$2.00 a Day

Conversations about wealth in our nation have routinely focused on the 1%. Many are upset by the amount of wealth this affluent group of people claim, and for good reason. But there is a different 1% worth mentioning that doesn’t get nearly enough exposure: those living in absolute impoverishment. In their book $2.00 a Day, Kathryn Edin and H. Luke Shaefer uncover a type of poverty that’s unimaginable to most Americans. Destitution that we, as a country, don’t think exists and consider only when regarding third world countries. 

Beginning with a comprehensive overview of what welfare used to encompass and the changes that began with welfare’s reform in the 90s, the first few chapters are a bit dense. However, this background is a necessary foundation for the rest of the book. Profiling several families in Chicago, Cleveland, Appalachia, and the Mississippi Delta, we’re granted a shocking look at unsuitable housing, insufficient meals, and survival techniques that these families utilize to make it from day to day. 

The majority of those profiled in this book were unable to find work and receiving food stamps as their sole source of “income.” Uncovering public programs or lack thereof, inconsistent housing, and dangerous side effects of raising children in extreme poverty, this book does an excellent job of destigmatizing the poor. 

Criticism of this book was based largely on the actions of those profiled. Several families were extremely large, and one women had thirteen children with an abusive partner who also happened to be a teenager. Another mother sold her children’s social security numbers so others could claim them for tax purposes. Although this behavior is extremely unsettling, there are families in a cycle of poverty due to no fault of their own. Another chapter followed a man that owned three successful restaurants, but still found himself in $2 a day poverty a few short years later. Regardless of how someone finds themselves in extreme destitution, we should have solutions in place to help them out. 

The final chapter offers compelling and extensive options of how we can restructure policy to better support those in need. There are no easy solutions of course, but absolutely steps in a positive direction.  

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