Living on $2 a day: New book explores extreme poverty in the U.S.

Book is co-authored by Johns Hopkins social scientist Kathryn Edin

Kathryn Edin, a social scientist and Bloomberg Distinguished Professor at Johns Hopkins University, examines the plight of people living in extreme poverty the U.S. in her new book, $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America. The book, co-authored by H. Luke Shaefer of the University of Michigan, features a series of profiles that explore the causes and experiences of families living with little to no cash income.

Edin and Shaefer used the World Bank's standard for poverty—$2 per person per day—to determine how many U.S. families are living in extreme poverty. Their findings shocked them: In a given month, there were 1.5 million American families, including 3 million children, that met the criteria.

In a recent interview with American Public Radio's Marketplace, Edin and Shaefer discussed the factors that drive families into extreme poverty and the solutions that might help them escape it.

More from Edin:

What we learned from spending so much time with the $2-a-day poor was how important dignity and respect were to them. They wanted above all to be workers. You know Luke would ask the question at the end of the conversation with them, "What would it mean for you to make it? When would you feel like you were OK?" And you know, their dreams were sort of endearingly modest. They'd say, you know, "I'd like a $12-a-day job, full time, with regular hours, maybe. Then I could have some stability, and I could give my kids the kind of life that I've always dreamed of." So from that, we've sort of derived the following principle that anything we do to aid the poor should bring dignity and not division. You know, the old welfare system made you feel like a criminal. It was wearing a scarlet letter, and you know welfare recipients were some of the most hated people in America.

"This essential book is a call to action, and one hopes it will accomplish what ¬≠Michael Harrington's "The Other America" achieved in the 1960s—arousing both the nation's consciousness and conscience about the plight of a growing number of invisible citizens," William Julius Wilson wrote in his review of the book in the Sept. 2 issue of The New York Times Book Review. "The rise of such absolute poverty since the passage of welfare reform belies all the categorical talk about opportunity and the American dream."

Edin will read from and discuss the book on Nov. 9 at Mason Hall at an event hosted by JHU's Sheridan Libraries.

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