Living on $2.00 a day: Exploring extreme poverty in America

The World Bank recently set the standard for extreme poverty at $1.90 per day, and declared that, for the first time, less than 10 percent of the global population will be living below that line by the end of this year. You’d probably assume that most of the people living in such deep poverty are in the developing world. It’s hard to imagine that here in the U.S., the richest country in the world by most measures, people would be surviving on so little.

In their new book, “$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America,” academics Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer reveal that there are nearly 1.5 million American households with practically no cash income.

That figure has been on the rise, nearly doubling since 1996 — the same year that a major welfare reform bill was passed. Under the new rules, cash benefits known as welfare were paired with strict work or training requirements.

The policy goal was to decrease people’s dependence on government help and that work would then be supplemented if necessary. The reforms successfully encouraged many people to join the workforce. But those unable to find work found themselves falling without a safety net.

The degradation of jobs in the U.S. caused the problem to continue, Edin told NewsHour’s Hari Sreenivasan in a recent interview, seen in the video below.

“We can’t deny is at the bottom of the labor market, there simply aren’t enough jobs, much less good jobs, to go around. It’s almost impossible to find a full-time job. Even if you find a job, it’s very difficult to pair one part-time job with another because shifts and hours are always in fluctuation. Wages tend to be very low.”

Edin and Shaefer traveled around the country and embedded with communities big and small, from Cleveland and Chicago to the Mississippi Delta and Appalachia regions, to learn how families living on less than $2 a day ended up there and how they survive.