Review: $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America

$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America

Author: Kathryn Edin, Luke Shaefer
Genre: Nonfiction
Trigger warnings: Sexual assault, Sexual assault towards a minor, Abusive relationships, Adverse childhood experiences (ACE).
Read if: you are unsure about what it is like to live in extreme poverty in the United States.

Synopsis: $2.00 a Day was written in 2015 after Kathryn Edin spent over two decades conducting research on extreme poverty. The book follows several families who are struggling with incomes of $2.00 per person per day or less. It delves into survival strategies, underground economies, relationships, working conditions, diets and more. Edin also includes a chapter commentating on how welfare reform has made government assistance so inaccessible to the extreme poor that many don’t even apply. Welfare is seen as a myth. The only type of assistance available to the people featured in $2.00 a Day is SNAP.

This book is an exploration of the poorest urban and rural areas of one of the wealthiest countries on earth. It describes how the cities have enabled this poverty, what resources are available, how they are treated in the workplace, and who they can lean on for support.

Overview: 3/5 stars. It successfully represented what life is like for people living in extreme poverty around the country.

Non-Spoiler Review: This book struck me as a statement on how the American welfare system has made it impossible to escape extreme poverty*. Welfare itself is a human right and entitled to this demographic by law. However, the “freeloader” stereotype surrounding people who rely on welfare, even for a short period of time, has rendered it to be completely inaccessible to people who need it.

Throughout the book, the authors acknowledge that there is an overall issue with the data, no individual wants to tell strangers about their deepest financial struggles. However, Luke Shaefer does a great job in calculating the incomes of these families. He considers most untraditional sources of income and even underground economies in communities where cash is all but nonexistent. SNAP seems to be the only reliable program among the extreme poor, and in some cases, they are forces to sell SNAP dollars for cash. While this is a criminal offense, cash provides a freedom that is far more valuable than food. Having clean underwear for your children, for example, might far outweigh your need to have lunch the following week.

Edin also covers the stigmatization of the extreme poor. A stigma that has enabled the government to withhold resources until they have access to a stable job. This policy does not consider that looking for a job without access to cell phones, internet, clean clothes, or even transportation can be almost impossible without cash assistance.

Edin powerfully represents the wants of the families in the book. Most, if not all, only want this type of stable employment with some benefits. Something which should be a universal right. She represents the contradiction of withholding all assistance until they reach a goal that is almost impossible to reach without said assistance.

The book touches on the role of race and its implications for the extreme poor, however, it is not the focus of the book. The main focus is how extreme poverty and the lack of governmental resources impacts the lives of this demographic. Most are exposed to ACEs and other forms of assault while living in extreme poverty. These experiences, especially when repeated, tend to affect the temperament of the victim. They enable little patience and intense feelings of anger. These symptoms are completely normal after repeated assault or ACEs, however, they significantly affect their ability to find and hold a job.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How powerful is stereotyping the poor? How has this misunderstanding led to the inaccessibility of resources?
  2. What resources should be made available to this population? What resources are within their basic human right to have?
  3. How can we enable an easier job search and job retention among this demographic?

Buy the physical book here

Get the audiobook here

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Thank you for reading!


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