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.
The authors argue that in-kind benefits like SNAP (food stamps) are important—even vital. Yet in 21st Century America, they are not enough—cash is critical. The book is about what happens when a government safety net that is built on the assumption of full-time, stable employment at a living wage combines with a low-wage labor market that fails to deliver on any of the above. It is this toxic alchemy, the authors argue, that is spurring the increasing numbers of $2-a-day poor in America.
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.