1.5 Million American Families Live on $2 a Day—These Authors Spent Years Finding Out Why

For their new book, H. Luke Shaefer and Kathryn J. Edin followed the lives of America’s poorest families to find out what they need to break out of poverty, and how to make it happen.

If she did not make plasma deposits twice a week at a donation center in Tennessee, Jessica Compton and her family would have no income. If not for a carton of spoiled milk, Modonna and Brianna Harris’ refrigerator would be barren.  The Harris and Compton families’ stories are just two accounts of devastating poverty documented in sociology professors Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer’s book, $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America.

The book, released in September, documents the rise of 1.5 million American families, including 3 million children, who subsist on as little as $2 per person per day.  It reads like a Dickens novel. Edin and Shaefer spent years immersed in the lives of financially deprived families, combing through the budgets of welfare recipients and surveys of poor people’s cash flows. Additionally, they set up study sites in diverse locations like metropolitan Chicago and rural Mississippi to find out where and how severe poverty was concentrated.