Poverty in America: New directions and debates

Matthew Desmond, Bruce Western

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

69 Scopus citations


Reviewing recent research on poverty in the United States, we derive a conceptual framework with three main characteristics. First, poverty is multidimensional, compounding material hardship with human frailty, generational trauma, family and neighborhood violence, and broken institutions. Second, poverty is relational, produced through connections between the truly advantaged and the truly disadvantaged. Third, a component of this conceptual framework is transparently normative, applying empirical research to analyze poverty as a matter of justice, not just economics. Throughout, we discuss conceptual, methodological, and policy-relevant implications of this perspective on the study of extreme disadvantage in America.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)305-318
Number of pages14
JournalAnnual Review of Sociology
StatePublished - Jul 30 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science


  • correlated adversity
  • exploitation
  • health
  • history
  • lived experience
  • poverty
  • public policy
  • social suffering
  • violence


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