A Study of the 1.5 Million American Households With Practically No Income at All

And why they aren’t getting much in the way of government assistance

When Americans talk about the failings of the country’s economy, the focus is usually on inequality—the uneven distribution of prosperity among the population. Poverty, on its own terms, receives less attention.

That’s not the case in a necessary new book by Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer, $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America. In it, they report on the roughly 1.5 million households that are surviving on cash incomes of practically nothing and not much in the way of government assistance.

I spoke with Edin and Shaefer about poverty in America, how it’s gotten so deep, and how it is affecting the millions of people who live in it. The interview that follows has been edited and condensed for clarity.