$2 a day
(2015) by Kathryn Edin .. and Luke Shaefer
intro’d via Nikhil:
Check out the excellent book “$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America” by Kathryn Edin and H. Luke Shaefer.
Original Tweet: https://twitter.com/nikhilgoya_l/status/912493451702411264
in 2011, more than 4% of all households w children in the world’s wealthiest nation were living in a poverty so deep that most americans don’t believe it even exists in this country..
these families didn’t just have too little cash to survive on, as was true for the welfare recipients edin and lein had met in the early 1990s. they often had no cash at all. and the absence of cash permeated every aspect of their lives.. it seemed as though not only cash was missing, but hope as well..
the question that began to keep edin up at night was whether something had changed at the very bottom of the bottom of american society..
(shaefer) needed to determine what income threshold would capture people who were experiencing a level of destitution so deep as to be unthought-of in america.. he borrowed inspiration from one of the world bank’s metrics of global poverty in the developing world – $2 per person per day. at the time, the official poverty line for a family of three in the us worked out to about 16.50 per person, per day over the course of a year. the govt’s designation of ‘deep poverty’ set at half the poverty line – equated to about 8.30 per person per day. as far as shaefer and edin could tell, no one had ever looked to see whether any slice of the american poor fell below the even lower threshold of 2 a day for even part fo a year.. with the sipp, it was fairly easy to estimate how many american families w children were reporting cash incomes below this very low threshold in any given month
shaefer tried hard to prove edin’s observations wrong.. results were staggering. in early 2011, 1.5 mn households w roughly 3 mn children were surviving on cash incomes of no more than 2 per person per day.. that’s about one out of every 25 families with children in america.. no only were these figures high,, but phenom of 2 a day poverty among households w children had been on rise since national landmark welfare reform legislation passed in 1996.. as of 2011.. number of families in 2 a day.. had more than doubled in just a decade and a half..
further appeared… that the experience of living below 2 a day didn’t discriminate by family type or race.. single mother families most at risk of falling into spell of extreme destitution .. more than a third of households in 2 a day poverty were headed by a married couple.. rate of growth highest among african american and hispanics, nearly half of the 2 a day poor were white..
even counting snap as cash (number of families feel by about half.. though snap can’t be converted to cash to pay ie: bills, rent, bus pass..) increase in number of families w children living 2 a day remained large – up 70% in fifteen years..
taken together.. these finding seemed to confirm the rise of a new form of poverty that defies every assumption about economic political and social progress made over the past three decades…
stats can help id troubling trends like these, but they can’t tell us much about what’s going on beneath the numbers..
field sites: chicago.. mississippi delta.. cleveland.. johnson city tennessee
began in chicago.. via willaim julius wilson.. the truly disadvantaged, the most important book written about poverty in the past three decades..
throughout history, american poverty has generally been hidden far from most americans’ view..t
this book is about what happens when a govt safety net that is built on the assumption of fulltime, stable employment at a living wage combined with a low-wage labor market that fails to deliver on any of the above.. it is this toxic alchemy, we argue, that is spurring the increasing numbers of 2 a day poor in american..
a hidden but growing landscape of survival strategies among those who experience this level of destitution has been the result. at the community level, these strategies can pull families into a web of exploitation and illegality that turns conventional morality upside down..t
none of people who stories appear in this book see a handout from govt – the kind that the old system provided prior to welfare reform – as a solution to their plight.. instead.. what they want more than anything else is the chance to work..
2 a day shows that the transformation of the social safety net is incomplete.. with dire consequences. we believe the time has come to finish the job..doing something more to help these families won’t be easy; it will require a commitment by all of us. the govt’s emphasis on personal responsibility must be matched by bold action to expand access to and improve the quality of .. jobs. but there will always be circumstances in which work as a primary approach to alleviating poverty won’t work. in those cases, we need a system that truly acts as a safety net for families in crisis, catching them when they fall
ch 1 – welfare is dead
one way the poor pay for govt aid is with their time (waiting in lines.. paperwork.. et al..)..t
out of every 100 americans fewer than two get aid from today’s cash welfare program. just 27% of poor families w children participate..
in 1966 welfare reform did away with a 60 yr old program that entitled families w children to receive cash assistance as long as they had economic need. it was replaced w a new welfare program called temp assistance for needy families (tanf) – the one madonna waited in line for.. which imposes lifetime limits and subjects able bodied adult recipients to work requirements..
old program’s height in 1994.. it served more than 14.2 mn people.. 4.6 mn adults and 96 mn children.. in 2012.. the year madonna took her trip to the dhs office.. there were only 4.4 mn people left on the rolls – 1.1 mn adults (about 1/4 of whom were working) and 3.3 mn kids.. that’s a 69% decline.. by fall 2014.. tanf caseload had fallen to 3.8 mn
before 96 – welfare was putting a sizable dent in number of families living below 2 a day.. .. lifting more than a mn households w children out of 2 a day every month.. by 2011, tanf lifting only about 300 000 households..
one reason.. fail to claim because doesn’t occur to them .. believe govt money no longer viable option.. no matter how desperate.. don’t want to get rejected again
welfare’s virtual extinction has gone all but unnoticed by the american public and the press.. but also .. expansion of other types of help for poor.. ie: bush admin.. for snap..affordable care act.. et al..
perhaps most important.. system of tax credits.. aimed at working poor.. low-income working parents often get tax refunds that are far greatest than the income taxes withheld form their paychecks.. but only those working in system can claim them…
these expansions of aid .. mean that even after watershed welfare reform, we as a country aren’t spending less.. in fact.. now spend much more on poor families.. yet for all this spending, these programs, except for snap, have offered little to help modonna and brianna during roughest spells, when modonna has had no work..
what killed welfare.. might say.. reagan – 76
michael harrington’s the other america: poverty in the us.. made a claim (62) between 40 and 50 mn americans – 20-25% of nation’s population – still lived in poverty..
after john f kennedy’s assassination.. lyndon johnson declared am ‘unconditional war on poverty in america’ – 68.. also in his 64 state of union address… at a time when fed govt didn’t yet have an official way to measure whether someone was poor
do you ever..?
70s nixon increased fed funds… for ie; school breakfasts/lunches.. head start was born.. medicaid (for poor).. medicare (for elderly).. were created
what war on poverty did not do was target the cash welfare system expansion.. yet the late 60s and early 70s marked the greatest period of caseload growth in program’s history
during 64 to 76 number of americans getting cash assistance thru afdc nearly tripled, from 4.2 mn to 11.3 mn..
the nwro was also the impetus behind a series of court decision in late 60s 70s.. that struck down discriminatory practices that had kept some families over the prior decades of welfare rolls..ie: man in house rules.. midnight raids to ensure… white glove tests.. for suitable home tests.. when these practices were struck.. the caseloads grew bigger.. as cost increased.. afdc’s unpopularity grew..
survey.. 60-70% say govt spending too little on assistance for poor.. however.. if asked about programs labeled ‘welfare’.. support drops.. welfare is widely believed to engender dependency.. but it didn’t lead to mass exodus from workforce that the rhetoric of the time often suggested…
sometimes evidence, doesn’t stand a chance against a compelling narrative..t
thinking pinker here..
during this time – ellwood came to a critical realization: americans didn’t hate the poor as much as they hated welfare.. the public’s concern was not about how much it cost, but rather about the terms under which aid was given..
so ubi stinks to many.. no?
ellwood concluded.. if got aid could be restructured to promote work.. perhaps the public would come to be more generous.. ie: higher wages.. and tax credit.. but required to work
bill clinton thinking on welfare shaped by ellwood
for congressional republicans.. it wasn’t acceptable simply to send money down to he states with no strings attached..
so recipients got ie: time limits to receive money and state got cap limits.. and got rid of right for support if had kids..
ellwood watched reform efforts veer completely off rails.. his worst nightmare
clinton bills popular.. then failures show up.. ie: mothers left welfare to work before job secured.. so homelessness on rise.. et la.. linked to all these disturbing indicators was the rise of american households with children living on 2 a day, a trend that cannot be separated from the fact that welfare – the cash assistance system – was no longer catching families when they fell..
what is known, though, is that the way things turned out, the 1996 reformers didn’t merely ‘replace’ welfare. they killed it.. by 2012 welfare was far from the minds of the 2 a day poor.. so far that ie: modonna.. thought they weren’t giving it out anymore..
ch 2 – perilous work
about 1 in 4 jobs pays too little to lift a family of four out of poverty..
how is it that a solid work ethic is not an adequate defense against extreme poverty?
laying the blame on a lack of personal responsibility obscure the fact that there are powerful and ever-changing structural forces at play here...t
the growing prevalence of ‘on-call’ shifts..
ch 3 – a room of one’s own
ongoing housing problems: rise in cost per improvement in quality; more rules.. ie: brother and sister can’t sleep in same room.. so have to rent bigger space; rise in rentals; decrease in income in renters;..
soft eviction – a poor euphemism for outrageously abusive methods of punishing tenants who are late on the rent..t
only about a quarter of income-eligible families get any kind of rental subsidy.. in 2011 smaller fraction of americans received any sort of rental assistance from govt than 2 decades earlier.. and then.. need was not nearly as great..
exposure to just one ace event seems to negatively affect a child’s life chances, but what about the effect of multiple and repeated occurrences..t
toxic stress: strong frequent or prolonged activation of the body’s stress response system in the absence of the buffering protection of a supportive, adult relationship..t
can impair executive functions.. such as decision making..working memory.. behavioral self reg.. and mood and impulse control.. can literally where you down and in the end.. kill you
she deals w the pain by keeping busy.. but if constant activity is the best medication, a close second is smoking.. the fact that she would rather go w/o food than cigarettes points out the extent to which smoking helps ease the chronic pain she’s in, whereas food just doesn’t. hunger pangs are mild in comparison to everything else that ails her..
rae wants: 1\ job she can throw herself into..work is the only place where she can come even close to escaping her demons.. 2\ a place for herself and azara..
research suggests that if rae succeeded in getting such a place, her own life, and esp azara’s life, would be much better for it.. would they make it in the end..? no on can know for sure… but wha tis clear right now is that rae, in her current circumstances (and in the circumstances faced by families all across the us) basically has not shot at achieving this dream.. .. housing is too expensive, the jobs she could get pay far too little.. and there’s too little help..
4 – by any means necessary
there is no money to be made selling blood anymore, but you can sell plasma, a component in blood that is used in a number of treatments for serious illnesses.
selling plasma is so common among the $2 a day poor that it might be thought of as a lifeblood.
it is legal to ‘donate’ up to two times a week for which plasma bank will pay you around 30 each time.. jennifer says she tried this for a while but gave it up because she couldn’t think straight afterward. she can’t afford to be off her game giver her current circumstances
in johnson city tennessee though, 21 yr old jessica.. donates plasma as often as 10 times/month.. she can donate only when her husband has time to keep an eye on their two young daughters.. right now.. walking jessica to the plasma clinic and back, kids in tow, is the most important job he has..
income generation strategies
in 2011.. 1.5 mn households w children in 2 a day..based on cash income.. if count snap as income.. number cut almost in half..t o about 800 000.. if you counted jennifer’s monthly food stamp allotment of 500 cash.. she would mot qualify as 2 a day… while helpful snap doesn’t help like cash might..
what’s so magical about cash (over snap).. w/o it, your activities are restricted.. it (cash) allows people the flexibility to purchase what they believe their families need most
w no cash income.. and nearly 500 in snap every month… jennifer sometimes feels compelled to sell some of her food stamps when she absolutely needs the cash..trafficking in food stamps is a criminal offense.. jennifer is embarrassed with what has to resort to it.. yet in ned.. she believes that seeing to her children’s needs is more important than keeping to he letter of the law
fine print on food stamp application.. it is made clear that selling snap can result in a felony charge.. ie: in illinois – ca be find up to 250 000 and put in prison up to 20 yrs or both
under us fed sentencing guidelines, person w a min criminal history would have to commit an offense at base level 37 to earn up to 20 yrs in prison. by comparison.. voluntary manslaughter ears a base level 29, which could result in 9 yrs in prison.. aggravated assault w firearm that causes bodily injury .. merit only a base 24.. up to 4 yr sentence.. abusive sexual contact w a children under 12.. based level 24.. so.. selling snap.. risk a far longer prison terms than jose was subject to for molesting kaitlin… et al.. add on that.. not pin number needed.. so she has to go in store with person..
although selling snap may be one of the more common cash generating strategies practiced by 2 a day poor, it is rarely the preferred one
collecting aluminum cans to recycle for cash.. .. scrapyards.. but takes time and resources/storage/transport
in struggle to generate cash, sometimes the only asset available is your own body..
only way to get a true accounting of the resources of the 2 a day poor is to spend large amounts of time with them, build trust, and meticulously document their circumstances. but this kind of research is time consuming.. w/o millions of research dollars, it is impossible to id and follow a large random sample of the 2 a day poor, which would be the only way to pain a reliable national portrait of what they must do to survive..
critics may say ‘anyone who reports an income below 2 a day in us has resource he /she isn’t telling us about. this problem is not real’.. the evidence in this chapter suggests that selling plasma, scarp metal, or one’s body may occasionally raise incomes from 2 a day to say 3 or 4.. but this measurement error seems far less important than the fact that the number o families who tell govt researcher they are living on virtually no cash has grown so dramatically over time..
ch 5 – a world apart
to put it simply, not having cash basically ensure that you have to break the law and expose yourself to humiliation in order to survive..t
a deeper look into these census bureau stats reveals that all across america, there are thousands of struggling cities and towns. many of these places, and the rural regions where they are located, are hidden from view in pockets of the country that other americans have largely forgotten.. t
the delta’s children are not alone in feeling the keen fallout from life among the 2aday poor. at this writing, three of the parents who appear in this book have a child who has attempted suicide. another – tabitha’s older brother mike – may have successfully ended his life. yet another, only age nine, is being treated w antipsychotic drugs because he threatened his sister w a knife. tow of the girls whose families we describe have ended up selling their bodies in exchange for food and money. one had to be treated for multiple sexually transmitted diseases at age fifteen. certainly, this is too high a price for children to pay..
conclusions – where, then, from here?
ellwood’s conclusion – four values: autonomy of the individual; the virtue of work; the primacy of the family; desire for sense of community..t
the old welfare system separated its claimants from the mainstream. it may even have created a class of outcasts forced to trade their sense of citizenship for relief..
the ultimate litmus test we endorse for any reform is whether it will serve to integrate the poor – into society..t
with this in my mind.. we propose a radical return to the central idea that was behind the 1996 welfare reform: work opp… guided by 3 principles: 1\all deserve opp to work 2\ parents should have place of own 3\ not every parent will be able to work.. nonetheless.. well-being of them and children ensured..
everything we’ve learned.. suggests that it is typically the opp to work that is lacking, not the will..t
for rae and jennifer.. work is what keeps the problems of mental distress and family dysfunction at bay.
the routine, the ability to get lost in one’s work.. may have a certain healing power..so.. job creation..t
some argue that stimulating job growth doesn’t go far enough… w/ tech.. many out of work.. if that is the case, we need to think bigger. much bigger.. then lists things we could do (health, parks, daycare.. there is enough to do
or rather.. different.. let’s do/be different..
we need to be creative about work to ensure that everyone can make a contribution and thus find a way to belong..t
we need a program that can provide a temp cash cushion.. because no matter what strategies we implement, work – even supported work – will sometimes fail..
for generations, welfare served to separate the poor from the rest of society. it robbed people of their dignity, their sense of self worth. now welfare is dead. now it’s not the receipt of cash benefits, but the lack of any cash at all.. that serves to separate the 2aday poor.. w/o cash.. they can’t meaningfully participate in society..
actually.. none of us really are.. we do need to go much deeper.. and try a nother way to live..