How the American Dream and Homeownership Became the Engine of American Inequality

Matthew Desmond (#29, #34) won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. Evicted is a stunning book, and this is a stunning article. Prof. Desmond argues convincingly that our tax code offers huge benefits to homeowners through the mortgage-interest deduction. This is great for homeowners (who on average have 36 times the wealth of renters), and it’s great for homes (inflated values, particularly in places like San Francisco), but it’s not exactly great for working class people living check to check. The theory is that the MID encourages people to buy homes, that it promotes stability. Not according to the data. Rather, it exacerbates economic inequality.

We could fix this problem if we wanted to, Prof. Desmond writes — but we don’t want to. “We tend to speak about the poor as if they didn’t live in the same society, as if our gains and their losses weren’t intertwined. Conservatives explain poverty by pointing to ‘individual factors,’ like bad decisions or the rise of single-parent families; liberals refer to ‘structural causes,’ like the decline of manufacturing or the historical legacies of racial discrimination. Usually pitted against each other, each perspective serves a similar function: letting us off the hook by asserting that there is a deep-rooted, troubling problem — more than one in six Americans does not make enough to afford basic necessities — that most of us bear no responsibility for.”


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