1.5 Million American Families Living on $2 Per Person a Day

by Vins
Published: Updated:

Sociologists Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer’s book, $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America documents that 1.56 million American families live on two dollars a day per person or less. This number includes over three million children.

In an article for YES! Magazine, Marcus Harrison Green reports on Edin and Shaefer’s findings, including stories of physical, sexual and emotional abuse that “seemed like the norm rather than the exception.” As a result of poverty, families lived “from crisis to crisis.” One of their informants told Schaefer that she had been beaten and raped and was always “looking out for the next threat.” The jobs that poor families typically get pay low wages with unstable hours and expose these families to unsafe working conditions, Shaefer reported.

Surveys like the SIPP (Survey of Income and Program Participation) capture “most of the incomes of the poor.” According to SIPP figures, the number of people living on two dollars per day or less had doubled since the 1990s. But, as Schaefer told YES!, “Surveys are obviously not perfect so we also looked at SNAP income data, as well as family homelessness data.”

Shaefer did her research in Chicago, Cleveland, Appalachia, and the Mississippi Delta. She explains that the Mississippi Delta was different from them all. There “work isn’t just hard to come by, it’s often nonexistent.” In those situations, “virtually everyone is poor” and the systems intended to protect people have “broken down.”

In terms of what needs to be done, Shaefer states, “I’d start with expanding work opportunity, and improving the quality of the jobs we have.” Affordable housing must be part of the solution, too, Shaefer contends: “This means getting the number of housing vouchers back up to where it has been in the past, and looking for ways to break down barriers to building affordable housing.”

Source: Marcus Harrison Green, “1.5 Million American Families Live on $2 a Day-These Authors Spent Years Finding Out Why,” YES! Magazine, September 24, 2015, http://www.yesmagazine.org/commonomics/13-million-american-families-live-on-2-a-day-these-authors-spent-years-finding-out-why-20150924.

Student Researcher: Rupert Watson (Sonoma State University)
Faculty Evaluator: Tiffany Scott (Napa Valley College)