A New York Times Notable Book of the Year
“A remarkable book that could very well change the way we think about poverty in the United States.” — New York Times Book Review
“Powerful . . . Presents a deeply moving human face that brings the stunning numbers to life. It is an explosive book . . . The stories will make you angry and break your heart.” — American Prospect
Jessica Compton’s family of four would have no income if she didn’t donate plasma twice a week at her local donation center in Tennessee. Modonna Harris and her teenage daughter, Brianna, in Chicago, often have no food but spoiled milk on weekends.
After two decades of brilliant research on American poverty, Kathryn Edin noticed something she hadn’t seen before — households surviving on virtually no cash income. Edin teamed with Luke Shaefer, an expert on calculating incomes of the poor, to discover that the number of American families living on $2.00 per person, per day, has skyrocketed to one and a half million households, including about three million children.
Where do these families live? How did they get so desperately poor? Through this book’s eye-opening analysis and many compelling profiles, moving and startling answers emerge. $2.00 a Day delivers new evidence and new ideas to our national debate on income inequality.
“Harrowing . . . [An] important and heart-rending book, in the tradition of Michael Harrington’s The Other America.” — Los Angeles Times
This slim, searing look at extreme poverty deftly mixes policy research and heartrending narratives from a swath of the 1.5 million American households eking out an existence on cash incomes of $2 per person per day. Edin and Shaefer, respectively professors at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Michigan, trace the history of welfare in the U.S. up to the cuts enacted by President Clinton. They also explore the worlds of the desperately impoverished, profiling people who are able to find, at best, low-wage jobs with no bargaining power. Their subjects' wrenching stories demonstrate the huge obstacles created by unstable housing and prevalent racial discrimination. Edin and Shaefer examine the many survival strategies used by the very poor to generate cash, including selling plasma, trading food stamps for discounted cash payments, and even selling their children's Social Security numbers to people with fixed addresses, which the poorest lack. The strain of "the work of survival" has not defeated every person depicted in this book, but when a Mississippi teen is quoted saying that constant hunger can make you "feel like you want to be dead," it's impossible to ignore the high costs of abject poverty. Mixing academic seriousness and deft journalistic storytelling, this work may well move readers to positive action.