See what others are saying about $2 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America by Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer.
"Affluent Americans often cherish the belief that poverty in America is far more comfortable than poverty in the rest of the world. Edin and Shaefer's devastating account of life at $2 or less a day blows that myth out of the water. This is world-class poverty at a level that should mobilize not only national alarm, but international attention."
— Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed
"In $2.00 a Day, Kathryn Edin and Luke Shaefer reveal a shameful truth about our prosperous nation: many — far too many — get by on what many of us spend on coffee each day. It’s a chilling book, and should be essential reading for all of us."
— Alex Kotlowitz, author of There Are No Children Here
"Kathryn Edin and Luke Shaefer deliver an incisive pocket history of 1990s wel- fare reform — and then blow the lid off what has happened in the decades after- ward. Edin and Shaefer’s portraits of people in Chicago, Mississippi, Tennessee, Baltimore, and elsewhere, forced into underground, damaging survival strategies here in First World America, are truly unforgettable. This is income inequality at its most hidden and most stark."
— Michael Eric Dyson, author of Come Hell or High Water
"Kathryn Edin and Luke Shaefer, with compelling statistics and wrenching human stories, illustrate how — with incomes far below the pay of low-wage jobs that cripple families by the millions — a shocking number of Americans live in an almost unimaginable depth of poverty with near-zero incomes. We have let the bottom go out of the American economy. This powerful book should be re- quired reading for everyone."
— Peter Edelman, author of So Rich, So Poor
How can it be that the United States spends so much money fighting poverty and still suffers one of the highest child poverty rates among advanced nations?
One in five American children is poor by the count of LIS, a data archive tracking well-being and deprivation around the world. By international standards that set the poverty line at one-half the income of families on the middle rung of the income ladder, the United States tolerated more child poverty in 2012 than 30 of the 35 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a grouping of advanced industrialized nations.
The percentage of children who are poor is more than three times as high in the United States as it is in Norway or the Netherlands. America has a larger proportion of poor children than Russia.
So what’s going on? We may spend a lot of money, but we don’t spend it well. It turns out that the most generous federal programs for families with children barely help the nation’s unluckiest children. Rather, they generally push money to their counterparts higher up the ladder of well-being.
On Tuesday, Hillary Clinton unveiled what is arguably among the most important policies she’s announced during her entire presidential campaign. It is an ambitious but politically attainable plan that will lift huge numbers of families with children out of poverty. It is targeted exclusively at the poor, and the extreme poor in particular, with no money spent on the middle class or rich.
Specifically, Clinton is calling for a change in the refundability threshold of the child tax credit. That sounds like a technical change, but it has tremendous ramifications. Currently, the poorest American families can’t claim the credit, which is a mainstay of the tax returns of most middle-class families. That’s because households that make less than $3,000 a year — the truly, desperately poor — are excluded entirely, and households making under $9,666.67 can’t get the full credit.
Clinton would change the law so that families start getting the credit with the first dollar they earn. That would effectively increase the tax refunds of the poorest families with children. In addition, Clinton would double the credit for children 4 and under, something that helps both poor and middle-class families with young kids, and she’d make the credit phase in much faster for families with kids in that age range.
An analysis by Chuck Marr and Chloe Cho of the Center on Budget and Policy Prioritiesestimates that Clinton's plan will lift 1.5 million people above the poverty line, and bring another 9.4 million closer to the poverty line. It would increase the incomes of 5.2 million people living in deep poverty.
MICHIGAN REDIRECTS ABOUT $100 MILLION ANNUALLY IN FEDERAL WELFARE MONEY TO COLLEGE AID.
Albion College is one of the most expensive private schools in Michigan and many of its students come from families of means.
On the surface, it would appear the liberal arts students at Albion would have little in common with those living in the poor neighborhood that surrounds the school, where a third of residents live in poverty.
Yet they do, and most students are likely unaware of this stunning fact: A greater percentage of Albion students are receiving federal welfare money than those in the neighborhood surrounding the campus.
At Albion, 63% of in-state students receive a Michigan Competitive Scholarship or a Michigan Tuition Grant, college aid the students themselves might be surprised to learn is funded almost entirely with federal anti-poverty money. This at a college in which the median family income of students receiving financial aid is nearly $76,000.
That rate is also more than double the percentage of Albion students who were awarded a Pell Grant in the 2013-14 school year, Those grants go to U.S. college students coming from the poorest of family backgrounds.
The use of federal welfare money to help more financially comfortable Michigan students attend pricey private schools is hardly confined to Albion.
Two-thirds of Michigan students at Calvin College benefit from welfare funds, even though the median family income of Calvin students getting financial aid is $85,000. Similar numbers emerge at Alma, Kettering, Hope, Olivet and other expensive schools.
In all, Michigan spends about $100 million annually in welfare money from Washington on college aid, including millions that benefit families earning more than $100,000. This in a state in which only 18 of every 100 families living in poverty is receiving cash assistance.
It’s almost bedtime. John Baird Jr., 47, smokes on the hood of his 2004 Mercury Grand Marquis sedan, his plaid sleeping bag neatly tucked in the trunk.
Kathleen McDermott, 81, slouches in the driver’s seat of her 2002 Ford Focus station wagon. Two angel statuettes stare from her dashboard into clothes and clutter behind her.
Scott Downey, 52, works a crossword puzzle on his phone inside a 2006 Chrysler Town & Country van that smells faintly like cats. Clothes hang on hooks in the back, and emergency supplies of ramen noodles and Vienna sausages sit out of plain view.
They are in a Home Depot parking lot, largely invisible among the subdivisions and sprawl of Northern Virginia’s Fairfax County, the nation’s second-wealthiest community.
Sleeping in their cars, they are homeless but sort of not, a subset of a population officially classified as “unsheltered” and slowly shrinking in these suburbs of Washington, even as the number of people living in poverty continues to grow.
Each member of the trio spent decades living a more stable existence before family trauma or economic hardship led them to the streets.
Here, they help one another with errands and auto repairs, carpool to work or church, and check in on one another at night.
Just like their neighbors in the subdivisions around them.
Megan Fischer was 8-months pregnant with her second child when she scrolled upon an article posted by a friend on Facebook about diaper need.
Out of curiosity, Fischer clicked the link. She quickly learned that diapers are not covered under two government programs that provide nutritional and health assistance to women and families living in poverty.
She burst into tears.
“I said, ‘How could this be?’ What if I was trying my best and it still wasn’t enough? You can’t explain that to a baby,” Fischer said.
Seven months later, in October, Fisher founded the first diaper bank that serves the whole Greater Cincinnati region. The nonprofit aims to serve roughly 16,000 children under the age of 3 who live below the federal poverty level, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.
The agency has grown exponentially. In April, its first month of distribution, it handed out 5,000 diapers. In August, the nonprofit believes it will disperse over 20,000.
But still, Fisher imagines she’s only providing diapers for small portion of needy children, 400 out of 16,000.
“We are growing so fast that we immediately give away diapers as soon as we receive them,” she said. “We have no surplus.”
Diaper need is an issue nationwide, according to The National Diaper Bank Network, a nonprofit based in New Haven, Connecticut that supports local diaper networks and advocates for policy solutions.
There are roughly 5.3 million children nationwide under the age of 3 who live in low-income families, meaning their parents may not have access to a regular, clean supply of diapers.
That’s because two federal programs that provide assistance to low-income families – the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC – do not cover diapers.
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, does provide financial assistance for diapers. However, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that only 23 percent of families living in poverty received TANF in 2014.
Plus, TANF is used to cover many expenses, including rent, clothing, transportation and heat, electric and water bills, leaving very little money for diapers, which can cost up to $100 a month.
The consequences are dire. When mothers don’t have access to diapers, they leave their children in dirty, wet diapers for too long, potentially exposing the children to urinary tract infections, rashes and painful chafing, according to a study in Pediatrics magazine.
Increase in Typical Family’s Income Largest On Record
The three key indicators of well-being in today’s Census data all moved decisively in the right direction in 2015 — the first time that has occurred in nearly two decades. The number of uninsured Americans fell by 4 million from 2014 to 2015, on top of a nearly 9 million drop the year before, with the share of Americans without insurance falling to an all-time low of 9.1 percent. After adjusting for inflation, the typical household’s income rose by a stunning 5.2 percent, or $2,798, the largest increase in median income in both percentage and dollar terms ever recorded, with data back to 1967. The poverty rate fell from 14.8 percent to 13.5 percent, tying the record for the largest improvement since 1968.
Food stamp trafficking often begins with an innocuous question.
"Can I talk to you?"
Sami Deffala, who's managed a corner store in Chicago's Englewood neighborhood for 13 years, said he hears that every day from customers vying for a private moment in hopes of using their Link cards to exchange SNAP benefits, the modern-day version of food stamps, for cash — an illegal practice called trafficking by federal regulators. And every day, Deffala said, he hears them out but refuses to take part in the scheme.
"I have people young and old doing this, from an 18 year-old-woman to a 67-year-old man," said Deffala, manager of Morgan Mini Mart. "It's a big problem."
The temptation proves too great for some retailers. Since October 2014, more than 140 stores in Chicago and another 34 in suburban Cook County have been permanently disqualified from the $75 billion federal food stamps program, officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. All but one of them were kicked out for trafficking, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Nationally, food stamp trafficking is on the decline, amounting to only 1.3 percent of SNAP spending, compared with 4 percent in the 1990s. And the vast majority of SNAP benefits — 82 percent — are redeemed at supermarkets and merchants like Costco.
A row over Bill Clinton’s landmark welfare reform highlights how much deprivation survived it
DANIELLE HUGHES wanted to graduate from high school. But after gangsters shot up her family home in New York, her mother ordered her to grab her baby son and flee. Now living with relatives in Baltimore, the 21-year-old single mother has no qualifications, no stable job and, having unsuccessfully sought government aid while interning as a receptionist, no prospect of a steady income. “I feel like I have lived through so much already,” she says. She has applied for a job as a cashier, but, in a city where the unemployment rate among blacks is twice that among whites, is not optimistic. “Sometimes you feel like giving up.”
A dismal feature of this year’s election season is how little either of the main candidates has raised the endemic poverty that underlies such tough stories. Almost 15% of Americans are poor, including one in five children, and almost one in three households headed by a woman. That represents a level of deprivation, which rises and falls with the economy but has never dipped into single figures, higher than that of almost any other developed country.
The United States, the wealthiest nation on earth, also abides the deepest poverty of any developed nation, but you would not know it by listening to Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee.
Mrs. Clinton, who spoke about her economic plans on Thursday near Detroit, is campaigning as an advocate for middle-class families whose fortunes have flagged. She has said much less about helping the millions of Americans who yearn to reach the middle class.
Her Republican rival, Donald J. Trump, spoke in Detroit on his economic proposals three days ago, and while their platforms are markedly different in details and emphasis, the candidates have this in common: Both promise to help Americans find jobs; neither has said much about helping people while they are not working.
“We don’t have a full-voiced condemnation of the level or extent of poverty in America today,” said Matthew Desmond, a Harvard professor of sociology. “We aren’t having in our presidential debate right now a serious conversation about the fact that we are the richest democracy in the world, with the most poverty. It should be at the very top of the agenda.”
Average incomes fell significantly among the poorest children in single-mother families in the first decade after enactment of the 1996 welfare law, reflecting a large drop in cash assistance through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant. These findings provide further evidence that supports the growing agreement among researchers that TANF’s record has been mixed. Since the welfare law’s enactment, the overall poverty rate for single-parent families has fallen — though many other factors besides TANF influenced this trend — but the poorest families and children have become worse off. Previous analyses have found that the share of children in “deep poverty,” with incomes below half of the poverty line, climbed during the welfare law's first decade.