The Number of Families Living on Virtually Nothing Has More Than Doubled Since The 1990s

The number of households who survive on $2 or less per person each day has increased by 159.1 percent since 1996, growing from about 636,000 to about 1.65 million by mid-2011, according to a new analysis from H. Luke Shaefer and Kathryn Edin in Stanford’s Pathways Magazine. Families living in this state of extreme poverty now make up 4.3 percent of all non-elderly families with children.
The federal poverty line comes to at least about $17 per person each day, while “deep poverty” is considered to be about $8.50 a day, more than four times higher than the $2 a day mark.
The sharp increase is ameliorated by some public assistance programs, although it doesn’t go away. When the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps) is taken into account, the increase is reduced to 80.4 percent since the mid-90s and the number of extreme poor households jumps from 475,000 to 857,000. When tax credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit or Child Tax Credit and housing assistance are added to the mix, “thus generating our most conservative measure of extreme poverty,” as the authors write, the increase in people living on $2 a day is still 50 percent, from 409,000 households to 613,000. That means under this most conservative measure, 1.17 million children lived in extreme poverty in mid-2011. “The simple but important conclusion is that a growing population of children experience spells with virtually no income,” they write.