that meant was some states ended up, you know, spending 5 million on a volleyball stadium and having Brett Favre, you know, do promotions for their university. And like this was in the news for like a hot second. But we never continue to have that deeper conversation of, wait a minute, we talk about how much money we're spending on welfare and TANF and wait, 5 million for a volleyball court? Another $5 million for a retired wrestler, the Million Dollar Man? Like you start to dig in here and a lot of this money isn't actually going to the people who need it most.
And if you look at a lot of, if you look at the TANF benefits, out of a hundred families who qualify for TANF, 21 families get it. 21. In 1996, it was 68. This has been intentional, like when we have not only a stigma, but we make it hard to get these benefits because we want you to feel bad for getting these benefits, which does not help those families.
Jasmine: And I'm just gonna be honest, here in Georgia, the TANF benefits are not great. The formula for who's eligible has… I was three when that formula was made. And I'm not gonna say how old I am, but let's just say it's not three. It's been a lot of years since then. So if you're using the same financial formula from the eighties in the 2020s, it is going to be inadequate. I'm sorry, there's just like no way that the eligibility requirements in the eighties would match what's going on today.
Amanda: No. We're, we're many decades beyond that, we can toast to the many decades beyond that we are now. Hopefully the rest of us can join us here at some point in our policies. So let us finish off with our Toast to Joy and what are we celebrating here in the 2020s? Alright Jasmine, what is your Toast to Joy this week?
Jasmine: So my Toast to Joy is two, but they're very related to each other. So my son celebrated his 17th birthday this last weekend. I got to see him, I went up to Maryland. We went to Top Golf, had a great time. Actually, we did that last year too. So that was probably my Toast to Joy around this time last year as well. But the difference this year is that my son also got his driver's license.
Rachel: Oh, wow.
Jasmine: And so he is officially on the road. So Maryland, watch out. He did drive himself to work and like by himself. And I was like, so how was it? And he was like, “actually, mom, it was so much better than when y'all are in the car with me. No one was yelling at me. And I was just able to drive.”
Jasmine: Yeah. He was like, “I just felt so much more relaxed.” And I was like, “okay, yeah, whatever.” But I'm just really excited. My kids are growing up so fast, y’all, and it's like, I don't know how to explain it. It's kind of bittersweet, like I'm like, y'all are really growing up. But then at the same time I'm like, y'all are really growing up. So that's my Toast to Joy.
Amanda: Aw. Happy birthday.
Jasmine: All right, Rachel, what's your Toast to Joy this week?
Rachel: I think my Toast to Joy this week is to President Biden for getting it done. There's this constant criticism of him and all the pictures, all the media that went out, he just looked so calm and in control and so comfortable sitting there with Kevin McCarthy. And I, I don't know. I loved it. I loved it every time. So my, my Toast to Joy is to the President for staying the course. I think so many times he doesn't get credit for everything that his administration has done, and I think sometimes that's because we just don't feel it in an immediate way, and so it's a little hard to talk about, but they have had some major accomplishments. But this is so good for our nation whether people realize it or not.
And I think there were so many people, which very confusing to me, cheering against him – actually cheering against the United States– but he showed us that he can still get it done at 80. I think he might need a nap. I mean, I need a nap, so maybe I’m just projecting here.
Jasmine: Me too.
Rachel: But like he did it, he still went to the G7, he still did all this stuff and didn't, you know, he still was able to do it so, I don't know. I don't usually have a political Toast to Joy, but this week it is. I'm really quite impressed. I hope that it passes. And Amanda, what's yours?
Amanda: Alright, so we are taping this on Memorial Day. So my Toast to Joy has got to be to all of our service members and all of our heroes, service members or not, who have given their lives to protect this wonderful country. And also to Roslyn Schulte who gave her life to protect this country and all of the other service members. We appreciate you, we see you, and we thank you. To everyone who's willing to sacrifice for our communities and our country.
Thanks so much to everyone for joining us today. If you're enjoying the show, please give us a rating or review on your podcast app, and we'll see you next week on another episode of The Suburban Women Problem.