The Criminalisation of Poverty

It is getting worse and worse.


The most shocking thing I learned from my research on the fate of the working poor in the recession was the extent to which poverty has indeed been criminalised in America.

Perhaps the constant suspicions of drug use and theft that I encountered in low-wage workplaces should have alerted me to the fact that, when you leave the relative safety of the middle class, you might as well have given up your citizenship and taken residence in a hostile nation.

Most cities, for example, have ordinances designed to drive the destitute off the streets by outlawing such necessary activities of daily life as sitting, loitering, sleeping, or lying down. Urban officials boast that there is nothing discriminatory about such laws: “If you’re lying on a sidewalk, whether you’re homeless or a millionaire, you’re in violation of the ordinance,” a St Petersburg, Florida, city attorney stated in June 2009, echoing Anatole France’s immortal observation that “the law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges.”

4 thoughts on “The Criminalisation of Poverty

  1. I heard a review recently on NPR of Matthew Desmond, author of a new book “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City.” It sounded like an important and fascinating study. One of his theses is that eviction both is a result and a cause of poverty. It’s usually thought of as only the former, but once evicted, people often lose all of their possessions, and can lose their jobs as well, and having been evicted makes it harder for them to find new housing. The issue of affordable housing is critical these days in all of our major cities including Houston where I live. Just on the news last night was a report of angry crowds at a hearing protesting plans to build a new affordable housing complex in “their” neighborhood because crime would rise, children would go to “their” school, etc. etc. Here is a review of the book:

  2. There’s no doubt this is one of the U.S.’s great and seeming unending challenges. But I’m not sure it’s getting worse and worse. The article, I believe, is from 2011 which is in the depths of the great recession – during which 8+ million lost jobs and hundreds of thousands lost homes.

    Since then things like the ACA have passed, which, according to the latest data, has resulted in record low percentages of uninsured. Employment has been ticking along for a while now, and it is at all time highs even with the commodity plunge. Household formation is up. Even incarceration is down.

    Small comfort, I’m sure, for too many.

  3. White,formerly mobile, then disabled, then taken advantaged of,….now,after reading the above,what dear,long lost friends of geographically diverse ancestry,
    Spoke of,

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