U.S. $2 a Day Poverty in a Global Context: Five Questions Answered

What percentage of Americans live on under $2 a day?

This question was posed in an important study of U.S. poverty last year by Luke Shaefer and Kathryn Edin. The authors found that millions of Americans live on less than $2 a day.

This finding is striking. The $2 threshold has traditionally been used to measure poverty in the developing world and is far below the official U.S. poverty line, which is equivalent to around $16 per person per day.

In a new study, we reexamine this question from multiple vantage points. We obtain estimates of the $2 a day poverty rate in the U.S. for 2011/12 that range from 4 percent (12 million people) to zero depending on the definition of resources and the data source used (Figure 1). Obtaining a definitive estimate of $2 a day poverty would require an uncontested definition of poverty and a data source with no flaws—neither of which we have. While the estimates we obtain vary, the fact that even some have millions of Americans living under $2 a day is alarming.

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