Broke in Amer­i­ca: See­ing, Under­stand­ing and End­ing US Poverty

September 1, 2020

Water. Food. Hous­ing. The most basic and cru­cial needs for sur­vival, yet forty per­cent of peo­ple in the Unit­ed States don’t have the resources to get them. With key pol­i­cy changes, we could erad­i­cate pover­ty in this coun­try with­in our life­time‚ but we need to get start­ed now. Near­ly forty mil­lion peo­ple in the Unit­ed States live below the pover­ty line. Low-income fam­i­lies and indi­vid­u­als are every­where, from cities to rur­al com­mu­ni­ties. While pover­ty is com­mon­ly seen as a per­son­al fail­ure, or a defi­cien­cy of char­ac­ter or knowl­edge, it’s actu­al­ly the result of bad pol­i­cy. Pub­lic pol­i­cy has pur­pose­ful­ly erect­ed bar­ri­ers that deny access to basic needs, cre­at­ing a soci­ety where peo­ple can eas­i­ly become trapped – not because we lack the resources to lift them out, but because we are active­ly choos­ing not to. Pover­ty is close to inevitable for low-wage work­ers and their chil­dren, and a large per­cent­age of these peo­ple, despite qual­i­fy­ing for it, do not receive gov­ern­ment aid. This book is a per­fect com­pan­ion for a social action com­mit­tee, a con­gre­ga­tion wide book club and any Syn­a­gogue focused on tzedakah.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Ben Bel­la Publishers

  1. The authors argue that pover­ty isn’t the fault of peo­ple in it. Do you think they made their case?

  2. How did you view pover­ty before read­ing this book? Did Broke in Amer­i­ca change your view of pover­ty in the U.S.? If so, how?

  3. What indi­vid­ual sto­ries moved you?

  4. How have you seen the media cov­er pover­ty in the U.S.? Do you think the cur­rent cov­er­age is ade­quate? Why or why not?

  5. The book talks about bar­ri­ers that peo­ple face in meet­ing their basic needs. Which of those basic needs chap­ters had the biggest impact on you? Did any­thing sur­prise you about the obsta­cles peo­ple are con­front­ed with when it comes to obtain­ing basic necessities?

  6. Did you rec­og­nize you own com­mu­ni­ty in any of the stories?

  7. What was the most sur­pris­ing thing that you learned in the book?

  8. Talk­ing about top­ics like racism and sex­ism is dif­fi­cult. Do you think that the book cre­ates an oppor­tu­ni­ty to open dis­cus­sions on those topics?

  9. What’s the over­all feel­ing that the book left you with (i.e. anger, hope, etc.)?

  10. Did the book make you want to take action? Is that some­thing that your read­ing com­mu­ni­ty could col­lab­o­rate on? What next step can you take to fight poverty?

  11. Do you think the last sec­tion pre­pared you to be an advo­cate? What oth­er skills/​resources do you need to make change?