Three of the nation’s top scholars – known for tackling key mysteries about poverty in America – turn their attention from the country’s poorest people to its poorest places. Based on a fresh, data-driven approach, they discover that America’s most disadvantaged communities are not the big cities that get the most notice. Instead, nearly all are rural. Little if any attention has been paid to these places or to the people who make their lives there.
This revelation set in motion a five-year journey across Appalachia, the Cotton and Tobacco Belts of the Deep South, and South Texas. Immersing themselves in these communities, poring over centuries of local history, attending parades and festivals, the authors trace the legacies of the deepest poverty in America—including inequalities shaping people’s health, livelihoods, and upward social mobility for families. Wrung dry by powerful forces and corrupt government officials, the “internal colonies” in these regions were exploited for their resources and then left to collapse.
The unfolding revelation in The Injustice of Place is not about what sets these places apart, but about what they have in common—a history of raw, intensive resource extraction and human exploitation. This history and its reverberations demand a reckoning and a commitment to wage a new War on Poverty, with the unrelenting focus on our nation’s places of deepest need.
Kathryn Edin is the William Church Osborne Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs at Princeton University, where she serves as the Director of the Center on Research and Child Wellbeing. Edin’s research has taken on key mysteries about poverty that have not been fully answered by prior research: How do single mothers possibly survive on welfare? Why don’t more go to work? Why do they end up as single mothers in the first place? Where are the fathers and why do they disengage from their children’s lives? How have the lives of the single mothers changed as a result of welfare reform? The hallmark of her research is her direct, in-depth observations of the lives of low-income women, men, and children. After a career of studying some of America’s most disadvantaged people, she has now turned her attention to America’s most disadvantaged places, blending big data analysis, ethnography, and historical analysis to uncover the legacies of poverty in America. She is the author of 9 books, including the forthcoming "The Injustice of Place: Uncovering the legacies of Poverty in America," co-authored with H. Luke Shaefer and Timothy Nelson, and "$2 a Day: Living on Virtually Nothing in America," co-authored with H. Luke Shaefer. It was included in The New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2015, cited as “essential reporting about the rise in destitute families.”
H. Luke Shaefer, Ph.D. is the Hermann and Amalie Kohn Professor of Social Justice and Social Policy and Professor of Public Policy at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan. At U-M, he is also the inaugural director of Poverty Solutions, an interdisciplinary, presidential initiative that partners with communities and policymakers to find new ways to prevent and alleviate poverty. Through Poverty Solutions, Shaefer acted as a special counselor on anti-poverty policy to the director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services from 2019-2021.
Shaefer is one of the nation’s leading scholars of poverty and social welfare policy. His research has been published in top peer-reviewed academic journals in the fields of public policy, public health, health services research, sociology, social work, and history, and his work has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and U.S. Census Bureau among other sources. He has presented his research at the White House and before numerous federal agencies, has testified before the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, and has advised a number of the nation’s largest human service providers.
His work has been cited in media outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, The Economist, and The Atlantic, and he has been featured on such programs as PBS NewsHour, Marketplace, 1A, The World, and CNBC’s Nightly Business Report. The New York Times and TIME Magazine, among other outlets, have credited Shaefer’s research as one of the driving forces behind the expanded Child Tax Credit of 2021 that led to a historic decline in child poverty, pushing it to its lowest level on record. His book with Kathryn Edin, "$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America," was named one of the 100 Notable Books of 2015 by the New York Times Book Review, and won the Hillman Prize for Book Journalism among other awards. He was recently awarded an Andrew Carnegie Fellowship.
Shaefer received his B.A. in politics from Oberlin College and A.M. and Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, School of Social Service Administration.
Timothy Nelson is Lecturer in the Department of Sociology and The School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. He is the author of numerous articles on low-income fathers. He is co-author, with Kathryn Edin and Luke Shaefer of "The Injustice of Place: Uncovering the Legacy of Poverty in America." He is co-author, with Kathryn Edin, of "Doing the Best I Can: Fatherhood in the Inner City (2013)."
Nelson’s prior research has focused on African American religion and congregational studies. His first book, "Every Time I Feel the Spirit: Religious Experience and Ritual in an African American Congregation" was published by NYU Press in 2004. Nelson received his PhD in sociology from the University of Chicago in 1997 and has taught at Johns Hopkins, Harvard, Northwestern, and the University of Pennsylvania.