What it’s like to live on $2 a day in the United States

In the United States, we often talk about poverty as a line: You are above it or below it; you escape it or can’t get out of it. Every year, the government defines that line with a number. Right now, if you’re in a family of four, you’re considered poor if you get by on less than $16.60 per day.

What we tend to ignore, though — and almost never bother to quantify — is the vast spectrum of poverty itself. And that’s why a new book, “$2 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America,” by Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer, is so eye-opening. It exposes in devastating detail the lives of millions of Americans who aren’t just in poverty, but extreme poverty, the kind you’d normally associate with the developing world. Edin and Shaefer crunched census data and other numbers and calculated that 1.5 million American households are surviving on no more than $2 per day, per person. They also found that the number of households in such straits had doubled in the previous decade and a half.