Recommended Reading: Online Resources

I have shared a list of books I recommend, and here is a list of articles I like that are available online. Please take some time to read some of these. Alleviating poverty is a marathon, not a sprint. We need to run with wisdom.

Being Poor by John Scalzi – This is a brilliant piece for anyone who has never been poor. It’s a set of vivid snaphots of what poverty means in concrete terms. Don’t stop with the original piece – in the comments section people have added from their own lives. (Scalzi wrote this in 2005. After 500+ comments he finally shut down the comment section. )

The Bottom Line: One in three families can’t afford diapers. Why are they so expensive? by Kathleen McGrory, Tampa Bay Times – The story of Lalandria Goolsby, a brand new mother who is barely getting by, and the American diaper industry. Lalandria’s story reveals some of the ways that systems intended to provide support don’t actually work well for people living in poverty.

The Marshmallow Study Revisited University of Rochester – Ok, this one isn’t recommended reading, it’s recommended watching. You’re welcome. This 4-minute video shows a laboratory experiment comparing how self-control develops in a reliable environment vs. an unreliable environment. Poverty is an environment that is chronically unreliable. What does this suggest about our expectations (and judgments) regarding self-control?

Speaking of self-control,  check out It’s not a lack of self-control that keeps people poor by Elliott Berkman. “This research makes me rethink both poverty and self-control. The science suggests that poverty has powerful harmful effects on people, and helps explain why it’s so hard to escape. Their choices are much more a product of their situation, rather than a lack of self-control.”

This one is for the ambitious reader. Poverty Interrupted: Applying Behavioral Science to the Context of Chronic Scarcity (2015) This one is full of behavioral science theory and practice, which means there are specific suggestions about how to design programs and organizations so that we actually help people get out of poverty. Chronic scarcity is an environment that nurtures different resources and different needs than the stability of middle class. I hope you’ll check it out.

Recommended Reading: Books

Reading is a great way to grow in knowledge and imagination. There is so much outside my life experience and reading helps me start to see how my neighbors’ lives might be different from mine. These books are some of my favorites on poverty and racial division/reconciliation.

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The Color of Law (2017, Rothstein)

Rothstein’s book directly addresses this question: Is racial segregation in housing de facto (resulting from individual choices) or de jure (created by law and public policy?

Chapter by chapter he illuminates how we created this system by public policy. We chose to be racially segregated.

“When the St. Louis developer Charles Vatterott procured Federal Housing Administration-sponsored financing for his St. Ann suburb, he had to include language in deeds stating that ‘no lot or portion of a lot or building erected thereon shall be sol, leased, rented or occupied by any other than those of the Caucasian race.” (Rothstein, p. 85) Housing developers needed the security of government-backed loans to build; the government required racial discrimination.

Please read this book to understand how public policy can create wealth for some and poverty for others. Even after unjust policies are changed, generational effects persist and we need to understand them.

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption (2015, Stevenson)

“The story of the Equal Justice Initiative, from the early days with a small staff facing the nation’s highest death sentencing and execution rates, through a successful campaign to challenge the cruel practice of sentencing children to die in prison, to revolutionary projects designed to confront Americans with our history of racial injustice.”

It’s a compelling read weaving individual stories with clear explanations of criminal justice policy and the racism woven into our policies. It is also full of grace and mercy and a deep understanding that we are all broken.

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (2016, Desmond)

“Eviction is a cause, not just a condition, of poverty.” (Desmond)

Like many of the books recommended here, Desmond combines individual people’s stories with clear explanations of policies. We need to understand how the combination of policies, exploitation, community resources, and individual choices make poverty persist.

Scarcity: The New Science of Having Less and How it Defines Our Lives (2014, Mullainathan & Shafir)

These authors show how experiencing scarcity affects how we think and how we solve problems. They separate the situation of scarcity from the person who is living with it. Very relevant to living in poverty, which is an environment characterized by scarcity.

Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America (2000, Emerson & Smith)

An insightful, methodical examination of how the church explicitly opposes racism but structurally recreates a society divided by race. We cannot change what we do not see. This book revealed layers to our racial division that I could not see before.

Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces the Keep Us Apart (2013, Cleveland)

Class, race, doctrine, geography… there are so many things that separate us. What does it mean to be one in Christ? Can we draw the circle of “us” so that it truly includes everyone? Cleveland explores this with wisdom and grace.

$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America (2015, Edin & Shaefer)

A vivid picture of some individual families living in a very unstable situation. It also has a helpful overview of the 1996 Welfare Reform Bill, including what the policymakers’ goals were and how it has fallen short.

Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (2000, Putnam)

We are disconnected from each other and from our communities. This book explores how that happened and why it matters.

When Helping Hurts book coverWhen Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor… and Yourself  (2009, Corbett & Fikkert)

What is the church’s role in alleviating poverty? This book is excellent. It is the basis of the video-based class I teach.

Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers: The Acclaimed Guide to Stress, Stress-Related Diseases, and Coping (1994, Sapolsky)

Smart and funny. Especially worthwhile if you are interested in the relationship between socio-economic status and health.