Poverty for Profit

How Corporations Get Rich off America’s Poor

A devastating investigation into the “corporate poverty complex”—the myriad businesses that profit from the poor

“A remarkably important book. . . . Kim has set the table for a much-needed conversation about a population of young people neglected for far too long.” —Alex Kotlowitz, Washington Monthly, on Anne Kim’s Abandoned

A Ms. Magazine Most Anticipated Book

Poverty is big business in America. The federal government spends about $900 billion a year on programs that directly or disproportionately impact poor Americans, including antipoverty programs such as the earned income tax credit, Medicaid, and affordable housing vouchers and subsidies. States and local governments spend tens of billions more. Ironically, these enormous sums fuel the “corporate poverty complex,” a vast web of hidden industries and entrenched private-sector interests that profit from the bureaucracies regulating the lives of the poor. From bail bondsmen to dialysis providers to towing companies, their business models depend on exploiting low-income Americans, and their political influence ensures a thriving set of industries where everyone profits except the poor, while U.S. taxpayers foot the bill.

In Poverty for Profit, veteran journalist Anne Kim investigates the multiple industries that infiltrate almost every aspect of the lives of the poor—health care, housing, criminal justice, and nutrition. She explains how these businesses are aided by public policies such as the wholesale privatization of government services and the political influence these industries wield over lawmakers and regulators.

Supported by original investigative reporting on the lesser-known players profiting from the antipoverty industry, Poverty for Profit adds a crucial dimension to our understanding of how structural inequality and structural racism function today.


“Anne Kim’s book is a tour de force, showing in painstaking detail the myriad ways that corporations—many of them ostensibly with a mission to tackle poverty and to manage state and federal antipoverty efforts—exploit America’s poor. Read this book and weep, and then demand action from legislators to end the systemic incentives for legalized highway robbery against individuals and families already living on—or in many cases beyond—the economic margins.”
—Sasha Abramsky, West Coast correspondent for The Nation and the author of ten books, including The American Way of Poverty
“From Job Corps franchises and for-profit schools to private prisons, profiteering landlords, and Medicaid mills, Anne Kim explores a corporatized American safety net, where social service contractors reap billions while shortchanging taxpayers—and the vulnerable Americans they are entrusted with training, educating, incarcerating, housing, and healing. Through Anne Kim’s own reporting and decades worth of data, Poverty for Profit powerfully lays out a case for accountability and a renewed embrace of oversight and governance for America’s safety net programs.”
—Mary Otto, author of Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America
“The billions of dollars the government has spent to reduce poverty in our nation is vital, but it could be even more effective if our privatized public sector were not diverting those funds to corporations and the wealthy. Anne Kim’s compelling Poverty for Profit exposes this troubling reality and proposes policy alternatives. A must-read.”
—Peter Edelman, author of Not a Crime to Be Poor: The Criminalization of Poverty in America and So Rich, So Poor: Why It’s So Hard to End Poverty in America
“Kim delves into the behind-the-scenes happenings . . . like bail bondsmen organizing to oppose bail reform and private companies donating to political campaigns to defeat regulations. . . . Readers will be intrigued by this well-researched book.”
Booklist (starred review)

Books by Anne Kim

America’s Lost Youth and the Crisis of Disconnection

Anne Kim

Goodreads Reviews