Ordinary Poverty: A Little Food and Cold Storage

Ordinary Poverty: A Little Food and Cold Storage

Ordinary Poverty: A Little Food and Cold Storage

Ordinary Poverty: A Little Food and Cold Storage


At St. John's Bread and Life, a soup ktichen in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, over a thousand people line up for food five days a week. In this trenchant and groundbreaking work, author Bill DiFazio breathes life into the stories of the poor who have, in the wake of welfare reform and neoliberal retreats from the caring state, now become a permanent part of our everyday life. No longer is poverty a "war" to be won, as DiFazio laments.In a mixture of storytelling and analysis, DiFazio takes the reader through the years before and after welfare reform to show how poverty has become "ordinary," a fact of life to millions of Americans and to the thousands of social workers, volunteers and everyday citizens who still think poverty ought to be eradicated. Arguing that only a true program of living wages, rather than permanent employment, is the solution to poverty, DiFazio also argues a case for a true poor people's movement that links the interests of all social movements with the interests of ending poverty.


The ideas which are here expressed so laboriously are extremely simple
and should be obvious. The difficulty lies not in the new ideas, but in
escaping from the old ones.

—J. M. Keynes, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money

AFRICAN AMERICAN WOMAN, 38 years old. She has lost her benefits and explains what she now does to get housing:

My friend helps me. I live some of the time with him. I eat here
[at St. John’s Bread and Life soup kitchen] whenever I can.

[Is it getting harder to make ends meet?] Yes it is. I can’t
survive; I need medical assistance and I’ll do anything. I have to
ask people to stay at their house. I have to do favors. I provide
sexual favors [she points at her friend]. He only lets me stay with
him for sex.

White man, 40 years old, a warehouse manager with 20 years of experience. He hasn’t worked in a year:

You should see the people I have to compete with. I am waiting
for a job interview with a moving company. Beautiful operation.
They liked me but they said they didn’t want to train me. It’s not
because I’m obese. At least not this time. It’s a computerized
operation, and I would have to be trained on the computer. But
I’m sitting waiting for the interview, the other guy sitting to be
interviewed is an MBA, also my age. Knows how to use com
puter. Laid off from Wall Street, $80,000-a-year job. He’s
competing with me. I told him I just applied for a warehouse
job at Busch Terminal. He asks me for the information and if I
mind that he’ll apply for the job. I give him the address. He’s

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