Kirkus Reviews

An analysis of the growing portion of American poor who live on an average of $2 per day.

Welfare in the United States has always been a divisive issue. Most Americans agree that the poor deserve government assistance, but those same people also respond with vitriol at the idea of welfare as a system that encourages entitlement, promotes laziness, and creates a class of “takers.” Government assistance programs date back as far as the post–Civil War era, but only recently has the public’s outrage over government spending on welfare become so controversial. Following the wildly exaggerated myths of figures like Ronald Reagan’s “Welfare Queen” and the influential though dubious analysis of Charles Murray’s Losing Ground (1984), policy was reshaped in the 1990s under President Bill Clinton, changing the nature of government assistance to the poor. Edin (Sociology and Public Health/Johns Hopkins Univ.; co-author: Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage, 2005) and Shaefer (Social Work/Univ. of Michigan) argue that this shift created a new class of poor in America that fights to survive on barely $2 per person per day because they cannot qualify for the new government aid programs or the assistance they receive is simply not enough to supplement their low-paying jobs. By 2011, more than 4 percent of households with children in the U.S. fell into this category, doubling in the decade and a half since welfare was reformed in the 1990s. Curious as to how this new class of poor survives, Edin and Shaefer traveled to some of the most depressed areas of the country, including Chicago, Appalachia, and the Mississippi Delta. The authors share deeply human stories of the regular people trapped in poverty, typically through no fault of their own. Some are victims of abuse, others are forced to quit their low-paying jobs due to health concerns, and some simply cannot catch a break despite playing by the rules.

An eye-opening account of the lives ensnared in the new poverty cycle.